One of the problems with Juan Castillo as DC was that he could not put together a special gameplan. When the Eagles dominated, it was due to talent or an inferior opponent. Castillo would mix in a good wrinkle at times. He just didn’t have the background to come up with complex gameplans for specific opponents.
Bill Davis can do this. Back in 2009 the Cardinals were set to face the Vikings, who were 10-1 and a juggernaut. Brett Favre was playing out of his mind. Adrian Peterson was being Adrian Peterson. Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice and Visanthe Shiancoe combined to catch 25 TD passes that year. In 7 of the first 11 games that year, the Vikings scored 30 or more points.
Davis knew he had his work cut out for him. Favre was a veteran QB so you had to get creative if you wanted to confuse him. The best bet with Favre, Davis figured out, was to frustrate him. That meant taking away deep throws.
While that sounds simple enough, also stopping Peterson complicated matters. How do you crowd the line of scrimmage to stop the run and keep DBs back to take away deep balls?
Davis got very situational. When he sensed a run play, he had 8 and even 9 guys in the box. When the Vikings came out in the Ace formation, Davis had 8 guys in the box, but made sure the FS stayed plenty deep. The Vikings tried to run from the spread, but Davis had a wrinkle for that. His nickle corner didn’t line up over the slot receiver. Instead, the NB would take a couple of steps toward the formation and would read run first, then bail into coverage if it was a pass play.
Adrian Peterson finished the game with 19 yards on 13 carries. If he was a normal human being, he wouldn’t have gotten that much. AP used speed and strength to get the 19.
As for the passing game, Davis and the Cardinals gave up lots of short throws. They kept everything in front of them and forced the Vikings to move down the field on sustained drives rather than getting chunk plays.
Davis had one plan for the 1st half and an adjustment for the 2nd. In the opening half the Cardinals were more aggressive, rushing 4 defenders a lot and blitzing more on other plays. In the 2nd half, Davis used more 3-man rushes. He essentially dared Favre to take off running. Favre never did. He held the ball a lot. That led to some sacks. It also led to some forced throws, including 2 INTs.
The key defender was ILB Karlos Dansby. He did a bit of everything. He played the run aggressively. He blitzed at times. He covered RBs in the flat. He covered TEs. Dansby also dropped deep down the middle, forcing Favre to throw over him or in front of him. Dansby picked off a pass while covering in the middle.
The Vikings finished the game with 17 points. They scored an early TD when getting the ball in Cardinals territory after a fumble. They scored a TD late when going against a prevent defense. In between, they got just a FG. The Vikings were just 5 of 15 on 3rd downs. Favre was sacked 3 times and picked off twice. He finished 30-45-275, but 85 of those yards came on the final drive.
Davis didn’t do anything that was genius. He didn’t re-invent the wheel, so to speak. He simply put together a good gameplan. It fit the skill set of his players and addressed the strengths/weaknesses of the Vikings. This is all you need to do.
There was one creative, oddball element that Davis and the Cardinals coaching staff used in preparation for the game. They had Brian St. Pierre, the QB who played the role of Favre in practice, mimic some of Favre’s mannerisms, including his look-off pump fakes. It is hard to know exactly how much this helped, but it certainly didn’t hurt. I do like the fact that Davis and the coaches were looking for any angle that could help the players. Little things like that can sometimes mean a lot.
The 2013 Eagles defense won’t succeed or fail because of Bill Davis so much as the players, but he will have a major impact based on whether he’s able to put together good gameplans and call the right plays. With smart veteran assistants around him and some talented pieces in place, I’m looking forward to see what Davis can do.