The Men Behind Davis

Posted: July 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 37 Comments »

One of the key points I’ve tried to make in regard to Bill Davis is that he now has a strong staff around him. Too often we see an offensive or defensive coordinator and judge them without looking at the assistants around them. When Jim Johnson had the Eagles defense playing great football, he had Ron Rivera, Steve Spagnuolo and Leslie Frazier helping him. Those coaches could help with schemes, gameplanning and also teaching the concepts to the players.

Kelly hired a strong group of defensive assistants to support Davis. Bill McGovern has been a terrific LB coach for years. You may have heard of some of his pupils, Luke Kuechly and Mark Herzlich. Rick Minter has been a positional assistant, coordinator and head coach at the college level. He has extensive experience with creative defenses. He was taught the Under defense by Monte Kiffin when they worked together at Arkansas and NC State. Minter ran the Notre Dame defense when they were competing for national titles in the early 90’s. He became the head coach at Cincinnati and hired guys like Rex Ryan, Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh and Jimbo Fisher to work for him. John Lovett has been a defensive coordinator and DBs coach for 30 years.

And there is also Jerry Azzinaro.

Chris Brown of SmartFootball.com responded to yesterday’s column with some thoughts on Twitter.

Azzinaro is a huge part of the defense. And he is Kelly’s right hand man on the Eagles. Check out these comments from last year.

“First and foremost, he’s really, really smart,” Kelly said. “He comes off as a gruff, get-after-you guy, but he’s extremely intelligent. He’s a great communicator. He can get his message across in terms of how he wants it done. He’s very detailed in his work, extremely meticulous in how he wants it done. But I think the guys gravitate to him.

“I was with him at Oregon, and it was really important for me to be with him here just because I think he’s a great teacher and great communicator.”

Kelly was asked what it means, that Azzinaro is the assistant head coach.

“[He] coaches me a lot. I mean, he’s a really special guy to be around,” Kelly said. “I think, again, he’s extremely intelligent. He’s got a great view and great mindset in terms of how he looks at not only the game, but looks at life. We all seek professor Azzinaro’s counsel a lot of times, to be honest with you.”

How many head coaches would refer to the DL coach as “professor” and make reference to “seeking his counsel”? Clearly they have a special relationship.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking Azzinaro is a “yes man” for Kelly. Azzinaro is quite the defensive guru. He made an instant impact when he joined the Oregon staff.

Kelly knew of Azzinaro’s accomplishments – most notably his work with Dwight Freeney at Syracuse – before he came to Oregon. And when Azzinaro joined New Hampshire in 2007, when Kelly came to the Ducks as offensive coordinator, he got more rave reviews.

So Kelly replaced Michael Gray with Azzinaro, and the ideas came together quickly.

“When we brought Jerry on and he brought those schemes, it didn’t take me long to go, ‘this is unbelievably good.’ ” secondary coach John Neal said. “It was better than anything I’d ever had, as a scheme, even before I walked out on the field.

“It’s fun to see it working so far. We have combined worlds. That meshing is why we’re doing well. There are no egos.”

Azzinaro, playfully gruff but as guarded as Kelly when it comes to sharing information, said it’s not really a scheme thing.

“It’s more how we operate within the scheme than the scheme itself,” Azzinaro said. “How does (undersized tackle) Brandon Bair get to function inside? How do we rotate the defensive linemen? These kinds of things.”

Azzinaro has brought the ability to play different defenses with the same personnel. When the Ducks bring in an extra defensive back, they don’t lose a pass rusher. Azzinaro’s zone blitzes have made a star out of Kenny Rowe, a hybrid end/linebacker who had seven sacks in his first seven games and six tackles Saturday against Arizona State.

By improving the linemen’s technique and bringing pressure from elsewhere, he has taken the pressure off the injury-ravaged secondary. The Ducks lead the Pac-10 in pass defense, a year after the D-Boyz – with current NFL performers Chung and Byrd – finished last.

“Instead of dropping into zones waiting for people to come to us, we’re attacking people,” linebacker Spencer Paysinger said.

Then there’s the enthusiasm that the screaming, leaping Azzinaro brings.

“Brandon Bair, Will Tukuafu, they come over and hit us in the chest if we’re tired, telling us to suck it up, give us a little chest pump,” Paysinger said. “I’d say coach Azzinaro has really planted seeds that are going to help us.”

Tukuafu, tackles Blake Ferras and Simi Toeaina and safety T.J. Ward are the only seniors on the defensive two-deep, so those seeds have time to grow. But it’s apparent the Ducks have a pretty good grasp of these schemes already.

“We’ve been able to modify our packages based on people, not zones or coverages,” Paysinger said. “We have fast (defensive ends), so we’re putting them in coverage – we know they can cover flats.

“We’re able to think on the fly – not, ‘what do we have to do here?’ or ‘this formation means we have to be here but in special cases here.’ It’s real simple: I’m going to have this person; if he motions, I’m going to have this person over here. It’s really simple for us, and it’s allowing us to play quicker because we know exactly what we’re doing.”

Aliotti gleefully explained how he can now use an odd package without having to put in an odd package, how he can make a dual call based on how the offense lines up. It’s “the best of both worlds,” he said, mixing Azzinaro’s schemes with what the Ducks had been running.

“The guy brings an amazing amount to the program, and he deserves a lot of credit,” Neal said. “But we’d like to hold the credit until the season’s over.”

There is a book called “Coaching the Under Defense” by Jerry Gordon. Where did Gordon learn the Under?

From my perspective, it’s something that we ran in college. When I was a player and then when I was coaching up at University of Massachusetts, I coached for two guys, Ted Roof who’s now Penn State’s defensive coordinator. I was also defensive line coach for Jerry Azzinaro, he’s at University of Oregon right now.

And so it’s been part of a package and it’s something that I really, really, liked. I always liked it. I put my own little flavor on it just from doing it all these years. But that’s the Genesis of it; Jim Reed, Ted Roof, and Jerry Azzinaro.

 So Bill Davis has a staff full of veteran teachers. He also has smart, creative defensive coaches to help him scheme and make adjustments. This group knows how to come up with a good gameplan and then get the players to execute it.

Beyond that, there is good chemistry on the staff. Azzinaro worked with McGovern at UMass many years ago. Azzinaro worked with Minter at Marshall not too long ago. Lovett is an outsider, but has a background very similar to Azzinaro in that he’s from New York, played football at a small college, and then began coaching at small northeastern schools.  These coaches get along. They work well together. Eagles fans only need to look back to 2012 to see that a dysfunctional coaching staff can kill a team. 

Davis helps the situation by pointing out on a regular basis that this isn’t his scheme. The entire defensive staff had a hand in putting it together. Davis isn’t angling to be a head coach. He just wants to succeed as a defensive coordinator. The other coaches are older guys who aren’t as fixated on climbing the ladder as young coaches would be.

If the Eagles defense does ever become a really good unit, there will be a lot of people responsible for that success.

* * * * *

I mentioned time of possession in the previous post. This upset one reader. I am not an advocate of that stat. It has nothing to do with winning. That’s an old media talking point, but not something I subscribe to.

I do think time of possession can affect the defense of a team. If the opponent has fewer chances with the ball, that gives the defense an advantage. It does not guarantee success, but it can be helpful to the defense.

There was also mention that the Eagles defense can help themselves by getting more 3rd down stops. This is completely true. No one is saying any bad thing that happens on defense is the fault of Kelly and his offense. That would be silly.

That said, you’re being naive if you think Kelly’s system doesn’t affect the defense. Sometimes it helps them, sometimes it hurts them. It definitely affects them.

_

 


  • zbone95

    One of the reasons the Defense endured a lot of plays is because they could not get off the field on third downs. The dreaded 3rd and long killed us and just kept the defense on the field longer than it needs to. They have to do a better job in coverage in 3rd and longs and get off the field.

    • RogerPodacter

      yep, we were all joking here as the season went…

      “3rd and long… they got us right where they want us…”

      if the defense of last season could have gotten one or two more stops on 3rd down last year, this could have been a completely different team!
      defense stops them early, forcing a punt, giving the offense a short field to work with. either get more points or pin the other team deep again.

      • Media Mike

        Patrick M-f-ing Chung isn’t here anymore, so that will improve a lot I’m sure.

        • Bert’s Bells

          Getting Ryans off the field for some passing down/dime packages will help too.

          • GEAGLE

            Meh…some times getting him off the field is good…but he does a lot of things well on 3rd down that everyone over looks…
            ….
            He may be a liability in man coverage! but the dude is pretty darn solid dropping into Zone, proof being his career year in INTs last year…he is also really good at Knocking a WR on his ass at the line of scrimmage and not even letting him get out In his route…

            You don’t want Meco playing man coverage to often on 3rd down, but he does something’s really well…under rated Blitzer to! after a career year in sacks…Expecting Kendrick and Meco to be a nice blitzing weapon for us this year

    • GEAGLE

      What’s really bad is all the 3point conversion we gave up, from opponents throwing underneath, and safeties missing tackles and WRs running for first downs….

      If you are going to play off and not let anyone behind you, and teams throw underneath, you can’t blow the first tackle. safety needs to make the stop short of the first down marker…. that was IMO the biggest problem on 3rd down last year, followed by not having consistent pass rush

  • Daniel Norman Richwine

    If the defense improves in getting turnovers, by INT, Fumble, or Punt, this offense will go into warp speed.

    • Anders

      We was 2nd best in the NFL last year, how are we going to improve?

      • anon

        1st

      • Ark87

        1st best?

        I think he means if the D can get off the field quickly, the O can pound on opposing D relentlessly until the wheels come off.

        • Anders

          we 100% need to get off field faster on 3rd down

          • Ark87

            Agreed, in your opinion, what’s the best way to improve that? I think we had the double whammy of having both an underwhelming pass rush and secondary. So we would blitz…and still be underwhelming, further weakening the coverage. Here’s hoping we can get better pressure this year.

          • Anders

            Better coverage and better pass rush. Some of those 3rd and 14 we allowed we just pathetic coverage and no pass rush at all

          • GEAGLE

            Think our tackling when teams thru short of the first down marker on 3rd and long is what was really the issue….mainly the safeties(think Chargers game)

          • GEAGLE

            i’d be happy enough just having two safeties we trust enough to let our corners play their game and press on 3rd down….something that never happened last year. We literally haven’t even seen our CBs play to their strengths yet, because of the putrid safety position last year…most of the front 7 is young, I expect pass rush improvement just by guys being a year more mature mentally/physically and having some experience under their belt

          • suthrneagle

            3rd and long,you mean
            3rd `n short was no problem

        • Mitchell

          Or even be so good at getting turnovers we are ahead of the second place team by like 7-10. That would be incredible.

        • GEAGLE

          Like to see us continue with the turnovers we got last year, while hitting QBs and causing them to fumble more…..maintain the INTs and forcing WRs and RBs to Fumble, while causing More QBs to fumble..that’s how we can improve

  • Media Mike

    Great read! I think they’ve put together a great staff, minus the RB coach, on both sides of the ball. Chip having guys eager to work with him is a great sign for the long term talent development on this roster. One of the folks really did a good job pointing out how Reid failed towards the end was with too many poor assistant coaches developing / selecting talent to play on this D.

    I’m dying to know what idiot decided it would be better to sign Chung and Jenkings in back to back years instead of Glover Quin going into 2013?

  • Sughney Jay

    Absolutely love Azzinaro! “How violent can you be? More violence!”

  • troy412

    Yes pass defense was bad because chung was horrible and wolf didn’t understand where he was supposed to be in the scheme. People is down on Nate but he was more than solid and tackled alot better. Another reason pass defense was bad the linebacker play in coverage(Kendricks and Ryans) was horrible in the middle. Now with Jenkins and his versatility should help that.The corners played well and really like Carol overall the secondary is better than people think.Minus chung add Jenkins and less off Ryans in coverage will make all the difference for this defense and a little of a dime package and we will be just fine i trust Billy D and the assistants this is the side of the ball that will improve the most cause which Tommy brought up this staff will stick together for a while dont see any of them wanting to leave for other jobs they love what their doing now

  • JB

    More violence! More violence!

  • Wiztopher

    Great article. Let’s hope these Disciples don’t split after this season just like Lazor did. Furthermore, I’m so curious about this defense this season. They came on late in the season, but did get shredded by Orton. Orton. I think our CBs are solid but our pass rush is the bigger culprit. Every successful 3-4 has STUD OLBs. Mb Smith turns out to be a great pick but for now we don’t have much.

    • GEAGLE

      Meh…like Tommy pointed out, these are older guys who have been there done that…for older coaches like them, possibly winning a Super Bowl with Chip may be more important than the next promotion..

      People worry about Azz, but yesterday I wrote about how him and Chip have a mind-meld, and coach Azz isn’t going anywhere,,,I 100% believe he wants to see this out with Chip… You can offer coach Azz a DC. Job next year, but why does he have to jump on it? If he and Chip believe in what we are building and where we are going, those DCs jobs will still be waiting for him after we win a Super Bowl in two years…Azzinaro is literally the last coach I expect to take the first train out of philly when a promotion presents itself

  • eagleyankfan

    Reading about the D is fun. Let’s be careful. It’s only 1 season. Let’s not start anointing how great of a supporting cast Chip has after 1 season. As with Foles and our new toy at WR etc. time will tell what we have. It’s way too early to say “strong staff”. Strong start for sure and maybe skies the limit with these people. As of today — we don’t know what we have. I think we have enough to get excited about though.

    • GEAGLE

      Too early to say strong staff? This isn’t the second year coaching for our staff….these dudes have been coaching forever…I would have called Billy D, McGovern and Minter Great coaches before they ever even signed with Philly

      • eagleyankfan

        Great coaches — based off of what? College? They’ve done some fine work for sure. This isn’t college. I can’t even use the word “great” to explain their college careers. Very good. They sound imaginative. Still, their experience isn’t NFL. They have yet to experience the “downs” or adversity that every NFL team has to face.
        There are tons of “great” college coaches who’ve come to the nfl and failed. All of a sudden, the Eagles tabbed some college names and all of them are great? I want them all to be great but I don’t call anybody(coming into the NFL) great based off of college.

  • eagleyankfan

    #13 in the power rankings on PFT. Sounds about right to me. I wouldn’t have an argument if they were 11th but in the that 10-13 range seems fair.

  • Dominik

    @ T-Law

    You gave no link to the Oregon-Azz snippet. Great read, but what’s the source for that?

    Love the article. Azzinaro may be in his 50s, but he’s probably the assistant we should have the most “fear” for leaving. Davis would need to become a HC if he wants to leave us under contract – that’s not likely anytime soon. Maybe in College, but Davis is an NFL guy.

    Maybe Shurmur will get another shot at an HC gig if the Offense posts great numbers. But I wouldn’t be scared about that. Nothing against him, but Chip would find a new OC with WCO backround who could help him in the NFL because of his experience.

    For Azz, he could leave us if someone wants to make him his DC. If you do your research, like you did, Tommy, I could at least imagine that a team could be impressed. Now, of course, Azz could stay with us, he’s a Kelly guy. But don’t underestimate the chance to become a DC in the NFL. I wouldn’t be upset with him if he’d want to take that job.

  • GEAGLE

    Geez Only 1 OLB in the NFL is getting paid more than Trent Cole and that’s Clay Mathews….. That’s absurd

    • Ark87

      ouch, we might need to spend another 1st on a pass rusher next year sometime in the next 2 years.

      Also, there are A LOT of pass rushers out there who need to fire their agents.

      • GEAGLE

        Curious to see what happens with Cole.. He has to see the writing on the wall and know he can’t see that money next year, but I think the coaches do value him…. My guess is we let him test the market, and if he can’t find the money he wants, comes back to us on a much cheaper two year deal understanding that his snaps will start diminishing and he may also have to play a back up role…. Dude still has some gas in the tank, and is one of the best run defenders on the edge in the NFL,so it’s not like he is some old man that we have no use for, but if he wants to retire as an eagle and be part of what chips building! I think we may give him that opportunity but he would probably have to Sacrafice more than he is willing to, so yeah, we may need to draft another OLB..

        Unless Long and Brayman develop better than we expect

  • GEAGLE

    Think the way Billy Davis got this new defense to execute a gameplan to shut down the saints passing game, with Jimmy Graham becoming Barwins BITCH, in these kids first ever playoff game was impressive…of course we had to sell out to stop the pass, because we didn’t have the horses in the secondary to play them straight up(cough cough SAFETIES)..for most of the game we managed to shut down their pass game without our run defense leaking, but when they took Graham out of the game and went with the blocking TEs in the second half, they still had pass catching firepower that was difficult to matchup with straight up like Colston, so we still had to sell out to stop the pass, and eventually the veteran Super Bowl ALL PROs wore down our puppies on the DL in their first ever playoff game..

    Loss hurt, but still an impressive outing for the most part if we are realistic about our limitations…Jenkins is a key addition! hopefully having Wolff will also help. Young Front 7 gelling and maturing, after the bad taste from that playoff loss should fuel us to another level…especially with all our new depth, and subpackage versatility… Situational football is crucial,and you aren’t going to succeed without having a bunch of different subpackages in your tool belt…we clearly didn’t have that last year, but I believe the depth we added will allow us different subpackage variations…

    So many small things should make BIG DIFFERENCES for us. Something simple and attainable like improving your pre snap disguise, holding your bluff more, don’t let the QB fool you into tipping your true intentions…these things can make all the difference in the world, and I expect us to improve in so many of these small areas that I really expect it to manifest into a much better defense than people expect to see

  • A_T_G

    I still believe Bill D. Is just a stepping stone until Billy D. Williams is available. After all, big people beat up little people, but a Colt 45 kicks everyone’s ass.

    • ACViking

      Billy DEE Williams?

      Same guy. Same great Colt 45 kick.

  • lewis don

    Great Post. My View of the defense has definitely matured.

    Because this defense will probably, if they see the same level of snaps of higher this year, be on the field more than any other defense in the NFL. It would be that much more impressive to me if they can play well under those circumstances.

    We can all agree it is not an excuse. If your asked to play more snaps than everyone else, then thats your style of defense. They must prepare for that. in order to allow the offense to play the style they want to play, which puts pressure on opposing defenses because of the pace. Its a give and take.

    But also, because they will see so many snaps, this defense has an advantage when it comes to developing talent, all else being equal. The younger more inexperienced players could, hypothetically, get more playing time and grow faster.

    If maximized this Eagles Defense can be a defense that is deep and talented for a long time. A defense that is well conditioned and dominant no matter how long they have to stay on the field.

    This system though seemingly acting as a factor working against the defense could, if taken advantage of act as a engine of a dominant defense of the future.

    And THAT, is part of the reason I am so excited for this season and future seasons watching this team. There are so many things to believe in. So many positive signs.

    Although the PED thing is bugging me a bit…

  • unhinged

    As an Eagles fan for a long time, I am very high on Chip Kelly precisely for his football defense acumen. Remember when the previous regime was making the playoffs, going to championship games, and losing more often than not? Jim Johnson was a brilliant schemer, who knew what type of players he could succeed with, but his small, fast and sure-tackling unit was always dependent on a mind that could make it work. Andy Reid tried to adopt Johnson’s perspective, but he did not know defensive talent, and h should have realized how key JJ was to the whole show. He could not replace the CPU of the defense! Kelly, on the other hand, is stressing fundamentals and versatility. He is aiming for the antithesis of systemic dependency because he knows that every system has its flaws. I believe that he has put together a staff that is low on dogma and doctrine, but high on intelligence and adaptability. These are exhilarating times, and I think Kelly’s efforts will yield championship caliber defense which Philadelphia has not seen for almost 3 decades.