November 27, 2017
Jim Schwartz was stone-faced on the sidelines when the TV cameras caught him several times during the Eagles’ 31-3 drubbing of the Chicago Bears on Sunday, no small achievement for a coach best known for a near-brawl after a game six years ago.
Clearly, this is not the same Jim Schwartz who tried to behead Jim Harbaugh in Detroit after the 49ers beat the Lions in what is known as the most memorable handshake in NFL history. This Jim Schwartz has learned how to keep his emotions to himself and to build one of the best defenses in Eagles history.
The defensive coordinator for the past two seasons, Schwartz has been every bit as much a hero on the 10-1 Eagles as head coach Doug Pederson, franchise quarterback Carson Wentz or any of a half-dozen players on his overachieving unit. A case in point was their dominance of Bears at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Bears entered the game with a formidable rushing attack, having run for 4.6 yards per carry, fifth best in the league. Their top guy, Jordan Howard had 841 yards in the first 10 games, after a 1,313-yard season in 2016. Then they faced Schwartz’s wide-nine defense, and those gaudy numbers looked like a misprint.
In fact, the Bears didn’t get a first down in the entire first half, finishing with -6 yards on the ground. They ended with a total of six yards on 14 carries, including a running play in which defensive end Vinny Curry stopped Tariq Cohen for a 12-yard loss. That’s right. A running play that netted -12. Seems impossible, doesn’t it?
Well, pretty much everything the Eagles defense has achieved this season is beyond basic logic. Not only are they the sixth-best defense overall, they rank first against the run, by a wide margin. How are they doing it? It all starts with Schwartz.
When I asked Pederson this morning to explain the emergence of tackle Tim Jernigan as a Pro Bowl-level player this season – one year removed from a performance in Baltimore that got him traded – the coach said it was Schwartz’s system, which prioritizes mobility over size. Fletcher Cox is also prospering now, as is Brandon Graham.
What does Schwartz have to say about all of this? Very little, actually. After bogus reports circulated earlier this year that he was trying to undermine Pederson, he has let the defense do pretty much all of his talking. If his weekly press gatherings were sponsored by an ice cream, the flavor would definitely be vanilla.
Of course, beneath that emotionless veneer is a feisty field general who is just waiting for the next overture to return as an NFL head coach. And it will come, no later than the end of this amazing season. Schwartz has done more than help make the Eagles the biggest story in the NFL this year; he has also become the top candidate for the next head-coaching job.
Enjoy the next five games of the regular season and whatever awaits the Eagles in the playoffs, Eagles fans, because this is the last we will see of Jim Schwartz, the quiet hero of the 2017 season.
When Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott were both available in the NFL draft 16 months ago, most of the experts said it was no contest. Wentz was better. They were right.
Granted, there was a valid argument for the Dallas quarterback after Prescott led the Cowboys to the playoffs last season with a 13-3 record, though even then most smart observers questioned how fair the comparison was. After all, Prescott had an elite line in front of him, and Ezekiel Elliott behind him. Wentz had neither.
One year later, the debate is over. In the 28-6 Thanksgiving Day loss to the Chargers, Prescott looked every bit like the fourth-round draft pick he is – indecisive, mistake-prone, inconsistent and frustrated. He has been exposed. Without elite players surrounding him, he is no superstar.
Now don’t misunderstand. Prescott is still a talented young quarterback with the potential to be successful, especially if he ever gets a head coach who knows what he’s doing. But can he be the kind of elite talent a No. 2 pick in the draft is? No chance. There’s a good reason why Wentz – and Jared Goff at No. 1 – both look better.
Because they are better. Wentz already has proved his value with a vast improvement in his second year as a starter. There’s a very good reason why he’s leading the MVP voting right now, ahead of Tom Brady. Wentz is far more than a game manager the way Prescott was last season. He is a leader, in every respect.
After the Eagles finished 7-9 in 2016, Wentz made a promise to himself that he would never have another losing season. In his life, he had never lost more games than he had won – at any level, going back to grade school – and he wasn’t about to experience failure like that again.
Teammates who arrive early for practice are consistently shocked to see the franchise quarterback already there, working out at 5 a.m. in the NovaCare complex. When I asked him earlier this month what it was like to be out in public, he said he didn’t know because he hadn’t been out there since the season started.
In two weeks, Wentz will face off against the one player who went before him in the draft, and that matchup against Goff promises to answer at least a few questions about which young quarterback will have a better career. Obviously, my money is on Wentz.
Meanwhile, Dak Prescott is no longer in the conversation. His team is losing, his talented teammates are missing, and he looks a lot more like what he is – a fourth-round draft pick.
Philadelphia is embracing this new, vastly improved version of the 76ers, but it will never respect or admire the people running the team. And with good reason. Owner Joshua Harris and his band of carpetbaggers have no appreciation for the city where they work.
The latest slap in the face to Philadelphia happened last week when the team announced that No. 1 draft Markelle Fultz was progressing from a shoulder injury under the medical guidance of Dr. Ben Kibler at the Shoulder Center of Kentucky.
The Sixers are sending Fultz to Kentucky for treatment of his right shoulder because, let’s face it, there are no capable shoulder specialists here in the birthplace of modern medicine. The city where countless surgical techniques were born and refined – see: Dr. Thomas Mutter, for starters – is not good enough for the Sixers.
It is the insult that keeps repeating itself. Remember, the team sent its best player, Joel Embiid, to Qatar for treatment on his broken foot. The rehab went so well, Embiid missed two seasons instead of a few months. Brilliant.
And then there’s the make-up of the team’s medical staff itself. After some dubious results in the treatment of Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel and Ben Simmons, Harris brought in C. Daniel Medina Leal two months ago to oversee the team doctors and trainers. Leal had been the team physician for seven years of soccer club FC Barcelona in Spain.
Still on the staff, despite the recent problems, is Dr. David Martin, who earned his reputation as the coordinator for Cycling Australia. That’s right. Former GM Sam Hinkie’s global search for the most innovative approaches to preserving the health of elite athletes took him halfway around the world, to a specialist on cycling.
Hinkie said he hired Dr. Martin two years ago because he wanted “to give our players every opportunity to be healthy and remain healthy.” It’s a matter of record that the Sixers have been one of the unhealthiest teams in professional sports since 2015, and Hinkie has been unemployed for close to two years now.
At some point, either the people running the Sixers are going to embrace the city where they work or they are going to take the money and run back to New York as soon as they get the right offer. Here’s one vote for the latter, as soon as possible.
Then we’ll have to hope the next owners will have more respect for what elite doctors Philadelphia has, and will always have.
And finally ...
• After the Flyers’ seventh straight loss last Friday, coach Dave Hakstol said the situation wasn’t so bad because his team had come away with seven points in the previous 10 games, mainly by losing in overtime. Whoopee. Hakstol has won 47 percent of his games in two-plus seasons with the Flyers. Guess what percentage of wins got ex-coach Craig Berube fired after two seasons in 2014. Forty-seven. Any questions?
• Remember when the Phillies played with the big boys of baseball like the Yankees and Dodgers? They have a chance to prove they are still the major-market force they were a decade ago by going hard after Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani, a 23-year-old pitcher and hitter who is exceptional at both. Here’s an early prediction on the Ohtani sweepstakes. The Phils will not be a factor, even though he is ideally suited for them. They don’t think big like that anymore.
• The sudden passing of former Phillie Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez brought a sad ending to a bizarre story. Gonzalez was a Cuban phenom whose original $48-million contract was reduced to $12 million after a physical exam revealed some issues with his pitching arm. He did manage to work his way up to the big leagues in 2014, but never approached his potential. He died last week in a traffic accident in Cuba. He was 34.
• Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are both worth the price of admission to Sixers games, but just as much fun is J.J. Reddick when his shooting hand warms up the way it did against Orlando on Friday night (29 points, 8 threes). GM Bryan Colangelo has gotten more wrong than right since he took over 20 months ago, but he was smart to add the energy and the marksmanship of Reddick as a free agent in the offseason.
• The best thing about the implosion of the Cowboys over the past few weeks is that owner Jerry Jones is the culprit. His stupid decision to try to string out the six-game suspension of Ezekiel Elliott removed the team’s best player from the lineup just when the Cowboys needed him the most. Meanwhile, Jones is also losing his power struggle with commissioner Roger Goodell. The only thing Jones has been able to win is the return of N.J. Governor Chris Christie to his luxury box. Two losers, wallowing in their own failures. You’ve got to love it.