Former Lions coach Schwartz back on top with Eagles

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Since being fired by the Lions at the end of the 2013 season, Jim Schwartz has managed to reestablish himself as one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL. That distinction could earn him consideration for another top job at season’s end.

After Detroit, Schwartz served as Buffalo’s defensive coordinator in 2014, where he turned a good defense into a great one. That unit finished fourth in yardage and points allowed, recording a league-high 54 sacks.

The marriage was short-lived as Schwartz parted ways with the Bills after one season when coach Doug Marrone opted out of his contract and was replaced by Rex Ryan. Schwartz worked for the NFL last season, returning to the sidelines this year as defensive coordinator for the Eagles.

The Eagles were one of the league’s worst defenses in 2015, but through three games, Schwartz has the unit flying high. No one is allowing fewer points. If you factor out a punt return score, the defense is surrendering a little more than six points a game. Before their bye last week, the Eagles held the high-octane Steelers offense to three points.

“I think he deserves quite a bit of credit, actually,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “He’s brought that aggressive style that you’ve seen our defense play. It’s a mentality, and he’s brought that to those guys. I’ve been very happy, and he deserves a lot of the credit for getting those guys ready.”

As you might expect with a Schwartz-led defense, it starts up front. The Eagles have 10 sacks after recording 37 last year. The defensive line is led by another calling card of Schwartz’s, a dominant defensive tackle. All-Pro Fletcher Cox, who signed a six-year, $102 million extension with the Eagles this summer, has three sacks and is a consistently disruptive interior presence.

“(They’re) doing a really good job of getting after the passer,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “He’s got the front playing extremely hard. They’re smart, they’re in the right place the majority of the time, which means they’re being coached well.”

That’s making the job easier in the back end, where the Eagles are limiting opposing quarterbacks to a 57.1 completion percentage and 66.1 passer rating. They are the only defense in the league that hasn’t allowed a passing touchdown.

That’s bad news for the Lions, who couldn’t muster an offensive touchdown in a loss to the banged-up Bears last weekend.

Schwartz has been a valuable staffer for Pederson, who is in his first year running a team. He’s leaned on the coordinator as a sounding board and a resource when navigating the finer points of being a coach.

And at this rate, Pederson is expecting Schwartz will generate some buzz during the next hiring cycle, even if the Eagles coach selfishly admits he hopes the league overlooks his coordinator.

“I think just the fact he’s been a head coach in the past, he’s sat in that seat, makes him obviously a solid candidate,” Pederson said. “I’m just hoping that nobody comes calling because I’d like to keep him around on my staff.”

Schwartz’s biggest downfall in Detroit was his personality. He had an embarrassing postgame confrontation with then-49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, got caught up in the moment and illegally challenged a play that negated the review and drew a penalty, contributing to a Thanksgiving loss, and cultivated many negative relationships within the organization.

His rebranding also was slowed when he allowed his players in Buffalo to carry him off the field after a regular-season win in Detroit.

But if the Eagles defense continues to dominate, another team is bound to give Schwartz another chance.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

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