What Can Jim Schwartz Do for the Philadelphia Eagles' Defense?

Much like punk rock, Schwartz's defense is fast and furious. What does that mean for Philadelphia?

Do you like going to dive bars to see live, angry, distortion-laden music for less money than a Starbucks latté costs? Have you ever played the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video games and thought, “What incredible jams these sick dudes are laying down while I shred?”

If so, you can thank four young gentlemen in 1976 -- Dee Dee, Joey, Johnny, and Tommy Ramone -- for essentially pioneering the punk rock genre and innovating the way we know music. The Ramones’ songs, in fact, were so raging, so fiery, that they were often no more than two minutes long.

“Blitzkrieg Bop” clocks in at 2:12, which is about two minutes and eleven seconds longer than it takes a Jim Schwartz defense to sack the quarterback.

Yes, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has been hired to revamp the Philadelphia Eagles defense and shred offensive lines with his blitz schemes that go all the way to 11. After a year off from the NFL, he will make his coaching return as part of Philly’s post-Chip Kelly makeover.

But can he help the Eagles’ defense put quarterbacks on Needles and Pins, or will we all wish for a Teenage Lobotomy?

All Revved Up and Ready to Go

The first question many have is: what will he do with the team’s defensive scheme? Remember, the Eagles have been a two-gapping 3-4 defense for the last three years under defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ tutelage, and they would often line up directly across from an offensive lineman -- often intended to shut down the running game.

Schwartz, on the other hand, tends to run a one-gapping 4-3 front with four down linemen assigned to a gap and blitzing that gap as often as possible. There’s little to indicate that he won’t use this scheme, as he’s run it in every stop in the league so far.

However, it’s not as if this is a new task for Jim Schwartz; he was the defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills in 2014 and converted the team from Mike Pettine’s 3-4 scheme. That season, his Bills racked up 54 sacks, down three from the previous year, but still the seventh-most for a team in a season since 2000.

Can he work the same magic with the Eagles?

Kiko Is a Punk Rocker

Every revolution starts somewhere, and we need to see what Schwartz will be starting with now that he joins the Philadelphia Eagles staff.

We can assess the current value of the Eagles’ defense with numberFire’s signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP is a metric that helps us take the numbers we get from the box score and shows how that player or team did versus expectation. By adding down-and-distance value to standard box score information, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. Allowing the offense to gain five yards on 3rd-and-2 means more to the game than it does on 3rd-and-10, and those plays should be valued accordingly. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.

The table below shows the previous three years under former defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ regime on the defensive side of the ball in terms. How bad has it gotten?

Year Adj. D NEP Adj. D Pass NEP Adj. D Rush NEP
2013 22.21 (11th) 61.82 (24th) -32.50 (4th)
2014 13.77 (8th) 58.85 (20th) -42.87 (3rd)
2015 63.17 (14th) 56.62 (15th) 15.63 (26th)

So, for clarification, this represents the points we would have expected the Eagles to give up -- based on their play this year -- more than the average team. We can look at this data in one of two ways: either we see that the team’s rankings among the league stayed relatively the same over the past three years, or we can notice that the expected points given up nearly tripled between 2013 and 2015, due to a lagging run defense this past season. Even the pass defense has largely stagnated in Philadelphia, shifting all of -5.20 NEP in the past three years.

What effect should Schwartz have on the organization? We can examine this through Defensive NEP as well. The table below shows an average year in terms of Defensive NEP for Schwartz’s defenses, as well as the average of the years before he arrived as a coordinator or head coach and after. What do we find?

Year Adj. D NEP Adj. D Pass NEP Adj. D Rush NEP
Before 19.19 10.44 5.85
During 18.16 26.61 -9.79
After 29.87 46.42 -8.69

It’s fairly clear that Schwartz has a sizable effect on a defensive unit, especially in the aggregate Adjusted Defensive NEP metric. We can see that his units tended to have slightly worse Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP marks than when he arrived, but that can be explained by his preference to play zone coverage with his defensive backs; instead of a man coverage blanket, Schwartz prefers the “bend-don’t-break” philosophy in his defensive units. This will allow short passes to rack up but prevents the big plays from devastating a team.

What’s most convincing to me is the change in an average unit once Schwartz leaves. In Adjusted Defensive NEP, that’s a 64.5 percent tick up, and nearly a 75 percent jump in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP. That doesn’t even factor in the recent decline of the Detroit Lions, who lost defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley after Schwartz left, but one year after he was fired by the team.

I Wanna Be Sedated

So, what we really want to know is how this will affect the Philadelphia defense and the Eagles’ individual defensive players (IDP) in fantasy football. We know that his scheme has stayed relatively the same for the last decade and a half, so we should have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

The table below shows the last five years of a Jim Schwartz-led defense in terms of Yards per Game Allowed, Points Per Game Allowed, Sacks, and Takeaways (interceptions plus fumbles). What do we see?

Year Team Yd/G Pt/G Sack Takeaways
2010 DET 343.6 (21st) 18.1 (4th) 44 (6th) 40 (t-5th)
2011 DET 367.6 (23rd) 24.2 (23rd) 41 (10th) 38 (t-5th)
2012 DET 341.1 (14th) 27.3 (27th) 34 (t-20th) 24 (t-27th)
2013 DET 346.6 (16th) 23.5 (15th) 33 (28th) 29 (t-19th)
2014 BUF 312.2 (4th) 18.1 (4th) 54 (1st) 34 (7th)

To be clear, the Eagles at this point will be a lot more like the 2009 Lions that Schwartz inherited than the 2014 Bills. A decent amount of talent has been depleted from the roster, and there is some coaching up to do to get these players back into a 4-3 scheme. Most of the veterans have played in one before Davis’ change, however, so that shouldn’t be too difficult. We shouldn’t expect the Eagles to be a top team defense option in fantasy next year, but they should be more consistent.

As for IDP? Remember that the Schwartz scheme plays zone, which allows short passes to complete, and thus allows cornerbacks to make tackles on pass-catcher; the tackle is the lifeblood of IDP scoring. In 2014, his Bills cornerbacks ranked third as a unit in balanced scoring formats, so look for Eric Rowe and Byron Maxwell to have solid years. His safeties tend to play deep, however, meaning they get less opportunity to make plays on the ball: the 2014 Bills’ safeties were 26th as a unit.

Linebackers are often in coverage, too, due to Schwartz’s confidence in his four-man rush, which explains his 2014 Bills’ linebackers combining to rank 29th in the league. His defensive ends and defensive tackles feast on this, however, with plenty of sacks and running back tackle chances; the Bills ranked third and first, respectively, in 2014. This is excellent news for Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton, and it could be big for Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry if they shift back to 4-3 defensive ends.

Schwartz’s presence should be a boon for Eagles football and fantasy players alike. Just give him around two minutes and twelve seconds, and he’ll have you blitzing and bopping.