Yesterday’s post about Bill Davis and the defense generated some good discussion in the comments section. Some of you wondered why the defense can’t be a top unit, even with Kelly’s playing style. There was also talk about what the expectations should be for the defense.
I’ve written about this a few times. If you go back to last year’s Eagles Almanac, which I assume all of you bought (right???), I wrote in there about how the defense would need to be looked at beyond just yards and points. Yards per play is a stat that should be looked at. Points per play is a stat that I don’t think anyone keeps track of but maybe someone should. Takeaways are critical. Situational defense is critical.
The Eagles were dead last in the NFL in time of possession last year. They played the most snaps on defense. You simply can’t post great numbers in that type of a situation. Can you be a great defense if you don’t post great stats? That’s an interesting question. I lean toward “no” because you would need to have some crazy good unusual stats in order to make that argument.
Cincinnati and New Orleans were the only 2 teams to finish in the Top 10 in offensive and defensive yards. They were 2nd and 3rd in the league in time of possession. The offense and defense worked in concert. The Saints defense came out of nowhere to have a great year. Give Rob Ryan and his guys credit, but also recognize that they faced the fewest plays in the entire league (943). That is 207 fewer plays than the Eagles. It is the equivalent of playing 3 less games. If you look at yards per play, the Saints defense comes in 10th overall while the Eagles are at 20th. In terms of yards, the Saints were 4th and the Eagles 29th. Welcome to the new NFL.
Chip Kelly is an offensive coach. The team is always going to be slanted to the offense. So it is interesting to wonder how good the defense can be. Kelly has put resources into the defense so it isn’t like he’s ignoring it. Kelly wants a defense that can help the team win games. And really that is the key. The Eagles need a defense that works for them and what they do.
At Oregon Kelly had a defense that was among national leaders in takeaways, Red Zone defense and sacks. How did the 2013 Eagles do in those stats?
* The Eagles had 37 sacks, which was 20th in the NFL.
* The Eagles had 31 takeaways, which was tied for 3rd in the league.
* The Eagles were 12th in the league in Red Zone defense.
You can see that the team can do what Kelly wants. Improving the pass rush is a key. For a team that played with a lead as much as they did, 37 sacks isn’t enough. The Eagles did get good pressure at times and forced several intentional grounding calls, but they still need more sacks. They need to punish opposing QBs.
This is where Marcus Smith, Travis Long, Joe Kruger and Taylor Hart come into play. They should offer better depth. One of the ways to help a pass rush is to send waves of players after the QB. Fresh legs can make a difference in the 4th quarter of a game. Having better competition and depth at CB also should help the pass defense.
The defense has the potential to do what Kelly needs. We have to wait and see what kind of progress the unit makes.
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While we did see progress in 2013, we do have to point out that the defense still had some hiccups. Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton lit the team up. That’s not good.
And there were some favorable circumstances. The Eagles didn’t have to face Aaron Rodgers. They played Calvin Johnson in a blizzard. Eli Manning had a nightmare season. RGIII was struggling in a major way.
I think there are reasons to be optimistic, but let’s be careful as well. The defense still has a long way to go.
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.
Chip Kelly took over the Eagles in 2013 and was charged with the task of creating the football program that he wanted. Kelly has very specific ideas of how things should be done. He needed the right kind of players to both win on the field and to establish his overall ideas.
Who expected Jeff Maehl to be an Eagle? Who expected Will Murphy to be on the practice squad? Who expected Isaac Remington to be on the practice squad? Was Casey Matthews really the best backup LOLB the Eagles could find?
Chip Kelly wasn’t showing Oregon favoritism. He was trying to have players on the roster/team who knew about his ideas and his systems. Those players could help others around them. There is no way that Will Murphy was the best available WR when the Eagles added him. However, he was the best available WR for the Eagles because of his experience with Kelly.
Last year the players had to learn the Kelly way. That affected who the Eagles had on the roster.
This year will be different.
There are a lot of returning players. They know the Kelly way. Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin can teach Jordan Matthews what Kelly is looking for. That makes Will Murphy less valuable. I think you’re going to see a lot of turnover on the bottom of the roster. If Murphy and Maehl want to be Eagles this year, they are going to have to clearly outplay guys like Arrelious Benn, Damaris Johnson and BJ Cunningham. Maybe that happens, but don’t count on it.
Casey Matthews is hanging onto the roster by a thread. He would need to have a phenomenal showing to keep his job. I’m not even sure a slew of injuries is enough to keep him around.
The standards for making the team will be more about talent and what you can do on the field than experience with Kelly. That doesn’t mean character isn’t a factor. Kelly still wants the right kind of player. But he’s not going to feel the need to keep his guys around since now the Eagles are full of his guys.
While most of the change will be on the bottom of the roster, you wonder about what happened with other players. DeSean Jackson didn’t fit in and that played some part in his departure. You wonder if Bryce Brown was traded in part due to not being a good fit. He was awkward on the field, but we haven’t heard anything about him off the field.
I wonder about Mike Vick. He wanted out because he wanted to go somewhere to have a chance to start. Did Kelly have any interest in bringing him back or was he not a good fit?
Chip Kelly will continue working on the roster and trying to get it just right. Football involves so much change that you can never get a group of guys and feel set. There will always be players coming and going. This year you’ll see some Oregon guys heading off the bottom of the roster.
I’m getting ready to hop on an airplane so I don’t have time to right out a full post. Instead I’m going to pose an interesting question that popped in my head recently…if you could add a former Eagle to this team, who would it be?
I think most people will boil it down to 1 of 2 players, Reggie or Dawk.
Reggie would be able to play LDE in the 3-4 and he would give the OL someone to fear on run and pass downs. The coaches could move him around the line in sub-packages and find good matchups for him. Reggie is also the kind of high character player that Chip would absolutely love.
Dawk would add a presence to the middle of the defense that has been lacking since he left. He could blitz, cover and fly around the field making plays. And I think Chip would love coaching a guy like Dawk.
This feels like an almost impossible choice. Both are Eagles legends. Both would help the current team in a big way.
I’m going with Reggie because he’s my favorite player of all time and I always go for a DL over a DB.
Who would you choose?
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Any other players you’d especially love to see on this team?
If Terrell Owens had his head on straight, he’d be ideal for the Kelly offense. Think Harold Carmichael would be of interest to Chip Kelly?
I’d love to see a guy like Byron Evans roaming the middle. And Seth Joyner might make a darn good 3-4 ILB.
Really cool video here. These are a lot of throws where Nick Foles is under pressure and responds well. Some of the pressure is immediate, but on other plays Foles is holding the ball and waiting for someone to come open.
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