Let’s Talk Defense

Posted: October 6th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 2 Comments »

There was a lot of talk this offseason about how the Eagles defense might have to carry the offense. The Eagles had one of the better defensive lines in the league. Alex Singleton and Eric Wilson would give them improved linebacker play. Steve Nelson gave the team a legit outside CB opposite of “Big Play” Slay and Anthony Harris would upgrade safety.

That is reasonable logic.

Things just didn’t work that way.

The defense was terrific for most of the first two games. They did struggle a bit after losing Brandon Graham in the Niners game. Still, they limited SF to 17 points. That’s a good overall performance.

The defense gave up 75 points and 851 yards over the past two games. Ugh, to put it mildly.

Head coach Nick Sirianni said in his Monday press conference that there were some tough conversations with the defensive staff that morning. It would be hard to imagine anything different. Beyond the numbers, the eye test hasn’t been good. Anyone watching the Eagles defense the past two weeks would gladly trade places with Stevie Wonder.

It looks (and is) way too easy.

Jonathan Gannon met with the media on Tuesday. He got some tough questions, as expected. Gannon didn’t have any comments that solved burning questions, partially because coaches don’t like to talk scheme and give away their ideas publicly.

The thing that stuck with me was when he talked about not being married to a scheme. He stressed that he is trying to do what it takes to get the best performance out of the guys he puts on the field. Anyone watching on Sunday would question that to infinity.

The gameplan did work well in the opener. The Falcons ran well early, but the defense settled in and then took over the game. The defense kept SF under control. The Eagles held them to their lowest scoring total of the season. The last two weeks have been brutal.

Has missing Brandon Graham made that much of a difference? I don’t think so. He’s good, but BG isn’t that good. We’re not talking about Reggie White here.

The Eagles have used a passive, bend-but-don’t-break scheme. They play with a light box and keep two safeties deep. This limits the down the field throws that QBs will try. It limits explosive plays.

The scheme is easier to run on. If you have 5 OL and a TE, you have 6 blockers. They match up well with 4 DL and 2 LBs. That makes it six on six. Advantage offense.

Gannon isn’t an idiot who can’t do math. He knows he’s light up front. What he is counting on is someone to make a play. A defense with Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox, Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett should make plays at the LOS. Alex Singleton looked terrific this summer. We all expected him to make some plays. Eric Wilson? We had low expectations but he has found a way to under-perform them.

Due to day job issues, I haven’t been able to study tape from the past two games. I do trust Jimmy Bama and he’s not saying good things about Fletcher Cox.

Cox went against Zach Martin and Trey Smith the past two weeks. Martin is arguably the best OG in the league. Smith is a rookie, but he’s playing at a very high level. So the past two weeks teams have been able to neutralize Cox with single blocking. That has cause major problems for the Eagles. They need Cox or Hargrave to win up front, to disrupt the middle of the line.

To be fair, not just any OG is going to be able to handle Fletch on a regular basis. The first two opponents doubled him a lot and Hargrave was highly disrpuptive. If you have a stud OG who can neutralize Cox and then you can double Hargrave…uh oh.

Gannon has to see that this happened and have a counter to it the next time the Eagles play a team with a stud RG.

One of the issues with Gannon right now is the lack of creativity. He’s playing a very simple defense. I would totally understand that if he had a bunch of young players on the field. That’s not the case. This is a veteran defense. They haven’t played together a lot, but there aren’t a bunch of rookies out there.

Gannon hasn’t played any Dime defense this year and that got some people all fired up. That isn’t as big a deal as some would have you believe.

When Gannon was hired, we all thought he would bring elements of the MIN and IND defenses here. That was exciting because Mike Zimmer used a complex, aggressive scheme when Gannon coached under him. This summer Gannon’s comments told us he was going to be more influenced by his time with the Colts. Heck, Zimmer himself has dialed back some of what he did in the past.

As teams get better at passing, you have to adjust.

Does Gannon have the right schematic ideas? I think they’re fine as a base. Tampa Bay had a great defense for years with a simple base scheme. But you either need great personnel to make that work consistently or you must mix in creative looks…blitzes, different coverages, different packages.

After Sirianni and Gannon had their discussion on Monday, I’m curious to see how the defense plays this week. I’m guessing there will be some differences. The Panthers are a middle of the pack offense. If you can’t get them off the field, we’ve got major problems.

This is not all about coaching. The back seven doesn’t have anyone who is a playmaker. No one. Wilson picked off a pass last week, but the ball was thrown to him. I’m glad he made the catch, but it isn’t as if he jumped a route and made the play happen. Beyond impact plays, the LBs and safeties are making tackles well downfield. People aren’t getting off blocks and to the ball. That has to change or it doesn’t matter what you do.

Last year the Eagles played mostly man coverage and wanted more guys in the box. The Cardinals and Cowboys combined for 70 points and 1,029 yards in Weeks 15 and 16. Those of you begging for a Dime defense or more of a focus on stopping the run, that stuff didn’t always work. Howie Roseman absolutely has blame in this with the lack of good players in the back seven. There isn’t a Seth Joyner or Brian Dawkins out there. Heck, there isn’t a Jordan Hicks or Quintin Mikell out there.

Gannon needs to figure out better ways to use the personnel he has. Going away from dynamic offenses will help, but he’s got to do a better job. You can’t count on mediocre opponents to solve your problems. That’s not how the NFL works.

The Eagles must upgrade the back seven in the offseason. For now, Gannon needs to find some patches to make this work better.

*****

Wow.

Should the Eagles be interested? Yes.

Smith is no longer the player he was in the past. He’s struggled in recent years. Still, he is worth taking a look at. The Eagles LBs are not good enough right now.

Gilmore is likely to go to a contender so I doubt he’s a realistic option. He is a very talented corner, though. You can bet Howie will at least make a call to check on the situation.

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