Jim Schwartz agreed with a questioner Tuesday who referenced the Eagles’ expected defensive improvement, but Schwartz also emphasized that now the players and coaches have to go out and make good on those expectations for them to mean anything. The Eagles will open their season with a visit to NFC East rival Washington on Sunday.
Asked if he feels pressure after a first season in which he moved the Eagles’ moribund defense into the NFL’s top 15, Schwartz said: “There’s always pressure. … Please don’t put on my resume that I elevated this defense to a top 15. That’s a participation trophy, in my mind. … The stat that we care about the most is points allowed. I think we were 12th in there. That’s still not as good as we can be.
“On paper, we’re better. We’ve added not only depth but we’ve added some key components to the defense. … We’re going to have good games; we’re going to have bad games. When the season’s over, we have to [have given] our offense, our team, consistently, a chance to win the game. And the best way we can do that is points allowed.”
Schwartz said he has two objectives: “Don’t allow many points, and set the offense up to score.”
Up front, Schwartz hopes adding first-round defensive end Derek Barnett and defensive tackle Tim Jernigan will allow him to go with more or a rotation, instead of playing the starters nearly three-quarters of the time, as was the case in 2016.
“I would hope so. … We’ve always been at our best when we’ve been close to 50-50,” Schwartz said, referring to his defenses in Tennessee, Detroit and Buffalo. “Keep guys fresh … keep throwing fastballs out of the bullpen. … Particularly early in the season, rotation can help you get to later in the season. … Keep guys durable; keep guys available for a long period of time.”
Schwartz was asked whether he will limit Barnett early to keep him from losing confidence, should he not experience immediate pass-rush success.
“I don’t worry about his confidence. He’s a No. 1 draft pick. When you’ve got to stand up on that stage and hold up that No. 1 jersey, if you’re lacking for confidence, you’re probably the wrong guy,” Schwartz said. He reminded reporters that Barnett went up against left tackle Jason Peters for much of training camp, and also saw a lot of Lane Johnson.
“We’ve seen good production out of Derek in the run and pass game, and as a whole, our defensive line has been very productive. A lot of it has to do with” adding Jernigan and Barnett, Schwartz said.
“I think Vinny Curry also had an outstanding training camp. He was very good against the run and pass. He was as productive as I’ve seen him; he was not on the ground as much as he’s been. I think he’s a much improved player. … It’s been well-noticed within our team, within our coaching staff, the strides he’s taken.”
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