The 2012 Saints had one of the worst defenses in the history of the NFL. Let’s put it in perspective. This year’s Eagles could have allowed an additional 45-yard pass play in every game and still finished with better numbers. Yikes.
The 2013 Saints jumped up to 4th overall in points and yards. That is a remarkable turnaround. They got a new DC in Rob Ryan. They added a good cover corner in Keenan Lewis and also an impact Safety in Kenny Vaccaro. DL Cameron Jordan and Junior Gallete each had breakout seasons. It wasn’t as if they completely overhauled the group. I said prior to the 2012 season that Steve Spagnuolo was foolish for going there. The Saints didn’t have the kind of personnel he needed. The results showed that. Ryan proved to be an infinitely better fit.
The Eagles made the coaching change from 2012 to 2013, but still fielded a mediocre defense. They’re not nearly as bad as the 2012 Saints. Can the Eagles make a huge jump as the Saints did?
I think it is possible, but it isn’t likely. The Eagles would need Fletcher Cox to become an impact player up front. They would need either Cary Williams or Bradley Fletcher to have a career year. And the team would need to find an impact Safety in free agency or the draft. I don’t doubt that 1 or 2 of those things can happen, but it isn’t likely that all 3 will. I sure hope they do, but you don’t count on hopes.
The Saints were helped in a couple of ways. The Superdome is a huge home field advantage. It is so noisy that it is tough for teams to audible. That made it tough for offenses to adjust to shifts by the Saints. The Saints offense led the league in time of possession. The Saints D was on the field for fewer snaps and less time than any other defense.
The Eagles defense will never have that advantage because of Chip Kelly’s style of offense. The Eagles know that and play accordingly.
While it would be great to see the Eagles get up in the Top 5 in defense, that really isn’t necessary. They do need to be better. The offense isn’t totally to blame for all the plays the defense has to face. If they could come up with more 3rd and long stops, the defense would be off the field and the offense right back on it. The Eagles were 24th in 3rd down defense and that’s not good enough.
The Eagles don’t need a magic elixir to fix some of the 3rd down issues. They need to play smarter and faster, and to tackle better. Bill Davis likes to sit back and have the ball stay in front of his defenders. Their job is to attack the ball and keep it short of the sticks. That didn’t happen nearly enough in 2013. The KC game was a nightmare on 3rd/long. Donnie Avery would catch quick screens or shallow crosses and then cross the field and find an alley. 1st down. If the Eagles had been in better position or if they’d gotten to the ball faster, those plays don’t work the same. Minnesota did similar stuff and gave the Eagles fits.
I think there will be a natural improvement as the players get more comfortable in the scheme. Players can think less and be more natural. That should help them play faster. The more you think, the slower you are. Other times players get out of control to make up for being slow initially and that leads to problems, especially with tackling. The tackling improved quite a bit from 2012 to 2013, but they can still get better.
If the Eagles didn’t make a single personnel change, I truly believe they’d be a clearly better defense next year. Bill Davis made a simple, but brilliant point in a recent PE.com interview. Last spring and summer not many players could really help other players. The veterans were new to the 3-4 and the 2-gap system. All the terminology was new. Veterans like Trent Cole and DeMeco Ryans were learning just like Travis Long, Emmanuel Acho and Mychal Kendricks. Nate Allen couldn’t explain the scheme to Earl Wolff. And so on. This spring will be different. Rookies can come in and get good advice from players. That should help them to get comfortable faster. Let’s hope it helps them to offer immediate impact.
The good news is that there will be changes. The talent level will go up. The scouts have a better idea of what they’re looking for. The coaches know the personnel very well. They’ll have a good idea of where they must upgrade vs where they want to upgrade.
There are no guarantees that the defense will get better, but I’m pretty confident they will. The Eagles have a good young DL. That’s the foundation of any defense. If you aren’t good up front, you will always be struggling. And the defense did show progress this year. That tells me that the coaches can identify and fix issues, and that the players are coachable.
If the front office can find an impact player, that will help this defense in a huge way. Good fundamentals and improved tackling can only take you so far. At some point, you need impact players.
* * * * *
Bill Lazor threw us a curve ball and went to Miami. He will be the OC for the Dolphins. Interesting move. Joe Philbin is an offensive coach and they have a very talented young coach in Ryan Tannehill. I’d love to get an honest answer from Lazor on why he chose Miami.
Good luck to him.
What is it about Eagles QBs/coaches and the Dolphins?
Hopefully they have better luck with the QB coach than they did with the QBs.