Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz (1.10.24)

You’re going to see C.J. Stroud for the first time? What are your impressions of him?

“Yeah, I talked about him the last time, you know, obviously a rookie, but has command that goes beyond usually the scope of a rookie. Decisive with the ball, accurate passer, buy some time time, makes big plays down the field. I think when it’s all said and done, the fact that he’s passed for as many yards as he has without turning the ball over is really impressive for a young guy. Usually the cost of doing business if you’re going to throw a lot of yards is you also turn the ball over a lot. It’s been impressive what he’s been able to do. We’re going to have to play tight coverage. We’re going to have to stay after him in the pass rush. We’re going to have to limit run after the catch because he does a good job of giving his guys opportunities to run after the catch, including Nico Collins. That’s one of the things he does best.”


I was just going to say the list of rookie quarterbacks would win their first playoff game is very short. 

“Yeah, Joe Flacco was one. Yeah, he beat me. 2008 Titans just could never make him make a mistake. I think we turned the ball over like four times in the plus 20. Chris Johnson started off the game. He had like 100 yards in the first quarter and then got ankle sprain and missed the rest of the game. But yeah, Joe was a rookie and it was a low scoring game, but he got it. So I’m glad Joe’s on our side and I’m glad history’s sort of on the other side.”


Do you feel the pressure of a playoff game affects rookies? 

“I don’t know. I’m sure it just depends on the guy. I can’t speak for him. I think playoffs come down to who can be themselves the best, if that makes sense. Can we be the best version of ourselves versus the Texans being the best version of themselves? I think that’s when it’s all said and done. You’ve got 17 games under your belt. There’s not a whole lot you’re going to pull out that another team hasn’t seen. And really at this point of the year, people are going with what they do best. I think that has a lot to do with it. I really can’t worry about him and how he’ll treat the game. As much as we’re just focused on our guys and how we’re going to treat the game. We know it’s the playoffs. Every mistake is amplified. Every big play is amplified. A mistake can send you home. A big play can help you advance, and that’s what it is. It’s single elimination football. And whatever you can do to advance each week, that’s what you have to do. And that’s where our focus is.”


When you first got here and met with Myles (Garrett), did you set expectations for him in any way? And if so, over the course of the season, the year, how has he responded? 

“Yeah, I’ll keep conversations I have with players to myself and to the player. If they want to talk about it, that’s fine, but I don’t think it’s my place to reveal those kind of conversations. But he has been everything that we expected. He affects the game every single time he’s on the field. He’s played well against the run, he’s played well against pass. One of the best players – I said this a few weeks ago, probably one of the three best players I’ve coached in 31 years.”


Jim, I saw a stat that you guys have forced more punts than any team since the 1999 Ravens. So what does that say about just consistency the way you guys have been playing defensively? 

“That sort of goes hand in hand with our third down percentage. We were number one in the NFL in third down percentage. And when you’re winning those snaps, you’re going to force a lot of punts. Our job, and I’ve said this before, our job is to limit scoring and to try to get the ball back for the offense. And after a slow start in turnovers, I thought we did a pretty good job. I don’t know where we finished, but we were in that top five area. I don’t know where it ended up, but we’ve done a good job there. We’ve done a good job getting the ball back for the offense. When you win on third down, when you force punts, you’ve done your job. And that’s why we concentrate. We spend a lot of time – today is a third down day and our ability to get off the field on third down means a lot to us. Cover guys, rush guys, keep drives from continuing. We’ve done a good job of nipping drives in the bud with good third down percentage and that’s going to be big part of this game.”


I know how you feel about Mike Vrabel and the chance that he gave you to do what you did for those couple of years there, and I was just wondering what your thoughts were on him getting let go.

“Yeah, I mean, obviously I have a lot of respect for Mike and admire him a great deal, but this is a playoff game. I would just want to keep the focus on Texans and the Browns.”


Jim, you’ve been in the league a long time. I know quarterback injuries have had something to do with this, but it feels like going into the playoffs defenses have always been important, but it seems like they’re more impactful than ever. I think five of the six top scoring defenses are in the playoffs. You guys have had a sensational year. The rules have always seemed to be stacked against defenses, but do you feel like it’s maybe swinging in the other direction? 

“I don’t know. We just concentrate on trying to play within the rules that were given and like I said, try to limit scoring and get the ball back for the offense and potentially put them in scoring position. The league goes through so many cycles, it’s hard to say, but being a defensive coach, there is that adage. Hey, defense wins championships and teams that I’ve been around. When you play good defense in the playoffs, you give yourself a good chance.”


(Grant) Delpit will return to practice, is it too much to ask of a Saturday game after him being out?

“Yeah, I mean, I haven’t even seen him out there yet, so I’ll let Kevin handle those questions, but it’s good first step for him. He’s been working extremely hard. I mean, you talk about a driven dude. I mean, he’s been really driven to get back. We’ll see where it goes.”


With (Juan) Thornhill missing time also during that time, how have (Ronnie) Hickman and D’Anthony Bell and Duron Harmon been? 

“Yeah, I can’t say enough good things about those guys. They were four or five and not on the depth chart at the beginning of the year, and they’ve come in and played really good football for us. And I mentioned this before about Ronnie a little bit, talking about C.J. Stroud. Usually when you’re rookies, they can do their job, but they need somebody to tell them what to do or somebody else to make the calls. When Juan was down, when Grant was down, Ronnie really became the glue of our secondary and communicated as good, if not better, than any rookie safety I’ve been around and I think – he’s made plays. He’s tackled well for us, overlapped in the passing game. DBell’s made a lot of big plays for us and Harmon had an interception against these guys. He’s given us that veteran steadiness that we lost with Rodney McLeod, but having lost our top three safeties for significant portions, the game doesn’t care. Playoffs don’t care who’s playing. So those guys have stepped up and have been able to do their job in our scheme.”


We saw Ogbo (Okoronkwo) come back and did he show you enough against Cincinnati that you think he can’t be a viable part of this rotation? 

“Yeah, we just wanted to get him going a little bit in that game, just sort of pick and choose our spots, but he’s certainly in the mix and if he can give us some good pass rushes, give us some good snaps that’ll go a long way, keep some of the other guys fresh. But he’s been a big part of our third down success and we’ve missed him over these last five weeks, whatever. It’s been four weeks, five weeks. I can’t keep track of time now, but it was good to see him back out there. He brings a lot of energy to the practice field and confident he can make some plays on Sunday”


Back to the safeties, I know Rodney obviously hasn’t been able to play, but the fact that he’s stuck around here and rehabbed, how crucial has he been to bring those younger guys and Duron around when he got here? And just now that you guys are in this critical stretch here?

“You know, he’s found a way to contribute even without being on the field. And, I mean, I could be here for a month talking about the respect that I have for Rodney. He wore a helmet for me, two different teams, and another guy that I just totally respect and admire. And it’s just right in his character that when he was injured that he’s still going to find a way to contribute. Anthony Walker has done the same thing for us and he had to miss some time, but he’s back in our building now. All those guys have stayed close. Mo Hurst has stayed close. They’re all veteran guys, and they realize that their contribution to the team doesn’t begin and end – or doesn’t end with the game field or the practice field. They’ve been able to find a way to contribute, and our success has a lot to do with that.”


Is that normal that guys who are on the injured reserve maybe done for the season stick around like that, or is that more unique? 

“It depends. Sometimes it’s a matter of somebody has a family that’s in the area or something else. I just think those guys just, they’ve been around. They know this is a special season and a special team and they want to continue to be part of it. A couple of days ago, I was telling the team some of the similarities I had, that I saw between our team in 2017 with the Eagles. And probably the biggest one, is how much the players enjoy each other. They genuinely root for each other and genuinely like to be together and practice, and that continuity has taken us through a lot of tough times this year. We’ve had some things put in our way over the course of the year, but you don’t see the frustration show on the field. You don’t see guys throwing helmets or yelling at each other or you don’t see the jealousy or you don’t see finger pointing. And that was probably the thing that stood out the most between our team and where we’ve been. A lot of people have made a thing of loss of starting quarterback and veteran replaces him and multiple injuries and things like that. But I just say our team genuinely has fun together and you can do some things as coach to try to push them in that direction, but it has to come organically from them and that’s been developing over the course of the whole season. I think we’re stronger now as a result of some of the tough times we’ve been through, and we’re going to have to rely on some of that resilience as we go through this playoff season. Like I said, a great play can propel you. A missed opportunity, a drop pass, a dropped interception, a missed assignment can send you home. It’s high stakes and I think our guys are ready for that challenge.”


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