I have written a lot about the coaching staff this year, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The offensive staff has a lot of talent to work with. Plus, Chip Kelly is an offensive guru and Pat Shurmur is a veteran NFL offensive coach. That group should be okay. The defense is the bigger mystery.
Someone on Twitter was asking me about the Eagles ability to run a complex defensive scheme. This person was of the mindset that Eagles players were dumb and had struggled to handle the schemes of Juan Castillo and Sean McDermott. I thought I had covered this already, but to be sure, let’s close this subject out.
Let’s start with schemes. Sean McDermott did want to run a complex scheme. He was a first time Defensive Coordinator and like so many young coaches, he was dying to try out all of his ideas. McDermott wanted to be creative and multiple. He dropped Trent Cole into coverage more than we’d ever seen. He had Trent line up like an ILB and blitz up the middle. McDermott had some very creative ideas.
Castillo was more basic. The Wide-9 is based on the DL attacking up the field. Blitzers confuse the situation. There were twists, stunts and loops, but it was still generally 4 DL rushing the passer. The problem with Castillo is that he had some odd ideas on the back end. Think about it. How many defenses have the SLB as the key player? And the Wide-9 put a lot of pressure on the DBs to support the run. Castillo then did some odd things in terms of coverage. Shouldn’t we all have been worried when he said the SS and FS would switch names, but not positions?
Now think about the players. McDermott was dealt a crushing blow when Stewart Bradley tore his ACL. The 2009 team had no stability at MLB. Omar Gaither had the brains, but not the ability. Joe Mays didn’t have the brains or discipline. Without a solid MLB to run the defense, the group is going to make some mistakes. There was also no Brian Dawkins. In his place were Sean Jones and Macho Harris. One was a veteran new to the team and the other a rookie. Quintin Mikell was there at SS, but he had new guys to work with.
The next year Disco Stu came back at MLB, but wasn’t the same physically. He had Moise Fokou and Ernie Sims around him. Fokou was young, Sims was dumb. FS was another rookie, Nate Allen.
Castillo also had LB/S issues. He tried to push rookie Casey Matthews in at MLB. Didn’t work. Jamar Chaney took over and was all over the place. Rookie Brian Rolle played WLB. Akeem Jordan and Moise Fokou split time at SAM. Allen was the FS and then rookie Kurt Coleman was the SS. Lots of youth and change.
In 2012 Castillo finally had a veteran MLB in DeMeco Ryans. There was a rookie at SAM, Mychal Kendricks. Chaney and Jordan split time at WLB, which hadn’t been their spot in a few years. Allen and Coleman played most of the year.
From 2009-2012 there was a lot of change, youth and pedestrian talent on the field in the LB and S spots. I focus on them because the DL is generally attacking and the CBs are generally covering WRs. The combination of change, youth and pedestrian talent really hurt those defenses.
The final aspect to consider are the assistant coaches.
Let’s not sugarcoat it. McDermott had bad assistants. Andy Reid had lost some great coaches. He tried to replace them with young coaches who were on the rise. Unfortunately, Reid chose poorly.
Castillo had a great DL coach in Jim Washburn. He had young assistants in Mike Caldwell and Mike Zordich. I think those guys could be good in time, but working with a new DC like Castillo and Washburn’s Wide-9 front made life difficult on them. Young coaches aren’t going to teach an odd system very well. They need something a bit simpler or more conventional where they can draw upon their playing days.
Todd Bowles, a good coach, joined the staff in 2012. He did a good job with the DBs for the first 6 weeks. Things fell apart when he was promoted to DC and he could no longer focus on the DBs. Also, he tried to change the coverages that the LBs and DBs played. Midseason switches like that are difficult to pull off. Bowles didn’t and the awful play from the DBs showed.
So why will things be different this year?
Yes, the Eagles are running a complex system. But they have better pieces in place. I don’t necessarily mean talent. I’m talking about fit.
Isaac Sopoaga can be a 3-4 NT. He’s done that. He also can play DE if needed. Both Cox and Thornton played DE at times in college. They have the size and skills to be good 3-4 DEs.
DeMeco Ryans has played ILB in a 3-4 system. He is a veteran player. He’s also healthy. Mychal Kendricks has the skills to be a good ILB in the 3-4. He played ILB as a Senior in college. Kendricks also played in a complex college scheme.
Connor Barwin was brought in to be the SAM. He played that spot in a similar scheme for the Texans. Brandon Graham and Trent Cole do have to adjust to new roles.
The CBs both have size and are physical players. Those are the traits that Bill Davis is looking for. As for Safety…Patrick Chung is a veteran SS. He has played behind a 3-4, 4-3 and hybrid fronts. FS Nate Allen returns. He’s new to the scheme, but is healthy and entering his 4th year as a starter.
The players aren’t perfect, but there are no Ernie Sims out there. No rookies are projected to start. This group has better experience than previous defenses. I also think the talent is better at S/LB.
Maybe most important of all…these players have good teachers.
Bill Davis is running the defense. He has been in the NFL for 20 years. He has experience as a DC.
Jerry Azzinaro is the DL coach. He is good at that, but also helps with installing multiple fronts and creative looks. Has some small school DC experience.
Bill McGovern is the OLB coach. He coached Mark Herzlich and Luke Kuechly at BC. He knows how to teach LBs. Veteran coach who also has some DC experience.
Rick Minter is the ILB coach. He’s done it all…great assistant, great DC and even a HC. He ran the Ball State defense in 1990. They finished 2nd in the nation in yards allowed and 3rd in points allowed. They were very good the next year as well and that got him the DC job at Notre Dame. The Irish played great run D under Minter and went 21-2-1 in his 2 years. They pitched 3 shutouts and won both bowl games. That got him the Cincinnati HC job. He spent the last decade mostly as a college DC. He didn’t have any great defenses, but coached some solid units and put out some good players. And Minter knows hybrid defenses. He can coach the 3-4 and 4-3. Also has 4-3 Under experience.
John Lovett is the DBs coach. He has been a DC and DBs coach. He was at Miami from 2009-2010 and put plenty of guys in the NFL. He produced NFL talent in stops at Clemson, Auburn and Ole Miss.
Buddy Ryan built a terrific defense when he was here. That group had talent. But they also had good coaches. Jeff Fisher and Wade Phillips were the DCs for Buddy. You had a defensive genius running the team and smart DCs running the defense.
Sean McDermott and Juan Castillo were first time DCs. They had no guru like Buddy to lean on. Sean and Juan were on their own. Neither guy had a strong veteran staff. And they sure didn’t have a staff that was well-versed in teaching the scheme that was being run. Both Sean and Juan were creating their own systems. How can other guys teach something you are creating?
Davis built the Eagles playbook based on what he and the assistants knew. All of them have experience running a defense. They are veteran teachers who have produced good players and good units at the collegiate level. There is the X-factor of adjusting to the NFL, but the basics are the basics. Azzinaro can teach players how to shed blocks. Minter and McGovern can teach LBs how to read plays and make tackles. Lovett can teach guys how to cover and balance run/pass D. We’ll see how well the staff adapts to life in the NFL, but I think this defense will be more fundamentally sound than any since Jim Johnson was here and honestly it may go back to the early days of JJ and Reid.
The defense won’t be a top unit until the right players are in place. It is possible we could find out we already have those players, but I think that is an extreme longshot. I like this group, but don’t see them turning out to be a great defense. The secondary still needs work and there are front seven questions to be answered.
I’m not enamored with the system we’re running, but it has grown on me. The most important issue for me is that the team did hire the right coaches to teach the scheme. This staff has a lot of 3-4 and hybrid defense experience. If you want to be creative and complex, you must have the right teachers. I think the Eagles accomplished that.
We’ll have to wait and see on the talent.
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Oregon got their NCAA punishment today. It was light.
Chip Kelly was given 18 months of show-cause. This means that a school can’t hire him for the next 18 months without having to get NCAA approval based on some special circumstances. I certainly hope he’s still here in 18 months.
The NCAA was very reasonable with this decision. Didn’t overly punish the current Oregon players. They focused on Kelly. That was the smart thing to do.
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The Pats released TE Aaron Hernandez today after he was arrested. We don’t know the charges yet, but this doesn’t sound good for him. It could be that he’s going to be charged with murder or as an accessory to murder.
I was shocked when they cut him. Didn’t see that coming.
I doubt any team touches Hernandez until they find out what’s going on with him legally.