The Eagles Defense

Posted: June 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 34 Comments »

Yesterday we had a good discussion about winning the Super Bowl and what it means.  One of the points I made was that I hope the Eagles win it with a strong team, so that we can enjoy the whole season and not just a hot playoff run.

Naturally, that got me to thinking about whether the 2012 Eagles can be a team that wins 11, 12, or 13 games.  We’ve had this type of discussion already, but I assume you guys are like me in that you’re constantly re-assessing things.  I do think the ’12 Eagles have the firepower to be a top shelf team.

There are 2 areas where we must see improvement.  Mike Vick must play better.  The defense must play better.

I have confidence that we’ll see an improved version of Vick.  He’s got a full offseason.  He’s healthy.  His weapons are healthy (and wealthy).  The OL should be very good, assuming Demetress Bell can be good enough.  Vick seems to have his head on right.  If he can improve on some of the little things, he’s got a chance to have a terrific year and the offense could be lethal.

The defense is something we’ve talked about a lot.  There are a few question marks.  There is also big time potential.  We really don’t know what to expect until we see this group in action.

The biggest question mark of them all is Juan Castillo.  If you read Mike Tanier’s section in the Eagles Almanac, you’re shocked that Castillo can function as an adult, let alone coach in the NFL.

Listen, no one is going to argue that Juan did a good job in 2011.  The defense had some serious issues.  What I don’t get is that he gets no credit whatsoever for the things that did go right.  I mean, let’s look at the perceptions:

* Juan is an idiot
* The Wide-9 is a one trick pony scheme that can’t stop the run
* The Eagles LBs are terrible
* The Eagles Safeties suck
* DRC is a liability
* Nnamdi was a major disappointment
* The defense didn’t tackle well all year
* The defense had no leadership

How the heck did the defense finish 8th in yards allowed and 10th in points allowed?  How???

The popular answer is that the Eagles feasted on bad competition, especially late in the year.  There is some truth to that, but I think that is over-simplifying things.  Did everyone shut down those teams like we did?

Jets … The Pats gave up 472 passing yards to Mark Sanchez (2 gms).  Sanchez was 26-44-335, 2 TDs, 1 INT vs Dallas in the season opener.  We gave up 150 to Marky Mark.

Miami … They put up 246 yads and 17 points on the Giants.  It was 204 and 10 vs us.  They even ran for 145 yards on the Giants.

Dallas … Gained 505 yards and scored 14 points – in both games combined.  They had 444 yards and 34 points against the Giants in one game.  You can argue that we only faced Tony Romo for a few plays in the second game, but the defense has to get credit for knocking him out.  His hand ballooned up.  He didn’t sit with some mysterious injury.  He couldn’t throw.

Washington … They swept the Giants and gave them fits.  The Skins almost upset the Pats.  They gained 431 yards in that game.  In the 3 games vs NE and NYG, the Skins averaged 26 points per game.  They scored 23 vs us in the 2 games combined.

Aside from Dallas, those were mediocre offenses.   The point is that we did play well in those games.  You couldn’t just show up and be guaranteed good numbers.  It wasn’t like the 1998 Eagles.  Our defense was very good in those games.

I guess I just get frustrated with all the negativity.  Juan is a terrible coach.  The DL scheme is a joke.  The LBs are awful.  The Safeties are awful.  The CBs underachieved.  If that was all true, the defense would have been in the bottom of the rankings.  And that didn’t happen.

I’m not trying to cover up the fact the defense had issues and still has questions.  I do think we too often tend to paint with a broad brush.

Juan and the defense got off to a brutally slow start.  Juan was learning on the fly and made some serious mistakes.  He made some bad playcalls.  He didn’t use his personnel wisely.  He didn’t adjust well in games.

Juan did learn from some of his mistakes.  He adjusted the Wide-9 on some running downs and brought a DE tighter to the formation.  He benched Casey and moved Jamar to the middle.  He benched Jarrad Page and let Kurt/Nate play.  He stopped forcing the issue with DRC in the slot and used Hanson.

Late in the year Juan found a way to really mix and match players and get the best out of everyone.  Casey got added to some Nickel packages.  Phillip Hunt got added to the mix.  Juan let players blitz more and the coaches got creative with the DL and stunts.  All of this seemed to work very well.

Maybe Juan’s biggest adjustment was dealing with his players.  When the group was struggling, he was getting all kinds of feedback.  It didn’t sound like Juan was very open to taking in ideas.  As the season went along and he and the players grew closer, that made him more trusting and more open to their ideas.

Andy Reid knew their would be some tough times for Juan and the defense.  Go back to 1999. Andy hired Jim Johnson to run the defense.  He wanted a veteran coach who could handle things all on his own.  Andy hired Rod Dowhower to be the offensive coordinator.  Andy would run the offense, but he knew he needed a veteran coach to lean on for advice and to help get Brad Childress adjusted to the NFL.

I think Andy hoped that Jim Washburn, Johnnie Lynn, and himself could be the veteran coaches who helped Juan.  Oops.  Wash is a DL guy and that’s it.  Reid knows football, but he can’t teach coverages the way a veteran DB coach can.  Lynn had been a DC in the past and has an extensive background.  Obviously he didn’t do a good job of helping Juan.  I’m not sure if that’s due to communication, personality, or what.

Enter Todd Bowles.  He is now here to be the guy who controls the back end of the defense.  He’s a young guy that does communicate well.  The players already love him and that’s important.  We need Bowles to be the bridge between the DBs and Castillo.

Juan’s background is primarily split between LB and OL.  His strength is the trenches.  Some of his coverage ideas last year showed that he needs help in that area.  Bowles can tell Juan what he sees and what needs to be changed.  He can tell Juan what the players think, in a non-confrontational way.  There were times last year when the players were frustrated with Juan and the fact he wasn’t responding to their thoughts.  Did he not understand them?  Did he simply disagree?  Did he not care what they had to say?

That last question is one that is the most important.  Had the players felt like that was true, things would have gotten messy.  But, that isn’t what happened.  The players and Juan grew closer as the year wore on.  Nobody ripped him in the press.  Had anyone said the kind of things that Antrel Rolle did, that would have created a huge firestorm in Philly.

Whatever issues Juan had (has?) with X’s and O’s, he still knows how to lead and to keep a group of players together.  That is a highly underrated aspect of coaching.  Sean McDermott can out-scheme Castillo 10 times out of 10.  Sean had people issues when he was the DC.  There was no bond between the players and him.

Juan can get better with the X’s and O’s side of things.  Will he?  How much better?  These are key concerns heading into the 2012 season.

One thing that gives me a sense of optimism is that there were a lot of positive signs last year. We dominated the Falcons for stretches of that game.  We dominated the Giants for stretches of the first game.  We then held them to a season low in points and yards in the second game.  We shut down the Bills in the 2nd half of that game.  The defense fell apart (for various reasons) in other parts of those games.  The whole thing isn’t broke, so to speak.  Changes are necessary, but the coaches can study the film and see some real positives, even in games where the final score wasn’t good.

There were 2 games that were flat out awful, NE and SEA.  We couldn’t cover or tackle well in those games.  We failed to make basic plays and our opponents made us pay.  Vince Young was the QB in each game, but that had no effect.  The Pats were an offensive machine.  Seattle put up 245 yards on us in the 1st half of that game so it wasn’t a case of VY’s poor play forcing the defense to get worn down.  We just got dominated in both cases.

The Arizona game is a tougher subject.  They really came alive in the 4th Qtr.  After 3 quarters, the Cards had 167 yards and 7 points.  The 4th Qtr was a disaster, partially on Juan and partially on his players.  Everyone had a hand in that mess.  As bad as the result was, you can go back and study the game to see why things worked right for part of the game and then what fell apart in the 4th Qtr.

The addition of DeMeco Ryans gives the defense a leader in the middle of the unit.  The addition of Mychal Kendricks gives the LBs speed.  The addition of Curry and Cox gives the DL depth.  Promising young players Nate Allen, Antonio Dixon, and Brandon Graham should all be healthy this year.  Juan has the talent to win.

Bowles gives Juan a very good DB coach and also a leader for the secondary.

The full offseason gave Juan the time to work on things, for himself and his players.  I can’t promise you that Juan Castillo will be a good Defensive Coordinator in 2012.  I do think he’ll be better.  My hope is that he’s good enough.

The pieces are in place for the Eagles defense to help make the 2012 season a memorable one.

* * * * *

Gimpy’s new MAQB column is up.  He wrote about some interesting NFL records.  Did you know that Jared Allen is tied for most safeties forced in a career?  That caught me off guard.  Good stuff.


34 Comments on “The Eagles Defense”

  1. 1 Matthew Verhoog said at 2:14 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    The Seattle game was a short week were the whole team was flat, tired, and on the road. We started rough and got worse.

  2. 2 TommyLawlor said at 2:46 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    The travel and short week had an effect, but the defense still played poorly beyond that. Just a bad game.

  3. 3 Matthew Butch said at 2:55 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    But I think there is a reason the NFL said they would never do that to another team again.

  4. 4 TommyLawlor said at 3:00 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    True. It does favor one team too much. I just don’t want to let our guys off the hook completely. That was a bad performance against an offense that wasn’t anything special. Had we gotten throttled by a top notch group, that’d be different.

  5. 5 austinfan said at 2:03 PM on June 29th, 2012:

    Well, basically that was Lynch, who was on a roll, running over our defense, and when a physical RB is breaking tackles left and right, yeah, that usually has something to do with being flat. That was the kind of game where the offense had to step up and take Lynch out of the game – uh, VY didn’t quite come through.

  6. 6 Kevin_aka_RC said at 2:21 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    After reading this, I guess Tommy bought his plane tickets to New Orleans in February.

  7. 7 TommyLawlor said at 2:47 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    I’ll be staying at the Royal Orleans with John Cameron.

  8. 8 EJ said at 2:27 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    The fact that everyone talks about how Steve Spanuolo could have helped Juan, and how Todd Bowles is going to help Juan, and DeMeco Ryans is going to help Juan, proves how much Juan NEEDS HELP. Last year he didn’t put players in positions to make plays, like Casey Mathews and Asomughua. Scary stuff. Our defense last year may have some good stats, but it’s in spite of Juan, not because of him.

  9. 9 TommyLawlor said at 2:49 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    Juan does need help. As I stated above, so did Andy when he first came to the Eagles. When you’re new to a job, you need the right people around you.

    If Juan had been a DC for 10 years and needed help, then we’d have a story.

    You can be mad at Andy for hiring him. That’s a whole other story. You can’t be mad at Juan for taking time to adjust to his job. Very few guys thrive when they’re new.

  10. 10 EJ said at 3:08 PM on June 28th, 2012:

    True Tommy. But what’s head-scratching is Andy hired JJ because he was a great DC and beat up on the Packers. So why does he think “rookies” like McDermott and Juan Castillio can get the job done? Quite a change of philosophy.

  11. 11 austinfan said at 2:01 PM on June 29th, 2012:

    McDermott was more DC ready than Spagnola when he got the Giant DC job. JJ had been grooming him for a decade. Sean’s problem is he’s scheme smart but player dumb.

    Who would have been the alternative to Juan last year? Juaron? Allen (compare his two games against NE, for example) in Denver? A couple guys the Eagles had interest in were blocked by their teams.

    Most top DCs are unavailable for obvious reasons.
    And many choose spots based on their personal needs, whether it’s family or the best opportunity to jump to a HC job. And there’s the scheme issue, if you have 4-3 personnel, do you want to hire a guy who’s strictly a 3-4 coach and basically spend 2-3 years retooling your defense (when Capers went to GB, they had the core of a 3-4 DL in place, plenty of ILB candidates and drafted Matthews)? And with Washburn on board, that simply wasn’t an option

  12. 12 SebastianAubrey said at 2:37 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    Some other things to keeps in mind. A couple of those loses came when our pass rush was neutralized. Trent cole didn’t miss a lot off game but he wasn’t healthy until the end. Also so backups missed some time forcing starters to play more snaps (not good). Also especially the 2 games against NE & CHI I clearly remember their OT & TE arm tackling our guys around the neck. Yeah no flag. The added depth of talent and getting guys healthy should make this Dline relentless.

  13. 13 Jeremy S said at 4:10 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    I’m still more worried about Vick then the defense. I think the defense took some big strides as the season went on. THey had a good draft and plugged some holes through the draft and FA.

    Vick on the other hand has had only one good season, 2012, the other seasons are all about the same. Yeah I know this is his first full offseason as the starter and what not. He’s saying all the right things, but I just don’t believe what he says. He’s been saying he needs to be smarter, needs to slide, etc in the past as well. And well, we all see how that’s worked itself out. He never slides, doesn’t take the best care of the ball (too many INT and fumbles).

    The defense will be better this season, the LB were terrible last season and they will be better this season. The tackling overall as a team can’t be any worse then last season either. But Vick, he has me worried a bit he needs to stay healthy and play smart. He needs to mature as a QB, he’s not in his first years anymore.

  14. 14 TommyLawlor said at 5:05 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    Fixed that for you.

    I definitely understand the worry about Vick. Making the leap from talented QB to consistently good passer isn’t easy. He did that for most of 2010, but did struggle late. I do feel encouraged because he’s got so many good pieces around him.

  15. 15 pjxii said at 5:36 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    I think rather than slide more while running I’d rather see Vick learn to throw the ball away when he’s flushed if he doesn’t have a BIG hole to run through. He’ll stay on the field for another play instead of getting a short run and risking a big hit, unless of course he only needs a couple of yards for a first down.

  16. 16 Jeremy S said at 1:16 PM on June 28th, 2012:

    He was a pretty good passer in 2010, but if you look back at his career that was the exception not the rule for him. He’s never had a completion % over 60 except for 2010 and his career average is only 56%.

    Yes he has better weapons on the Eagles then he’s had in the past. No weapons can help that much with completion %. We have Jackson and his catch rate is terrible anyway so it’s not like he won’t offset that number with his terrible drops for the lack of talent with the Falcons.

  17. 17 Jeremy S said at 4:11 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    My bad, good season was 2010, not 2012

  18. 18 Anders Jensen said at 4:22 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    The scary thing is, if DRC even only half the things go right from your list above, this defense can easy be top 5. There should be a good chance that NA and DRC will be much better this year because of Bowles and Allen should also improve alot. Ryans and Kendricks should be upgrades just by stepping on the field and a healthy Graham and Dixon is just the icing on the cake.

  19. 19 TommyLawlor said at 5:06 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    The optimist part of me can get pretty excited by the potential of this defense.

  20. 20 D3Keith said at 10:07 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    I pretty much back this, and the article in full. And because that doesn’t really count as a comment, I have to make something else to say up.

    In all seriousness, the joy of this defense’s potential is that everything doesn’t have to go right (and it never does) for it to be better, and if it is better and the offense turns it over less, the sky is the limit.

    Even from a middle of the road unbiased observer, there are so many guys who did not play to their potential last season (NA, DRC, DeMeco for Texans, Brandon Graham, etc.) and talented new rookies that if only half of them play great, and our other good players stay healthy or maintain, there’s elite potential with this group.

    Part of me kind of wants to see Juan’s D go nuts, even though much like Erik Spoelstra, he’ll probably never get the credit for it.

  21. 21 A_T_G said at 10:33 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    I thought that last part too. If things turn out how we all hope, the memes are already forming for why it was not Juan’s doing.

  22. 22 TommyLawlor said at 10:58 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    Juan as Spoelstra…I’ve got to remember that one.

  23. 23 iskar36 said at 1:18 AM on June 28th, 2012:

    Not football related:
    Spoelstra is in a bit of a no-win situation, but is he really under valued? The easy argument against him is the “he has three superstars which will make him look good regardless,” and while I do think there is some truth to that, I think it is too simple of an argument. Still, if you just watch how he actually coaches that team, he honestly doesn’t do anything as a coach that is worthy of calling him a good coach. It’s part of the reason why you see Lebron or Wade taking terrible shots right before the end of a quarter. Spoelstra pretty much just calls ISO plays and doesn’t run any sort of play to get a guy open to close out a quarter. On top of that, at key moments of games, you see guys like Lebron or Wade doing the vast majority of the talking/”coaching” during timeouts with Spoelstra standing off to the side.

    I’m actually a Miami fan, and I’ll just admit to it, I’m really a Lebron fan, but Spoelstra really has not done much to help that team along. He is nothing more than an average coach, and it goes beyond the fact that he is in a no-win situation.

  24. 24 izzylangfan said at 6:06 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    I think it is more likely that the defense plays better than last year than Vick. First the defense could hardly play worse than last year when we basically were putrid at safety and linebacker and had a mismatched set of corners. As for Vick’s interceptions, it was 2010 that was the anomaly not 2011. I remember watching those old Atlanta games. No matter how wonderful Vick was playing in the beginning of the game if you jacked up the defensive pressure and didn’t let him run you could count on him throwing some ill advised pass down the middle. Last year was painful in part because he threw so many of those, the majority of which he got lucky with. I am optimistic that he will be better in 2012 but the defense is by far the better bet.

  25. 25 P_P_K said at 6:41 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    During this off-season, it seems obvious the team attempted to address almost all the issues about the D you raise in the perceptions column. The one that lingers is the percption that, even if he is not an idiot, Juan was a bad hire. I do admire his work effort and respect his skills with the players. Still, it is hard to get a sense that he is not a liability for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. If the team was in a rebuilding phase and Juan had a couple years to develop, great. But thinking that the skills of assistant coaches will make up for the lack of skill in the Defensive Coordinator, or that Juan is such a quick learner that he is now ready to rock n’ roll, is a very optomistic way of approaching this season.

    With all the confidence I feel in this year’s roster, the idea of Juan calling the defensive shots make me cringe. Damn, I hope I am dead wrong.

  26. 26 phillychuck said at 7:03 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    The Eagles will be much better overall, and the defense might even be one of the best in the league. But I completely agree that Vick will never really learn, and that 2010 was the anomalous year for him. He was never accurate, he always flushed too early, and he always gave the ball away too much. Sound familiar?

  27. 27 nopain23 said at 9:10 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    We need Mike to play more like…wait for it… Alex Smith…there I said it.he’s surrounded by playmakers..he doesnt need to be Superman out there.just take care of the ball and stay healthy.shady,maclin,djax,celek..will take care of the rest.we cant have the offense putting our defense in a bad situation.

  28. 28 A_T_G said at 10:44 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    Off topic, a little, but I downloaded the almanac this morning and I just finished it. Tremendous work. I miss reading Derek and Gabe. I enjoyed how I knew who wrote each article a paragraph in without the by line.

    I am appalled that I paid $5 for 80 pages of can’t-put-it-down content. I would have felt better scrolling past some advertising, knowing that doing so rewarded your efforts. The group of you really need a marketing person to make this talent more lucrative. Actually, I hear Joe Banner is on the streets…

    Seriously, a great read. No one who visits this site will regret the purchase.

  29. 29 TommyLawlor said at 10:56 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    Gabe’s piece was classic stuff. I haven’t finished all of Derek’s material yet.

    Glad you liked it. I’ll call Banner right away.

  30. 30 juggadore said at 11:28 PM on June 27th, 2012:

    “Juan’s background is primarily split between LB and OL.”

    that’s quite an understatement…. kind of like saying leonardo dicaprio’s background is primarily split between television and film. yeah he had a tiny role in the last season of growing pains as a child, but come on, his background isnt anywhere near ‘evenly’ split between tv and movies..

  31. 31 TommyLawlor said at 1:31 AM on June 28th, 2012:

    Juan played LB in high school, college, and the USFL. He then coached LBs for a few years in HS/college. That was his expertise before moving to the OL. I’d call that a split.

    If you’re going just off the NFL, there is no split. It is all OL.

  32. 32 juggadore said at 2:21 PM on July 7th, 2012:

    cool good argument

  33. 33 rage114 said at 8:58 AM on June 28th, 2012:

    My favorite is when some people point to the horrible LB play and put 100% of the blame on Castillo but then point to the superb play of the DL and give 100% of the credit to Washburn.

  34. 34 austinfan said at 1:52 PM on June 29th, 2012:

    I think they hired Juan because they didn’t like the alternatives (and the guys they liked weren’t made available). If you look at all the new DCs last year, they all struggled the first five games or so, including Dennis Allen in Denver. The only one who hit the ground running was Fangio in SF, and he kept the same scheme, only brought in two new starters, both veterans (Whitner and Rogers), Aldon Smith off the bench and everyone else with 4 or more years with the team.

    So really, in that context, Juan didn’t struggle more than his peers in similar situations, especially given the huge turnover in personnel. The lack of an offseason was a problem around the league for new DCs.

    As far as strength of schedule, go look at the top ten defense and count how many games they played against top ten offenses, in most cases no more than 3 or 4. So the Eagle defense stats are as legitimate as most teams.

    Once you get past the first five games, the only two games where they really struggled were NE, and Sea.

    NE after their bye week, were held down by only the Steelers. The Giants held them to 20 points and 438 yards, Miami held them to 27 points and 400 yards, everyone else gave up over 30 points until the Ravens held them to 23 points in the playoffs, Denver with wonder boy Allen at DC merely gave them 41 points (and 45 in the playoffs). So this was a really good offense against a defense in progress.

    The Seattle game was simple, 3 days rest, cross country flight, uh, no bookie would have put money on the Eagles. The defense gave up 24 points and 347 yards (pick 6 in there), but they were definitely flat, it wasn’t the scheme that killed them, it was piss poor tackling. Lynch just ran over guys, you could tell which team was up for that game.

    The only other bad game after the bye week was giving up 30 to the Bears, wtih that OL, we should have crushed them. However, until Cutler went down, the Bears averaged 26.8 ppg and 328 ypg – Cutler may be the most underrated QB in the league given the dreck he played with last year.

    Point is that after the first five games this was a top 10 defense, not a top 5, but more like most of JJ’s defenses, good enough to shut down average offenses, but one that would struggle against top QBs. The difference was JJ’s defenses would struggle against QBs smart and experienced enough to exploit his blitzes, Juan’s defense struggled because he was trying to find the right combination of players and schemes.

    I expect a top five defense this year for the following reasons:

    1) personnel, if Graham is 100%, Dixon is healthy, Hunt is improved, you’re looking at ridiculous DL talent with Cox and Curry on board. At LB, Juan screwed up last year, with no OTAs he should have gone with Fokou – Chaney – Jordan and forced the rookies to work there way into the lineup, but even then that isn’t exactly a trio that would inspire confidence. But at least they’d be playing positions they knew, moving Chaney to SLB and Fokou to WLB was a gross mistake. Now he has Kendricks – Ryans – Rolle, and Chaney, Jordan, Fokou and Clayton will have to earn their PT. That’s a serious talent upgrade as well.

    2) Fit. Not sure in 2012 if DRC is a better CB than Asante, but he’s a better CB for THIS defense. Asante is a zone CB, he depends on deep help and working with his safeties to allow him to gamble, he’s an example of a player wo looks better on FO and PFF because his mistakes aren’t obvious, but he hanged the young safeties out to dry at times. With DRC, if Bowles can work on his technique and recognition (he turns the wrong way at times), he can play on an island, taking a lot of pressure off the safeties. And Marsh maturing (they knew he was a project when they drafted him, 6’1 CBs with 4.42 speed don’t fall out of the first 50 picks unless there’s some issues) and Boykin pushing Hanson is a nice talent upgrade as well.

    3) Coaching. Zordich and Caldwell have bright futures (the kind of former players who make great coaches, they had long careers based on smarts, not athletic talent), but they were in a tough situation last year. Lynn was useless, Bowles is a legitimate DC candidate who has a strong track record as a DB coach.

    4) Juan. Juan did grow on the job, he’s not stupid, he’s a hard worker, Sean had a decade under JJ and look at the awful job he did here and in Carolina last year. Experience can be overrated, exactly how much experience did Harbaugh have before he became a HC in Baltimore? Juan did go forward last season, and just as important, his players never quit on him. They could have easily pointed fingers at the mistake at DC to CYA. As the year progressed, Juan got a better feel for his players and adjusted his schemes. Given no OTAs, a new DL scheme, two new CBs who didn’t fit with the old CB, two inexperienced safeties and inexperienced LBs with limited talent, exactly which DCs would have excelled in that situation?

    5) Experience. Most top defenses have most of their players with 3-7 years experience, and rarely start many rookies or second year players. See SF last year, Steelers and Ravens every year. This year the safeties are in their 3rd year, a proven veteran at MLB, the DL is experienced, the starting CBs are experienced. Rookies and 2nd year players will come off the bench except at OLB, and they have veterans behind them if they falter.