Could the D Make a Big Leap?

Posted: January 15th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 40 Comments »

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?

Ron Jaworski
Jay Fiedler
AJ Feeley
Bill Lazor

Hopefully they have better luck with the QB coach than they did with the QBs.


  • Mac

    What better way to start a new thread. (h/t Bounty Bowl for finding this)

    http://kissingsuzykolber.uproxx.com/2014/01/nfl-logos-hipsters.html

    • SteveH

      Hah, hipsters. Life’s little punchlines.

  • shah8

    The only way Fletcher Cox gets to be an impact player in 3-4 is if there is some other talent on the line. No, Thornton or Logan is not what I mean.

  • Jeppe Elmelund van Ee

    Is there any chance that TJ Ward will be a UFA this year? If we could get him, Darqueze Dennard and maybe Attaouchu in the draft, that would make this defense a lot better

    • Anders

      He will most likely leave. Is he a big enough play maker?

    • kajomo

      I am perosnally kind of interested in Benard Pollard. He’s a big physical guy that would just bring some nasty to the defense. He would be a lot cheaper than Ward and would allow us to address other areas.

      I also love Calvin Pryor in the draft. Him and Pollard would change the mentallity of this defense.

      • D3FB

        Those kinds of players are dinosaurs in this league. They will draw penalties and extend drives.

    • holeplug

      Browns have a ton of cap space so I doubt it. Even if they don’t work out a deal they can franchise him and easily fit him under the cap.

      • shah8

        Gossiping about the Browns, isn’t the whole last team without a coach thing rich, what with Bowles withdrawing his name from contention? Perhaps they’ll only be able to attract the likes of today’s equivalent of Marian Campbell…

        The Miami situation is also great for mean gossip…

  • Matt and Kari Verhoog

    It seems that our best offense happens when we tire teams out, so the Goal should be to get the ball back to the offense as fast as possible. Why not have a gambling defense, instead of a bend but break. In my mind the worse thing is for the defense to give up long drives, not long touchdowns.

    • shah8

      Well, ask yourself this…would you be okay with a 2009 era Asante Samuel? Do you reasonably expect to be able to sign great ballhawks, without wear and tear like Chris Tillman? What’s on the market are guys like Chris Cook, who keeps getting injured, and somehow, in the time that he *has* played, has never gotten ONE interception.

    • TommyLawlor

      Chip Kelly’s defenses had a ton of INTs at Oregon. The Eagles were 3rd in the NFL in takeaways this year. The strategy works for creating turnovers,

      • Mitchell

        WOW! I had no idea we were freaking 3rd! That is such a huge jump from last year.

      • Matt and Kari Verhoog

        Great point.

    • Sean

      The defense also bent a lot more than it wanted to. With better talent, they can force turnovers and punts on a more consistent basis.

  • mksp

    KONY EALY

  • SteveH

    Lazor gonna regret going to Miami, super dysfunctional franchise. If I was a coach I wouldn’t touch Cleveland, Washington, Detroit, Miami, Oakland, New York (Jets).

    I have faith that Big Balls Chip will find a suitable replacement.

    • Insomniac

      Did Jacksonville not qualify because it has weather going for them?

      • SteveH

        Hah, touche, though Jacksonville never really struck me as dysfunctional so much as no one really cares about Jacksonville, not even Jacksonville’s fans. It’s hard to build a winning tradition when no one actually cares if you win or not.

  • Jamie Parker

    If you had a choice between Miami and Minneapolis, wouldn’t you rather go to Miami? South beach or a frozen Mississippi? DQ blizzards or real blizzards? You can’t go Python hunting in MN.

    • shah8

      Well, in Miami, Ryan Tannehill’s wife thinks you need a AR-15 auto while tooling around town.

      Then again, you can get shot for throwing popcorn at a senior citizen. Dangerous down there! Go for the blizzard.

      And the cheap land. I hear the Chinese are ALL ABOUT the CHEAP LAND!

      • Insomniac

        insert texan stereotypes here.

        The Chinese part is true..all of your broken down houses belong to us. Take it from someone who is Chinese.

  • DJH

    Chip may have a better idea of where he wants to go with the QB position after one year which will help in selecting Lazor’s replacement. That’s a bonus.

  • bdbd20

    Tommy,

    How would you approach free agency as far as the defense? Big money for an impact player, or 2nd and 3rd tier guys to fill spots and focus on the draft?

    Playmaking safeties and OLB’s are gonna be expensive, if available at all.

    • ICDogg

      I’ve got interest in Alterraun Verner

  • Kushan Patel

    Megan Fox makes my D leap, if you know what I’m sayin’..

    • SteveH

      Horrible pun, but I’ll allow it since it incorporated Tommy’s girlfriend Megan Fox.

  • ICDogg

    Bucky Brooks has the Eagles taking Calvin Pryor in the first round in his mock tonight.

    http://www.nfl.com/draft/2014/mock-drafts/bucky-brooks/175600?campaign=Twitter_writers_brooks

    • 47_Ronin

      I really like Pryor, he’s a big physical S. Right now I think he would be the 1st Safety taken not Ha. C-Dix as Brooks projects. An alternative by M. Kiper has the Eagles taking FSU WR Kelvin Benjamin

      • Insomniac

        If this is the situation during the draft then I would hate to be Howie. Especially if both guys have good combines too.

  • CrackSammich

    Time to start beating the drum for the hometown kid, Rondell White. From West Chester, PA, went to West Chester University, and put up some ridiculous numbers in Div II. He’s small and pretty slow for a skill player, but might be worth an UDFA pick up.

    http://articles.philly.com/2013-12-15/sports/45193639_1_division-ii-rb-white-cell-phones

    There’s some terribly edited film of him on Youtube, if you’re so inclined.

    • D3FB

      Played against him twice in the PIAA district playoffs. Kid can ball. Put a shoulder right in his thighs on a tackle attempt only to turn around and see he somehow had managed to pick up 8 more yards. He probably wont be a super hot commodity in UDFA so we can probably get him as a stay close to home camp body with upside.

  • Jyolteon

    Just for the sake of comparison (and because I would absolutely love a defense like theirs), here are the Seahawks PPG allowed stats in 2010 (Carroll’s first year) and 2011

    2010:
    25.4 ppg, ranked 25th

    2011:
    19.7 ppg, ranked 7th

    In 2011 they had two new starting DL (Kentwan Balmer and Colin Cole vs. Red Bryant and Alan Branch), two new starting LB (Lofa Tatupu and Aaron Curry vs. KJ Wright and LeRoy Hill), three new starters in the secondary (Lawyer Milloy, Kelly Jennings, and Marcus Trufant vs. Kam Chancellor, Brandon Browner, and Richard Sherman).

    That means they changed seven starters from 2010 to 2011, with many of the replacements being high impact players (Bryant, Chancellor, Sherman). Of the new starters in 2011, only Bryant and Chancellor were on the roster in 2010. I think it’s remarkable they introduced that many new starters in one year but still jumped 18 spots in the PPG ranking.

    I don’t think the Eagles will go through nearly as much roster turnover on that side of the ball, though I could see four new starters (potentially both S spots, CB, and OLB).

    Now… Do you even dare compare Billy Davis to Gus Bus and Pete Carroll? Can Davis coach and develop players at an elite level?

    • Dominik

      “Now… Do you even dare compare Billy Davis to Gus Bus and Pete Carroll? Can Davis coach and develop players at an elite level?”

      That’s kind of unfair, because the alignment from the HC. It would be more fair to compare Shurmur to the impact those guys had, because Chip is an offensive mind like Carroll is an defensive mind.

      You have to love their secondary, though. Big and nasty. Read an article yesterday saying that the Seahawks take advantage of the psyche of the referees. They are the most penalized team in the NFL (PI, Holding), but the referees hate it to throw too many flags. So you play very, very physical every snap and don’t get flagged for it every time. But the physical play destroys the rhythm of the offense. Not a dumb strategy, to say the least. Could be something for Chip and Davis to think about.

      • Jyolteon

        I absolutely agree with your first point. Carroll is one of the brightest defensive minds around. I know comparing Davis to Carroll and Bradley is unfair, but I thought it’d be interesting to see how the best D in the league came to be, as far as roster management.

        To your second point, I live in Seattle so I hear about the Seahawks all day, every day. I remember Cary Williams saying the secondary watches for how physical the refs let them play early on. If they can get away with a lot of contact, they’ll play that way throughout the game. If the refs are calling every ticky tack foul, the players will adjust. Maybe it would be smarter to implement the Seahawks’ style of doing things. It certainly would be much easier with Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman….

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  • Mike Roman

    Sites like this is what make Eagles fans great. The season never dies for us. I have to imagine that there are more Eagles blog sites than for any other team. I’m sure they are more frequently updated and commented on than other NFL blog sites. There is no way that Colts fans are already clamoring for the draft like we are. Pittsburgh has passionate fans but I don’t think most of them can read or spell so you know they’re not blogging. Anyway, this is the first site I look at in the morning and the last one I look at before bed. These discussions about FA and the draft are great. Keep up the good work everyone. Love being a part of this.

  • eagleyankfan

    Defense doesn’t have to be top 3 or top 5. Give me a D that knows how to get off the field on those critical drives in the 4th quarter. Eagles need better play calling or better talent or both.

  • Cafone

    I think the strength of the Eagles defense next year will depend a lot more on Howie Roseman than Bill Davis.