Jim Schwartz spent last week as the Eagles defensive coordinator and as a prospective head coach, but to hear Schwartz explain it, there was no juggling priorities. Although he interviewed with the Arizona Cardinals, Schwartz said the only team other than the Eagles that he’s focused on this week is the Atlanta Falcons.
He would not answer why he didn’t interview with the New York Giants during the weekend, and he insisted his attention is on the Eagles’ playoff run. If the Giants want to interview Schwartz, they must now wait for the Eagles to be eliminated or during the Super Bowl bye week if the Eagles make it that far.
“I think it’s not fair to our players … to talk about anything else,” Schwartz said. “I think that’s the respect that that game has from my point of view.”
Schwartz, who spent five seasons as the Detroit Lions head coach, has been one of the NFL’s top defensive coordinators since joining the Eagles last year. It’s still unknown whether Schwartz will be coaching in Philadelphia next season. He’ll certainly be coaching in Philadelphia on Saturday against the Falcons.
The Eagles will need Schwartz’s defense to help carry them. Coach Doug Pederson said last week that the formula for the Eagles in the playoffs will be to rely on their defense and running game. The defense, which excelled during the last two games, must prepare for a talented offense that includes 2016 MVP Matt Ryan at quarterback, star wide receiver Julio Jones, and one of the NFL’s best backfield combinations. The Atlanta offense was prolific last season on the way to the Super Bowl, although its lowest scoring output came in a 24-15 loss to the Eagles when Schwartz’s defense bullied Ryan and limited the Falcons to 2 of 11 on third-down conversions. The production has dipped this season after the Falcons changed offensive coordinators.
The 2016 game was at Lincoln Financial Field, the site of Saturday’s game. The Eagles defense has allowed only 13.4 points in eight home games this season, which is 10 fewer points than it has allowed on the road. The Eagles allow 16 fewer rushing yards at home and no opponent has rushed for a touchdown in Philadelphia this season. Opposing quarterbacks throw for 33 fewer passing yards when the Eagles are at home than when they’re on the road, too. The road schedule has been more difficult, but the home-field advantage has been indisputable for the defense this season.
“We’re significantly better at home,” Schwartz said. “That’s why it was important for us to get home-field advantage. You take the travel out of the equation, it’s tough on opponents when the fans are loud. I know our fans will be loud. It’s tough on the opponents in a hostile environment, and that’s what Philly is. …It’s been a great home-field advantage for us over the course of the season, and it’s not just the players on the field. The fans in the stands are going to mean an awful lot to coming out with a victory on Saturday.”
The players on the field will matter much more. Whenever a team plays the Falcons, the Ryan-to-Jones combination garners the most attention. That won’t change this week. But Schwartz said to add up the production of running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman – they combined for 1,493 yards and 12 touchdowns during the regular season, along with 63 catches for 616 yards and four touchdowns. If that was one running back, Schwartz said, he’d be an all-pro and would receive the media attention that Jones commands.
So the Falcons’ rushing offense is an emphasis from Schwartz this week. The Eagles enter the game with the NFL’s top-ranked run defense and try making opponents one-dimensional. However, they have allowed the most rushing yards of the season during the last two games, so it’s an area that must improve Saturday. Schwartz said the regular-season production – good or bad – should quickly be forgotten come kickoff.
“We are not going to get graded on the curve because we were good stopping the run in a previous game or we were poor stopping the run in a previous game,” Schwartz said. “It’s a new season. Playoff games stand on their own. It’s a single-elimination tournament. …You can’t say, ‘Well, we were good during the regular season.’ I mean, it puts urgency on us.”
Schwartz invites that urgency. In addition to the schematic and tactical priorities each week, Schwartz has instilled an attitude in his group. It ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense and scoring defense – both impressive marks – yet it’s little surprise to the players in Schwartz’s meeting room.
Schwartz said he won’t make a big deal about the Eagles’ becoming the first No. 1 seed to be an underdog in the divisional round. His players have thought they deserved more credit all season, and it won’t stop now.
“It really doesn’t change the game,” Schwartz said. The game is going to be about preparing well. …Executing on Saturday, and the teams that do that, the best are going to win. Not the team that got picked by the most number of analysts or experts or what the simulation games say or any of that stuff. That has zero bearing on the game for us.”
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