Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz (1.4.24)

Do you know who you’ll rest on Sunday?

“Yeah. So we can put that aside real quick. Yeah, I’m not going to itemize exactly. If Kevin (Stefanski) wants to talk about that, that’s his job. My job is to put eleven guys on the field, and play good defense.”


Have you noticed over the course of the first 16 games, how teams are sort of trying to attack you to counter what you guys have been successful doing?

“Everybody’s a little bit different. I would say this – in my history, teams that try to change to counter another team are on the wrong track. The teams that have probably played the best against us have been teams that have stayed true to themselves and just done what they do best. Because that’s sort of what we do on defense. Everybody has little adjustments here and some game plan things here and you have that cat and mouse game all around. But if we’re forcing a team to completely change course and do something out of character, that might be mission accomplished for us. Like when we played on Thursday night, we had a really crappy first series of the game, countered some of the things that they were doing and then really started playing some good defense after that. But there’s always that part of the game. But we try to be true to ourselves. We try to do what fits our players best, you know, with little minor adjustments and things like that. But we try not to play totally out of character even when we’re playing an opponent.”


Jim, you talked about Greg (Newsome), you knew he would bounce back after that Denver game. How do you think he’s played over this final four-game stretch? 

“Yeah. What are we 4-0 in that stretch? Yeah. 11-5? At this whole point of the year, you sort of lose track. Yeah, I’d classify them there. I’d say this, I’m really proud of our corners. We put a lot of pressure on our corners. You go look at the snaps of cover two and quarters we play, and we have to be near the bottom of the NFL in those snaps. And those things, a lot of times you can do to protect your corners. Those guys all relish to one-on-one. You can’t play corner if you’re trying to hide. And Greg, he’s not trying to hide. Probably the opposite. Brings us a lot of energy. He’s always up for the challenge. He brings up his teammates energy. And I think, I’d say this, I wouldn’t trade our corner room for anybody in the NFL.”


How do you think Kevin has done this year as a head coach?

“I think he’s Coach of The Year. I mean, I don’t think that’s even close. He’s just such a steady hand with the team. You guys ever see that movie? Dustin Hoffman— “Wag the Dog”. Remember that? When he was like that movie producer and things would go bad with their whole project that they were having. It would be a disaster. There’d be something going on and he just kept going, ‘You think this is something? This is nothing. One time I was on a shoot in Istanbul and then this happened.’ and it just sort of put it in perspective. But a head coach should be a steadying influence in a team, and I don’t think anybody exemplifies that better than Kevin. Good coaches can round out the roller coaster nature, which is the NFL, right? You’re going to have highs. You’re going to have lows over the course of the season. You want to be the person that can level out those. Almost like a good hedge fund manager. And I think Kevin—he’s awesome to work for. I have a ton of respect for him. And we’ve had a couple spots this year where we haven’t played great, but we’ve always been able to bounce back. And I think players take a lot of confidence in Kevin’s confidence and his ability to handle all these different situations. A lot’s been made of the quarterback position, but you can go down a list of a lot of other situations, particularly injuries, that have come and found ways to still be successful and have the record that we have. It’s really been impressive.”


The injuries you guys have had to deal with, like it might torpedo other teams, not just the quarterback, but all the injuries that you’ve had to deal with. 

“Yeah, I like our culture that way. And I think sometimes – I don’t watch a ton of other teams, but sometimes you can see frustration come out of other teams. You can see guys throwing helmets, you can see guys in scraps on the sideline, coaches and players and players and coaches and coaches, stuff like that. You haven’t seen any of that from our team. If the offense turns the ball over, you don’t see the defense pointing a finger at them or throwing helmets. And if the defense gives up a touchdown, those guys are supportive. And I think that culture and everything is a sign of coaching also. I’m really proud to work for Kevin.”


(Martin) Emerson, we know he’s had a great year. But are his penalties aggravating to you and can they be corrected? 

“Well, I would say this. Part of playing corner is being aggressive with your technique. And here’s the thing with some of his penalties, as long as they’re not in situations like third down and long, second and extra long – things where you have the offense really in a jam, right? Second and 20 and you get an ICT. Five yards, but first down. Third down and twelve, you get a defensive holding first down and he hasn’t had a ton of those. And I think that you got to push the envelope a little bit when you’re a corner because you can go the other way. You can be so averse to penalties that you don’t cover anybody. You never put your hands on people. And I think he’s got a pretty good balance there. And that’s one of the things we preach to guys. We’re a get off team up front. We know we’re going to be offsides sometimes. Let’s not be stupid about it, right? Let’s not be offsides when it’s third and two. Let’s not be offsides when it’s backed up. Let’s not be offsides after a penalty or one of those things. And it’s the same with corners. They got to be able to pick and choose their spots a little bit. They’re on an island a lot. Like I said, we don’t protect those guys a lot. We put a lot on them. And there’s some good wide receivers and some good quarterbacks in this league.”


Is the legal context, getting beat for the first step off the line?

“I don’t know if I’d classify them all. I think anytime that you have either DH or an ICT, for the most part, it’s where you lost early, right? You lost early and then you’re trying to catch up, so your feet aren’t in the greatest position. You cover with your feet even though there’s hands involved in it. But generally, I’m not just talking about MJ, I’m talking about all across the league. Same thing with offensive holding. Guys don’t hold if they’re in good position, and it’s the same thing with DH or ICT and things like that. ICT, sometimes you can just be frontal on guys and you get collisions and sometimes they’re sort of iffy calls, but I don’t know that we’ve had a ton of those. But I would emphasize again the pressure we put on those guys and there’s not a lot of help. There’s not a lot of easy downs for those guys. There’s not a lot of place to hide. Everybody can see them on every single play. It takes a mentality to do that, takes a skill set to do that. And MJ has that. He’s had a great year this been. It’s been impressive to watch. Pro-Bowl didn’t agree, but we’re really glad to have him. We’re glad to have him and Denzel (Ward) and Newsome and everybody.”


You are obviously leading the number one defense in the NFL this year, and it’s starting to be that time of year where excellent coordinators are going to be getting attention for head coaching jobs. Would you like to be a head coach again? Or how much would you like to be a head coach again? 

“Well, first of all, I’m really happy here. I talked about Kevin. I haven’t really talked about Andrew Berry or the Haslams, but I love this organization. I love the city of Cleveland. That was such a great atmosphere. 31 years in the NFL. That was one of my top five atmospheres that Thursday night. We needed to share that with the players. We got a lot of energy from them. We needed to give them a little energy, pay them back. Not many chances you have to be able to clinch at home. So all that. But I’d say this, in any job that you do, you always aspire to the top of that profession. And I’m no different there.”


Back to Denzel, obviously, he was named to the Pro-Bowl last night, but as he’s dealt with the shoulder injury this season, what has he meant to that corner room and his leadership style? 

“Denzel? Yeah, we’re a better defense when Denzel is on the field and healthy. He’s one of the best corners I’ve coached in those 31 years and he’s had a battle. He went through a month where he either wasn’t playing or was playing and he wasn’t 100%, but he’s rounding out in better physical condition as we get closer to this end of the season and the postseason. And we need him, not only his coverage, but I think what’s been a little bit underrated about Denzel this year is up until the shoulder injury had been the tackling. He made some big hits for us, made some big third down stops, came up and stuck some screen passes, limited run after the catch, all those things. And it hadn’t always looked great over the last month, but now he’s getting better and I think that’s been a part of his game, that he was very serious about improving. I think it showed and I think it will show as we go forward. He’s got vet experience. He’s another one, we talked about Newsome, and we talked about MJ. Denzel’s never met a one-on-one matchup that he didn’t relish, that he didn’t want to win. And we have confidence in those guys. They have confidence in themselves. They are the tip of the spear when it comes to our defense. We talk a lot about our D line as our engine and the people who give us the energy and the pace of which we play. But if a defensive lineman is out of their gap or misses a play, nobody really notices. It can get overlooked because a linebacker goes up and fills a gap or safety makes a tackle. But if a corner fails on a play, everybody sees it. It takes a different mentality to be able to live with that. And Denzel’s got that. He can play off, he can play press. He’s a pleasure to coach. He gives us great leadership.”


Jim, what have you noticed from Ronnie Hickman and D’Anthony Bell, behind the scenes, meetings, practices, whatever to be able to ready? 

“Like early in the season, we were pretty healthy at that position and all of a sudden it started. We lost Rodney McLeod, we lost Grant (Delpit), we lost, you know, those guys who had different roles. Ronnie was inactive, even though he played in the opener because Juan (Thornhill) couldn’t play in the opener. He went in and played really well for us, but those guys were ready when their time came. Ronnie made improvements over the course of the year. D Bell made really good improvements over the course of the year, was a special teams player, but kept working. And those guys, and (Duron) Harmon, I think it’s nothing like having your starters right, having Grant and having Juan and those guys out there, but it’s life in the NFL. You’re not always going to have those. And those guys were ready when their number was called. We saw Ronnie making some plays in the preseason and he’s continued that. The thing I’ve been most proud about both of those guys, they’ve been so assignment sound. And Ronnie’s a rookie and D Bell is still a young player that’s mainly been a special team role, and a lot of times when those guys come in, you’re sort of fighting assignment, sound and being in the right spots, but they’ve been in the right spots. They’ve had very few missed assignments. They’ve played like veterans, and at this point of the year, there are no rookies. And Ronnie has really lived that in the perfect spot by the coverage. And that interception and that score, number one, it brought the house down, but I don’t know how much of a game it was after that, right? I think that was – some people talk about the dagger and things like that, even though that was early in the game. That was really a dagger, and he’s that kind of playmaker. All those guys have been impressive. We got Juan back for some snaps, get those guys. He’s been able to play multiple positions. Yeah, a lot of good things about those guys.”


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