Why Jim Schwartz Prefers His 4-3 To Two-Gapping

The Eagles defensive coordinator also discussed whether Connor Barwin is a good fit.

Beau Allen and Jim Schwartz. (Jeff Fusco)

Beau Allen and Jim Schwartz. (Jeff Fusco)

If you’re curious why Jim Schwartz believes his aggressive 4-3 is better than the typical two-gap system, consider kickoff coverage. Teams no longer preach the “stay in your lane” adage, Schwartz says, because if one person leaves his lane, the returner picks up a lot of yards. Instead, coverage units now attack in levels, and that’s precisely what the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator has built his system around.

“You have guys that are disruptors, guys that attack the blocks and other guys that play leverage off of them,” Schwartz said. “If we are going to play attack up front — and we are, because we want to put those guys in position to be able to rush the passer and play the run on the way to the quarterback — the linebackers have to be tied and the safeties have to be tied in.

“It’s a lot different than two-gap because when you’re playing two-gap … you’re generally building a wall along the front and guys are sort of falling back and linebackers are generally shuffling laterally more because your defensive linemen are going laterally. When you play an attack front up front, your linebackers have to come downhill. They have to plug those holes.”

When linebackers go lateral, that’s when gaps are created, according to Schwartz. But he thinks he diminishes the risk of linebackers facing more second-level blocks by being more aggressive up front and telling his linebackers to get downhill and not to wait.

Schwartz also explained why he rarely blitzes, while his defenses still get pretty good pressure. His most recent unit, when he coached the Bills in 2014, ranked sixth in the NFL in sacks. To accomplish this, Schwartz widens his defensive ends out more often than most coordinators.

“It puts us in a little better position to rush the passer,” Schwartz said. “It’s been our philosophy, and I think if you ask offensive coordinators, they would tell you the same thing: If you can get [to the quarterback] with four, you have a big advantage on defense. If you have to blitz to get pressure, you can be at a disadvantage and the offense can take advantage of you. When you can rush with four, it allows you to blitz on your own terms, rather than, ‘Geez, we’ve got to get pressure, so we have to blitz.'”

Although Schwartz has employed the wide-9 and many of his other principles similarly throughout his career, he says there are “a lot” of differences between what he’ll do in Philadelphia, compared to what he did in Tennessee, Detroit and Buffalo. Those changes are based on the personnel, and Schwartz has expressed repeatedly that he feels the Eagles’ defensive roster is a perfect fit for his scheme.

Some have wondered if Connor Barwin is a good fit at defensive end, but Schwartz has no doubt.

Connor did a lot of this when he was in Houston early in his career,” Schwartz said. “Connor is a smart player and he’s multi-dimensional. I think it fits the guys really well here. I think if you ask them, they would rather attack than read.”