Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz (5.30.24)

You have a lot of guys back on your side of the ball. How much have you noticed a carryover, how much have you noticed an ease coming into picking things up and being able to maybe a faster start to the off-season program?

“Yeah, I mean, we’re obviously in a different spot because we have a year in the system. So, I think what that affords us is the ability to work on more changeups like, we’re a fastball team right, we do what we do, we try to do it really well. But there were some things that we sort of held back last year, just from a standpoint, that we sort of triaged it and said, ‘okay, what can we reasonably expect to get good at to master in one off season?’ So, we had to sort of pick and choose, but that now gives us a little bit of time because we don’t have to work on the fastball now, we can add different pitches and you guys will get tired of my baseball analogies, but really, that’s what it is. We don’t want to get away from the fastball, but it does give us a chance to work on some changeups and some secondary pitches and add to our scheme. Just in general, over my years, it seems like you sort of, I guess, rotate 20% of your schemes every year. Some things fall out of favor, some things lose their effectiveness, and then there’s some new things that start trending across the league. So, I mean, that’s just natural, but I do think there’s some things that we can get to that we purposely sort of held back a little bit last year.”


We talked to Kevin (Stefanski) last week, he said you and he watched the film together and saw a lot of improvements that could be made. So, what would he be talking about? What did you have to do better?

“Yeah, I mean, I think, well, first of all, you start with red zone, right?  We played really well in a lot of areas. Red zone wasn’t one, and you sort of dice that up a lot of different ways. And, you know, red zone is one of those things that you don’t get a ton of reps on. So, you know, whatever you flip a coin limited number of times, it can change. It’s funny, I was watching a team this morning, that was a top red zone defense. And I’m watching in one game, the opponent finished by taking a knee in the red zone. That’s a red zone win for the defense on the stats. You know, there was another that they busted a coverage, receiver was wide open, dropped the pass, red zone win. Defense really didn’t do anything to deserve that. There was another one where they kicked a field goal at the end of the game to win the game. Well, that’s a red zone win for the defense on the stats, so you got to be careful a little bit about that. But that being said, we weren’t good enough in the red zone. We had too many mistakes there, and that’s certainly an area that we can improve on. You guys hear me I don’t talk a lot about our position or our defensive rankings or things like that because we sort of judge ourselves against ourselves and just because we were number one in an area or number five in an area, it’s all about us and our improvement as opposed to what the rest of the league is doing. So, you know, coming off of a pretty good year of defense, when you look at the film there was a lot of room for improvement, not just in the red zone, but a lot of different areas. So, you know, that’s that sort of challenge. We can’t get complacent, we can’t think that last year is going to mean anything, right now last year means nothing, everybody’s right down to the bottom of the hill again, and you got to climb it again. I think we’re in a little bit like the first question, we’re in a little different spot just because we have some experience in the defense, but we can’t think that anything, we can’t act as if anything’s going to carry over from last year. We have to stay hungry that way.”


Since January, the company line has been, it was a bad day to have a bad day in Houston. Can you add any more insight as you reflect?

“You know, we studied that. Yeah, we looked at it a lot, you know, and obviously, we’re a high-risk defense. Right, we’re not a bend and don’t break team. You know, we put a big emphasis on making plays and being aggressive. And my biggest takeaway from that was we chased plays in that game, right? Instead of letting the plays come to us and making the plays that were there. And I thought for the most part of last year, we did a really good job of that, and in that game, we missed an interception fairly early in the game and it just seemed like we were pressing and guys played a little bit out of character instead of just doing their job with physical toughness and effort and some personality, all of a sudden we played a little bit out of character. We started pressing, and hopefully that’s a great learning experience for us the next time we’re in that situation. And I think the message is, ‘when you get in those games, it’s who can be themselves the best?’ And I think that wasn’t us when it came to just letting plays come to us. You know, you could see it. You could see it on film quite a bit. Guys were pressing, guys were trying to make the play of the game and, you know, we learned a very hard lesson and we paid a dear price for that. Hopefully we can use that to our advantage as we go forward.”


Jim, when you mentioned chasing plays, I think I have an idea what you mean, just a couple examples. How does it show up?

“Well, yeah, I mean, like it’s a quarterback scramble and you drop your coverage to try to get to the quarterback or you jump the first move of a receiver trying to make an interception or you run under a block because you’re trying to make a tackle for a loss. I think you saw all those things pop up. You know, you’re playing a deep zone, and you get a little bit antsy because you’re trying to play tight and, you know, make a play that maybe isn’t yours to make. We have an expression on defense, we call it ‘don’t farm land that’s not yours.’ And, like I said, we made that mistake. We paid a very dear price for that and we can’t do anything about it now but hopefully we can learn from it and the next time we’re in that situation we can play better as a result.”


Do you think a lot of that was just, you had a lot of guys who don’t have a ton of playoff experience. I mean, obviously you have some vets who do, but it’s their first time or one of their first times in those stakes that you’re more prone to kind of want to go big or go home on those plays?

“Yeah, no excuse for it. You know, I don’t want to put it on that. You know I think the intention by the players was good, you know, and I’ll just put it on players. There were a couple times in there that even as a play caller, I started pressing, right. The game started getting away from us a little bit and I started pressing. It’s like, ‘oh, let me dial this up, see if it.’ And, you know, a lot of times it just makes things worse. So, you know, there’s a lot of that happened, but I wouldn’t consider it. I wouldn’t let us off the hook by just saying, you know, ‘it was guys not having experience.’ We had a lot of experience playing big games. That one we didn’t play the way we should have.


How nice is it for Mike Vrabel around and how do you think he might be able to help you just in terms of the defensive side of the ball?

“Yeah, I mean, I’ve been very vocal about the respect I have for Vrabes (Mike Vrabel) and, the relationship that we have. And I think it’s awesome to have different sounding boards, having guys with experience in different things. And I know he’s been a big help to Kevin (Stefanski). Kevin’s been pretty vocal about that and, you know, have you guys talked to Bubba (Ventrone) yet? Yeah, I’m sure Bubba’s said the same thing. You know, anytime you can add experienced guys that have coach of the year trophies, I think it’s a good thing for us.”


In addition to (Rodney) McLeod, you now have Jordan Hicks, who played for you with Philly, and he’s in a pretty pivotal role, probably be the quarterback of the defense in the middle. How comforting is that to you, and how will that manifest?

“Yeah, you know, do have some experience with Jordan (Hicks). I have a lot of respect for Jordan. You know, he’s had a lot of success in the NFL in a lot of different schemes. You know, his rookie year, he played in one scheme in Philly and then continued with me, I think for I think it was three years changed schemes. You know, Arizona changed schemes, Minnesota twice had sort of scheme change, and he’s remained a good player through all that. So, I think the familiarity with the scheme is probably a little bit overplayed. But I would say this about Jordan: number one, he’s a playmaker. Number two, he is an outstanding communicator. And we lost a lot of communication and leadership with losing Sione (Takitaki) and losing AWalk (Anthony Walker Jr.). So, it’s going to fall on Jordan to pick some of that up. And, you know, he’s got a great track record of doing those kinds of things.”



Jim, the difference just between the home and road performance for defense, any thoughts on what was going on there?

“Yeah, you know, that’s another thing we looked at real hard. I think the first thing that needs to be said there, I think it’s a good thing that we play so good at home. You know, I mean, it’s like, okay. But then again, you look at it and it’s like, ‘okay, if the splits were we played good on the road and great at home, okay.’ But we looked at a lot of different ways. And I’ll give you just one example, there was no difference at all between our pressure rate at home or on the road. Our pressure rate was almost identical, but our sack numbers were way up at home as opposed to on the road. You know, we dice it a lot of different ways. We had a game at the end of the season that we were trying to get through to the playoffs. So, it’s like, okay, well, ‘let’s scratch that game and see where it was.’ The first Houston game, you know, we’re getting ready for a Thursday night game. The game was pretty much in hand. We emptied the bench and, okay, some of those stats. ‘Okay, let’s throw those away.’ Okay, there were some games we had a couple key injuries, let’s try to throw those away. Even when you get rid of those things, the splits were still there, right? You know, the splits were still there. And we looked at play calling and it’s like, okay, ‘I don’t think I called it different at home or away, but let’s take a look at it.’ Our percentages of man, zone, blitz were pretty much identical for home and away. So, you know, I think that in some ways, it’s something to keep an eye on. It’s something for us to continue to emphasize, but you also don’t want to overreact. You know, you’re talking about basically six and a half games, and it’s like, okay, ‘does this change or does this mean that we should change things on the road or should we just have more time on task and keep persevering?’ I sort of tend toward the latter on that.”


Was it more of the chasing thing you talked about?

“No, I don’t think that was it at all. Yeah, I don’t think that was it at all. I mean, I think that, again, you have to take some of those games and say, ‘okay, well, is this like, what’s the circumstance?’ The last Cincinnati game, ‘what’s the circumstance?’ Should you be judged on that? Probably not, you know, like a couple end games, but then again, like, there’s other things and, again, there’s some stuff that maybe you don’t want to overreact to again. Pressure rate almost identical home and away, sacks were way up at home. Is that just sort of the way the ball bounces or is there more to it? Again, I probably think that’s just a little bit more on the way the ball bounces, but we need to continue to play well at home. We’re a good home team and we need to pick our game up a little bit on the road. And, you know, we’re an energy defense too, I think if you watch our film, you see guys play with a lot of energy and, you know, camaraderie and those kinds of things. That’s easy to do at home [when] we have a great crowd for that, and that’s easy for our guys to accomplish. You still got to bring your own juice on the road a lot of times, and I think we can do that.”


Does the fact that you played better quarterbacks on the road last year have anything to do with it?

“We looked at that too, and we looked at quarterback rating. I mean, slightly better. And like, again, like we had some. Sometimes we had a few more injuries on the road. I don’t think any of it excuses it or any of it explains it all away. It would be one thing to say, ‘okay, well, we just had some really tough offenses on the road.’ Well, that’s true. But you have tough offenses at home, too. I think we’re obviously still a work in progress there. It’s on our radar, but we don’t want to put it so much on a radar that we take away from what we did well and change the things that we did well.”


What does Jacques Cesaire bring to the table and is there a little change of philosophy up front with him?

“No, really no change in philosophy. We’re an attack team up front. Jacques (Cesaire) has experience in that. Jacques did the Bill Walsh internship when I was in Philly, and that was his first introduction to it. I thought he did a really good job at Houston (Texans) last year. I have some guys on that staff that know him really well. He brings a former player perspective. He brings a lot of energy here; he is a very demanding coach. He played the position in the NFL for a long time. He’s got experience in a lot of different ways. And probably the biggest thing that I want to say, respect about Jacques. Jacques played nine or ten years. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but when he started his coaching career, he started at the bottom and there’s a lot of guys that play long in the NFL that would like to get into coaching, but they feel like they should start at the top. And Jacques started at a small school. He started with internships, and worked his way up from an assistant D line coach to a D line coach. And I think that journey says a lot about him, that he was willing to be a beginner again. He was willing to start at the bottom. I respect that, and I know our players will too. I’m really excited about adding Jacques. I think. I think it’s going to be a big addition for us on defense.”


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