I was ecstatic when the Eagles hired Chip K elly. He is the coach I thought best suited to take over the Eagles and put the them back among the best teams in the NFL. Kelly had vision. He was smart and creative. He was bold and original.
And then he hired Bill Davis.
I remember seeing the tweet from Reuben Frank saying that Bill Davis was going to be the defensive coordinator. I was less than thrilled. Davis was simply not a compelling candidate based on the information that was available.
If you looked at his 2 jobs as defensive coordinator, in SF and ARZ, the results were less than ideal, to put it mildly. Davis didn’t have a team finish inside the Top 20 in Yards Allowed and only had one unit finish beyond that mark in Points Allowed.
Kelly looked beyond the numbers. He was impressed with Davis’ ideas about defense and coaching. He saw a coach who could succeed when given the right circumstances. To those of us on the outside, the numbers just seemed too overwhelming to feel very positive about the hire.
Now that Davis has a season under his belt and we’ve all gotten to know him better, I feel differently. One of the big reasons why is listening to Davis in his press conferences. He does a fantastic job of communicating. He mixes in honesty with coachspeak. No NFL coach will ever be totally honest, especially in today’s world. Davis is willing to be critical of his unit, but he does it the right way. He praises them as much as he can, but isn’t going to be in total denial after a poor performance.
Davis has a calming presence about him. When things were bad early in the year, he preached patience and said that there was some progress even though the results on the field didn’t show it. Davis turned out to be right and the defense did get better as the season went along.
When Juan Castillo met with the media, it was painful. Castillo always felt like he was trying to sell you something. I’m sure he was more comfortable with the players, but I can’t imagine that it was significantly better. Castillo didn’t have the track record for the job. Even when he was making a valid point, it seemed as if he was trying to convince everyone it was true.
Davis has coached defense in the NFL for more than 20 years. He knows exactly what he’s talking about. He’s calm and confident as he explains concepts to the media. I’m sure that is the same when he’s with the players. Davis has the luxury of mixing in good stories. “This is how I taught Kevin Greene when we were together in Pittsburgh.” Or maybe “I used this strategy to slow down Peyton Manning 4 years ago in Arizona.” That kind of stuff means something. It gives him gravitas.
While Davis has won over fans and the media with his communication skills, there still is the question of whether he is the right man to lead the defense. Let’s go back to SF and ARZ for a minute. The Niners defense was awful when Davis was there. However, that wasn’t really his defense. The head coach was Mike Nolan. Davis was the DC to him like Brad Childress was the OC to Andy Reid. Anyone who watched the offense Childress ran in Philly and the one in Minnesota can see there was a huge difference. Under Reid, Childress was forced to call passes. On his own, Childress ran the ball over and over and over.
We don’t know how much control Davis had in SF, but it wasn’t his defense. That was Nolan’s specialty and you can bet he was going to have his hands all over the unit and what they did. I’m not trying to excuse Davis from all responsibility in SF. He was part of that mess.
In Arizona, Davis did have total control, but still dealt with odd circumstances. He took over for Clancy Pendergast. Rather than change everything and rebuild on the fly, Davis kept things mostly the same. He did make all the playcalls and he did decide who started and sat, but it still wasn’t his baby.
Under Chip Kelly, Davis has virtual autonomy. Kelly and Davis are both 3-4 guys. Kelly did push for 2-gapping. I’m not sure if Davis preferred that or not. I’m not sure what to make of the 4-3 Under. That’s something Davis used in Arizona, but it was put in place by Pendergast. Davis liked it enough to keep it, but we don’t know if that’s what he wanted to make his defense or not.
For the first time ever, Davis is running his scheme with his players and a strong coaching staff to support him. This job will make or break his reputation. You can point out the difficulty brought on by Kelly’s style of offense, but Davis also gets to play with the lead quite a bit and that is something all defensive coaches want to do.
Davis has embraced Kelly’s offense. Members of the media will ask about the dangers of a quick 3-and-out and Davis will respond that it is the same as a quick 3-and-in. If you want the benefits of quick strike TDs you have to deal with the quick punts as well. Davis gets this. There is no Buddy Ryan offense vs defense type of situation going on. Davis has been on teams that couldn’t score. He knows the pressure that puts on a defense.
There is reason to be optimistic about Davis and the defense. Players got better as the year went along and the overall defense had an impressive streak of holding 9 straight opponents to 21 points or less. Young players were taught well and you could see definitive growth in their performances. Davis is competent with X’s and O’s, maybe better. We do know he can teach and develop young talent.
The Eagles defense isn’t likely to ever post great numbers because of Kelly’s playing style and how many plays the defense has to face, but the group can still make plays and be a key to winning. Let’s see if the hot stretch from the end of 2013 carries over to 2014. If the defense can play like that, Davis might turn out to be a great hire by Kelly.