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McLane: Jim Schwartz's stock is way up

Jim Schwartz hasn't spoken to reporters after Eagles games this season - not that the defensive coordinator has had anything egregious to answer for. He could have basked in his early success, but Schwartz hasn't talked postgame since the preseason and has no intention to the rest of the year.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.Read moreClem Murray / Staff Photographer

Jim Schwartz hasn't spoken to reporters after Eagles games this season - not that the defensive coordinator has had anything egregious to answer for. He could have basked in his early success, but Schwartz hasn't talked postgame since the preseason and has no intention to the rest of the year.

He's under no obligation, although every Eagles defensive coordinator as far back as anyone can remember - particularly those who toiled under offensive-minded head coaches - has been available for questioning.

Schwartz's silence - "Just doesn't want to" was the team explanation - is only mentioned anecdotally because he seemingly wants to work his alchemy behind the scenes. When he has spoken, Schwartz has mostly deferred to coach Doug Pederson on matters other than defense.

The one time he dipped his toes in those waters was in May, when he was asked about Carson Wentz and playing rookie quarterbacks. Schwartz would later say that he regretted comparing the Eagles' situation to his with the Lions and Matthew Stafford.

Nevertheless, it was an old-habits-die-hard moment for the former head coach. Schwartz is clearly devoted to his job and to the Eagles, but it would be a shock if someone as ambitious wasn't hoping for a second chance to lead another team.

It's only three games, and defensive-minded coaches haven't exactly been in vogue in the NFL, but Schwartz would have to be on any early list of candidates for next offseason. He has already put his stamp on the defense, the same way he did in only one season with the Bills in 2014.

"It's a comforting thing for me knowing that he's called a lot of games . . . as a defensive coordinator," Pederson said Monday, a day after the Eagles stunned the Steelers, 34-3. "He's been in my position as a head football coach. It's just kind of turn that side over to him and let him roll."

If Schwartz was content to stay a coordinator, he could be Jim Johnson to Pederson's Andy Reid. Like Reid, Pederson has given his defensive guru autonomy over his side of the ball. That freedom has allowed Schwartz to govern as he sees fit. He's tough, he's aggressive, and he doesn't suffer fools.

"Jim's not as big of a jerk as people think," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Game day, he's actually calm and fun. It's during the week he gets on his antics."

Schwartz isn't immune to calling players out in team meetings. During film review, he has been known to point his red laser at the negligent as he details his mistakes. It has been a culture shift for some who had grown accustomed to former coordinator Bill Davis' more diplomatic approach.

"He tells us when things aren't up to par," cornerback Nolan Carroll said. "He doesn't let anything slide by. He does a good job of putting the responsibility on us to get it done."

Schwartz is aggressive by nature and his attacking 4-3 front is a reflection of his personality. But lost in that narrative has been his schematic acumen. You don't allow only 20 points in three games on attitude and talent alone.

He gave a tutorial on how to stop a high-powered offense on Sunday. The Steelers entered ranked fourth in points and seventh in yards. Last season, they were tied for fourth in points and third in yards. Schwartz's unit held them to three points and 251 yards.

The Eagles forced Pittsburgh to become one-dimensional by first stopping the run. Steelers running backs had just 8 yards on seven carries by the half.

"We kind of had to get out of it pretty quick," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of the running game.

Schwartz's scheme is built around the wide-nine front, but the play of the secondary has drifted under the radar. Roethlisberger threw 44 passes and 20 were incomplete. Of those 20, a defender got his hand(s) on 12 and intercepted another.

The coordinator mixed up coverages, but he mostly shaded a safety over Antonio Brown. The receiver caught 12 passes for 140 yards, but he didn't have a single third-down grab and was, of course, kept out of the end zone.

Carroll had a strong game, and rookie Jalen Mills survived some expected lumps, but the Eagles' safety play has more than compensated for what the defense may lack at cornerback. The team reached deep into its salary cap to extend Jenkins' contract and sign free agent Rodney McLeod. It marked a philosophical shift for a franchise that typically did the opposite.

Schwartz protects the back end by not blitzing much. He sent extra rushers at Roethlisberger on only four of 49 drops. An eight-to-nine-man defensive line rotation that features Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, and Connor Barwin has kept the unit fresh. Seven of 10 sacks and all five turnovers this season have come in the second half.

"When you have a good rotation, that means you have a good bench," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "You don't want it to drop off. Then it carries on later down the season when you are fresh."

Curry (45 percent) hasn't gotten as many snaps as Graham (70 percent) or Barwin (76). Schwartz has not been afraid to ruffle feathers. He has turned linebacker Mychal Kendricks (29 percent) into a part-time player. Curry signed a $46.25 million contract this offseason and Kendricks signed a $29 million extension the year before.

Schwartz brought in trusted players from past stops - cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks and linebackers Nigel Bradham and Stephen Tulloch - and has given then prominent roles. Linebacker Jordan Hicks has played near-flawless football, but that hasn't stopped Schwartz from giving Tulloch a piece of his playing time.

"Everybody contributes," Hicks said.

And everyone has seemingly bought in to what the Oz-like Schwartz is selling. His defense says so.