Schwartztitans

Stats and a Q&A about Jim Schwartz’s tenure in Tennessee

In probably our last round of coverage on the Bills hiring Jim Schwartz, I wanted to reach out to someone who covered his tenure as a DC in Tennessee. So, here's Tom Gower from Total Titans and Football Outsiders to dish the dirt on Schwartz's time down south. I've also included some defensive stats in regards to Tennessee's defenses under Schwartz.

1) Can you talk about Schwartz's tenure in Tennessee?

Jim Schwartz in Tennessee: His last year as defensive coordinator in Tennessee was 2008, so for any commentary on his past five years in Detroit, find somebody who followed the Lions more closely. He's assuredly changed from what he was in Tennessee. Anybody would. Schwartz is perhaps most closely affiliated with the "wide-9" idea of how to play defense, lining up your defensive ends out wide and sending them after the quarterback, playing the run on the way there.

To play that successfully, you typically need to play an aggressive attacking one-gap defense and depend on run support from your safeties. Having physical corners helps. The wide-9 got a bum rap from the time in Philly, but the Titans' outstanding defenses in 2007 and 2008 did a lot of it, very successfully.

2) How much impact did Fisher have on Schwartz's defense?
 
Really, though, it's hard to know just how much of what the Titans did defensively under Schwartz was him and how much was Jeff Fisher, whose background was as a defensive coordinator. The wide-9, like most NFL ideas, was a specific response to a specific problem, namely how to stop Peyton Manning's Colts offense. When he had the players to make it effective, it worked.
 
Just how much say Fisher had is tough to tell. He seemed like mostly a CEO coach, but I'm sure he had a big say in the general direction and the ability to reject anything he didn't like. Schwartz did the day-to-day handling and the actual play-calling, though. Fisher's background was with Buddy Ryan and the 46, so the wide-9 did not feel like a natural transition from him.
 
2008- Titans finished 13-3
7th in total defense 2nd in points given up
9th in pass defense 6th in INTS
5th in sacks Leader in sacks- Albert Haynesworth (8.5)
Gave up 17PPG in five games against top 15 offenses 6th in rushing yards given up
Gave up less than 100 yards rushing in 9 games  
 
2007- Titans finished 10-6
5th in total defense 8th in points given up
10th in pass defense Tied for 2nd in INTS
7th in sacks Leader in sacks- Kyle Vanden Bosch (12.5)
Gave up 23PPG in 9 games against top 15 offenses 5th in rushing yards given up
Gave up less than 100 yards rushing in 11 games  
3) What type of players does Schwartz need to run his defense?
 
The most important thing is to have a front four (who tend to be the only rushers) that has a lot of pass-rushing talent. The presence of Albert Haynesworth, playing at a defensive MVP-type level, was huge in 2007-they were literally the best defense in the league by a decent margin when he played and below average without him by Football Outsiders numbers. 2008 was an overall better, more talented unit playing more cohesively, so they were able to play successfully without him (they beat the Steelers to clinch home-field without him). Speaking from afar, it seems like the Bills have that kind of defensive line talent.
 
His defensive linemen tended to be lighter and quicker than average. The Titans under Schwartz looked for two three-down linebackers that could play in space; they didn't have a true Sam linebacker until Jerry Gray changed the defensive scheme in 2011.
 
Middle linebacker was generally a two-down position and not a priority. It's a lot easier to play run defense in the Wide-9 if your corners are physical and willing to tackle (compare Phily, Asante Samuel). The Titans under Schwartz tended to prefer two interchangeable safeties rather than distinct strong and free types (in 2008, they had Chris Hope, who did what Polamalu didn't in Pittsburgh, and Michael Griffin, physically a prototype FS).
 
2006- Titans finished 8-8
32nd in total defense 31st in points given up
26th in pass defense 13th in INTS
29th in sacks Leader in sacks- Kyle Vanden Bosch (6.5)
Gave up 26PPG in 6 games against top 15 offenses 29th in rushing yards given up
Gave up less than 100 yards rushing in 2 games  
 
4) Why was there such a difference between the 2006 and 2007 defense?
 
Haynesworth turned from a player who was dominant for a couple plays or a couple series in his career through 2006 to a much more consistently dominant player in 2007. Further, between 2006 and 2007, they fixed a number of the individual liabilities-replacing cornerback Reynaldo Hill with solid veteran Nick Harper and drafting Michael Griffin to play next to Hope, most importantly.
 
2005- Titans finished 4-12
19th in total defense 28th in points given up
17th in pass defense Tied for 30th in INTS
9th in sacks Leader in sacks- Kyle Vanden Bosch (12.5)
Gave up 30PPG in 8 games against top 15 offenses 22nd in rushing yards given up
Gave up less than 100 yards rushing in 5 games  
5) What type of personality does Schwartz have?
 
Personality-wise, he seems like a football coach. He's a smart guy-he was apparently the top Econ graduate in the College at Georgetown-and believes, or at least believed, in the ability of analytics to add information to what you see. I can't give you any real details on that, but he probably won't care where his defense ranks in yards allowed. He coached under Fisher for a long time, and like Fisher seems to believe in willing to play aggressive on defense, and maybe that playing aggressive is part and parcel of playing physically in general. Players seemed to enjoy playing for him.
 
2004- Titans finished 5-11
27th in total defense 30th in points given up
30th in pass defense 13th in INTS
27th in sacks Leader in sacks- Kevin Carter (6.5)
Gave up 42PPG in 4 games against top 15 offenses 6-way tie for 26th in rushing yards given up
Gave up less than 100 yards rushing in 5 games  
 
2003- Titans finished 12-4
12th in total defense 13th in points given up
29th in pass defense Tied for 8th in INTS
Tied for 9th in sacks Leader in sacks- Jevon Kearse (9.5)
Gave up 21PPG in 4 games against top 15 offenses 1st in rushing yards given up
Gave up less than 100 yards rushing in 12 games  
 
6) How often did the Titans blitz?
 
The Titans under Schwartz blitzed about as rarely as any team in the league. In 2008, they were #2 in the league in terms of how often they sent only 4 rushers. I shouldn't oversell the wide-9. No defense does the same thing all the time. But I did sit at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis in 2006 and I did watch the Titans line up with both safeties in a 2-deep shell 15 yards off the line of scrimmage literally every single play the Colts were not in the red zone.
 
7) Your defense had a big drop off from your top 5 finish in 2008 and bottoming out in 2009. Did that have to do with Jim Schwartz leaving or were there other reasons?

The dropoff in the Titans defense from 2008 to 2009 looked mostly personnel-related. Albert Haynesworth had been a defensive MVP-type player in 2007 and 2008 and was in Washington, which was a big loss. The rest of the defensive starters were back, but they had injury problems that exposed a lack of depth and they got old fast in some key locations. I think that just goes to stress the need for top defensive line talent and a smart, cohesive team in the back seven.

2002- Titans finished 5-11
10th in total defense 11th in points given up
6-way tie for 16th in pass defense 3-way tie for 13th in INTS
3-way tie for 9th in sacks Leader in sacks- Kevin Carter (10.5)
Gave up 28PPG in 6 games against top 15 offenses 2nd in rushing yards given up
Gave up less than 100 yards rushing in 12 games  
 
2001- Titans finished 7-9
25th in total defense 25th in points given up
28th in pass defense 3-way tie for 25th in INTS
14th in sacks Leader in sacks- Jevon Kearse (10)
Gave up 27PPG in 6 games against top 15 offenses 5th in rushing yards given up
Gave up less than 100 yards rushing in 10 games  
 
Defensive averages from 2001-2008
17th in total defense 18th in points given up
20th in pass defense 13th in INTS
3-way tie for 9th in sacks Leader in sacks (9.5)
Gave up 26PPG against top 15 offenses 12th in rushing yards given up
 
8) What Bills players do you think will thrive or fail under the Schwartz's system?

 
I didn't get a chance to watch much of the Bills this past season, but I'm sure the talent on the defensive line had a lot to do with what attracted Schwartz to the job. My guess is one of his challenges will be ensuring Jerry Hughes continues to be productive, since Schwartz may put him in a similar role to what he was ineffective doing in Indianapolis, but I'd have to sit down and actually watch Hughes' usage from this past season to see just how big of a challenge that will be. Sorry, too much to do, not enough hours in a week.
Joe

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