What the Eagles Defense Needs

Posted: May 8th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 88 Comments »

Forget about the D-line. Forget about the linebackers. Forget about the secondary. The Eagles defense, more than anything else, needs stability.

The 2008 Eagles defense finished Top 5 in almost every major category. That group was largely homegrown.

DL; Juqua Thomas, Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley, Trent Cole

LB: Chris Gocong, Stewart Bradley, Akeem Jordan

S: Brian Dawkins, Quintin Mikell

CB; Sheldon Brown, Asante Samuel

Things looked pretty good. Until the 2009 offseason. That’s when Jim Johnson died of cancer and was replaced by Sean McDermott.

While McDermott had been mentored by Johnson, Sean had his own ideas that he wanted to incorporate. In his mind, he was taking something good and making it better. In retrospect, he was taking something good and changing it when it really wasn’t needed.

One of the big problems is that McDermott wasn’t as good of a teacher. Not only did he switch from some of JJ’s ideas, but McDermott failed to do a good job with teaching them.  Think about the young players under McDermott and how they either flatlined or flat out regressed in 2009.

S Quintin Demps – played as a rookie in 2008 and showed promise, but lost his job in 2009
LB Akeem Jordan – played very well down the stretch in 2008, but struggled in 2009
LB Chris Gocong – looked like good young SAM in 2008 and was being phased out in 2009
MLB Joe Mays – got a chance to play in 2009 and looked awful
DT Brodrick Bunkley – played very well for parts of 2008, but regressed in 2009
DE Chris Clemons – showed flashes in 2008, but failed to build on them
S Macho Harris – rookie who played a lot in 2009, but failed to develop

Victor Abiamiri and Stewart Bradley were hurt and struggled solely for those reasons.

McDermott wasn’t dealing with ideal circumstance since he took over in the spring/summer, but that is still a lot of players showing no growth or heading the wrong way. I think McDermott made things overly difficult by trying to make changes. That was his first chance to run a defense and he was excited to implement his own ideas. I get that. But…part of being a smart coach is knowing when to leave things as is. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The defense wasn’t terrible (19th in Pts, 12th in Yds), but took a huge step back from 2008. McDermott was hurt by the loss of Brian Dawkins and Bradley, but Sean’s failure to find or develop replacements is on  him. McDermott didn’t have to replace them with stars. He failed to have even adequate players to fill those jobs.

The 2010 defense posted similar numbers, but McDermott did a much better job with young players (Brandon Graham, Nate Allen, Keenan Clayton, Kurt Coleman, Jamar Chaney). Unfortunately the Red Zone defense was historically bad and the overall defense regressed as the season went along so Andy Reid decided to make a change.

The 2008 defense was built around being physical. McDermott wanted more speed and coverage ability. Both groups asked the DTs to play a 2-gap style that ate up blockers and kept pressure off the back seven in the run game.

2011 saw the arrival of Juan Castillo, Jim Washburn and the Wide-9. This meant a 1-gap system where players would attack up the field and the DBs would need to be more active vs the run. Some players loved the change, but plenty of others struggled in the new system. The lockout put the coaches in a tough situation and we hoped 2012 would bring different results. Oops.

The defense was erratic and that led to Castillo’s firing at the bye week. The defense fell apart after that and played awful as Todd Bowles tried to make some changes to the secondary and how they played. Eventually Washburn was fired and the Wide-9 was scrapped.

I haven’t even gotten into all of the assistant coaches who the Eagles have had in recent years. I think the list would be longer than the number of drummers in Spinal Tap. This may not seem critical, but it is a big deal. Each coach teaches a bit differently. Players go from learning one way to another to another. That absolutely affects their performance. It takes time to perfect a way of doing things. When you have multiple teachers, you’re constantly learning and never perfecting.

And now Chip Kelly comes in with a new scheme and new staff. The only thing I ask is that Kelly give it 3 full years. Give the coaches time to develop the players and adjust the system. Give the players a chance to figure things out. Give the personnel staff time to find players for the system. Give it a real chance.

All the changes from 2008-2012 made it impossible for the organization to have a truly good defense. Buddy Ryan got here in 1986. He ran the defense until he was fired and Bud Carson took over in 1991. Carson tinkered with the scheme, but left it mostly the same. That allowed the 1991 Eagles to be one of the all-time great units. Ray Rhodes took over in 1995 and put in a more conservative system, but one that allowed holdover players like Andy Harmon, William Fuller, William Thomas, Bill Romanowski and Mike Zordich to still play at a high level. Jim Johnson took over in 1999 and his system brought out the best in holdovers like Hugh Douglas, Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, and of course Brian Dawkins.

From 1986-2008 the Eagles had one of the best defenses in the NFL. Heck, they might have the most overall sacks in that period. They ran an attacking 4-3 that punished QBs and made lots of big plays. There were systematic adjustments when the coaches changed, but the changes always seemed to make sense and bring out the best in the existing players. Since then, chaos has reigned.

One reason I do have a bit of optimism is that the new coaches are veterans. McDermott was a first time DC. Castillo was new to defense in the NFL. Bowles was a first time DC and mid-season change. Bill Davis takes over now with a long NFL history and 4 years of DC experience. His numbers aren’t good, but he does know how things work and what the NFL is like. Jerry Azzinaro is a long time DL coach. Rick Minter is new to the NFL, but has been a head coach, DC, and LBs coach in college. Bill McGovern is new to the NFL, but has been a DC and LBs coach in college. John Lovett has a year of NFL experience, but is mostly a college guy. He’ll be working with Toddy Lyght, a former NFL player.

Some of you may wonder if the defensive coaches lack of NFL experience is a major issue. No. Jimmy Johnson’s great staff in Dallas had little to no NFL experience. The Steel Curtain was run by Bud Carson, who came there from Georgia Tech. The 1992 Steelers hired our own Bill Davis and Marvin Lewis straight from college. The 1999 Ravens, run by Marvin Lewis, hired Mike Smith, Rex Ryan, and Donnie Henderson straight out of college. Ryan had a bit of NFL experience working under Buddy in the mid-90’s. You need to hire the right guys. Experience is nice, but not a must.

The coaches may not be NFL experts, but they know defense and they know how to teach. Another important aspect of the staff is that they have some ties to each other. That should help them get along and lead to a more cohesive staff. There will be none of Washburn’s “Juanita” crap this year. It will be easier for the players to respect and follow the staff if they see a group of coaches that works well together and gets along.

Stability. Who in the world ever thought that would be something a defense needed?

* * * * *

The Eagles took a look at RB Felix Jones on Tuesday.


88 Comments on “What the Eagles Defense Needs”

  1. 1 micksick said at 1:08 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    S: Brian Dawkins, Quintin Mikell

    CB; Sheldon Brown, Asante Samuel

    wish we could have that secondary now..

  2. 2 TommyLawlor said at 1:14 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    Only at their 2008 ages.

  3. 3 micksick said at 1:22 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    id still feel more comfortable with them right now lol

  4. 4 TommyLawlor said at 1:28 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    Funny to say, but Dawk is retired. Sheldon might not get a job. Q is unemployed. Sammie is still Sammie.

    I’d take the current DBs. I think Chung is going to be a player fans enjoy. I also think Fletcher will surprise some people.

  5. 5 micksick said at 1:40 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    i like chung, i can see fletch surprising, but dawk is dawk, Q played well last year, sheldon is def getting up there but he can be useful in situations, and id take asante over williams easy.. but agin just for comfort lol

  6. 6 GEagle said at 7:47 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    I see Cary improving as he consistently gains experience and learns how to better Harness his aggression so that he doesn’t give up that many big plays…If Bfletch stays healthy, I think him and C-dub lol can crow together to form our CB tandem of the future…Health a big concern though

  7. 7 GvilleEagleFan said at 4:01 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    If getting a shot at a title with Peyton Manning as your team’s QB and playing on the same defense as Champ Bailey and Von Miller doesn’t make you want to come back to football, then retirement is definitely the right choice. You have to wonder if he watched Moore misplay that deep ball in the final seconds of the game against the Ravens and think to himself, “Man, I’d have us in the AFC title game if I was on the field for that play.”

  8. 8 Thomas Fox said at 12:15 AM on May 9th, 2013:

    Tommy (or anyone els the one player on that group who (I think) isn’t overly long in tooth is Q. I always kinda liked his game .especially compared to our recent guys. Would you have any interest in bringing him back to fight for a roster spot? Or do you think he’s lost his mojo?

  9. 9 Steven Dileo said at 8:58 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    Back in 2008, people were reminiscing over the years of Dawk, Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, and Al Harris. Eagles fans never change.

  10. 10 micksick said at 6:21 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    yeah, we like it when we have good players… isnt that how it should be? lol

  11. 11 Iskar36 said at 1:30 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    I absolutely agree that stability is a need, but at the same time, the firings of the previous DCs were the right moves to make at the time (Castillo I believe was scapegoated a bit, but he should have been fired either before the season or would have been fired at the end of the season regardless). My point is, to have stability, you also have to have the right coach. We will find out if Davis is the right coach, but your comment that they should be given a blank slate for three years, seems a bit much in my opinion. Davis doesn’t need to make this defense elite by any means. I expect him to show improvement and give us signs over the next year or two that he can build this defense to a level that it can help make this team a legitimate playoff team. But if the defense regresses from year one to year two and Davis shows that the rankings of his previous defenses are an accurate reflection of what he can do as a DC for the Eagles, I’d have no problem making yet another switch. There is certainly value in stability for the sake of stability, but stability in itself will not make this defense good. Davis does have to have certain levels of success as well.

  12. 12 TommyLawlor said at 1:48 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    The hirings were flawed to start with. Or McD should have been told not to do too much.

    When I say to stick with the D for 3 years, clearly that assumes that there is some reasonable level of performance. If we’re 30th or worse 2 years in a row, that changes things. I figured that would be somewhat obvious. No one is given a completely blank check to do whatever.

    The key is that you need to give him, the players, the assistants, the scouts, and the Personnel guys time to make this thing work. As long as there are positive signs, stick with it.

  13. 13 Iskar36 said at 10:57 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    No question that the hirings were flawed, but depending on how things go with Davis, we can make a similar statement with Davis if he fails.

    In terms of reasonable level of performance, I guess I still have a higher level of cut off for where keeping the DC doesn’t make sense. I think your last line is the key for me. The defense has to show positive signs and if we are not a quality defense the first two years, we need to show that we are making progress towards that.

    I don’t expect Davis to make this defense elite immediately by any means. I have significant concerns about Davis as a DC, but I trust the Eagles enough to be patient and I strongly hope Davis proves to be the right coach for the defense. If he can provide the stability you talked about, he will be a good hiring, but I guess for me, before you can get to stability, you need to have a level of success.

  14. 14 austinfan said at 2:18 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    Fangio had a pretty poor track record until he got to SF, suddenly with the right talent he’s a genius.

    Davis doesn’t have the talent yet to build a top defense, if he can build an average defense that’s a solid accomplishment right now.

  15. 15 Iskar36 said at 2:53 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    I definitely agree with that. I’m not expecting Davis to change this defense into a dominant defense overnight. For me, success doesn’t necessarily mean we have a top 10 defense immediately. What I mean by that is the defense needs to show that it is designed on a sound system and that over the year, players seem to better understand their roles on defense. Whether or not we execute the defense at a high level is on the players. Furthermore, it is important that we can see that Davis is capable of teaching his defense to the players. If players that should improve from year 1 to year 2 seem to plateau or even decline, that is a bad sign. Finally, we need to see consistent progress from the defense as a whole.

    Fangio did have a poor track record prior to SF, but that does not make it a rule that coaches who have a poor track record before will become successful in the future. Davis has an opportunity to be successful here and his track record may not reflect his abilities as a coach well. At the same time though, it could reflect it accurately. We’ll find out over the next couple years. But for Davis to become the next Fangio (or a more realistic goal of being a successful DC), he needs to show continuous progress, and to me, that would be success.

  16. 16 theycallmerob said at 5:07 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    I think it will be a little easier to gauge with Davis only because of the youth on defense. Within a year and a half, it will be pretty obvious what kind of a teacher he is. I’m keeping my eyes on Cox, Graham, Kendricks, and Logan this year to show sustained improvement until week 16. Of course, they may all do just fine, whereas the FA’s drop the ball. In which case, Davis will stay and Howie will go.

  17. 17 GEagle said at 7:58 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    I don’t expect us to have a great defense next year, butnI don’t see why we have to be bad. 3rd down pressure is everything, and our 4-2-5 should be successful in bringing some heat, especially if Cole plays better than last year, and graham continues to improve…I also think our Weak side is going to be NASTY with Fletch at 3tec and Graham at Predator( I don’t see a reason to be concerned with Graham. he is still just trying to get around the OT, now he will have a little more of a running head start, and Cox is ready to play like an OX!..I think it’s safe to say we will be similar to the Texans, which is good because Barwin has a years experience under his belt on the strong and weak side..curious to see how the hell they figure out the 3rd down package with Cole,Graham,Barwin,Curry, and Hunt…
    I’m still expecting a defender or two added when veterans get cut on June 1st

  18. 18 GEagle said at 7:52 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    I actually think Philly will love Billy Davis for bringing the blitz back to the linc…Blitzing passed away with Jim Johnson, last year the only real successful blitz I can remember was Demeco getting to Flacco(what a fantastic game Demeco played that day inspite of the wide 9, IMPRESSIVE)…we will see some nice zone Blitzes out of the hybrid….I actually started watching Oregon recently, when they switched the the Hybrid. remmington is nothing special, but he always manages to stand out during twists and stunts

  19. 19 P_P_K said at 3:15 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    Tommy, your quote got me thinking: “In retrospect, he [McD] was taking something good and changing it when it really wasn’t needed.”

    Here’s something to ponder: Maybe it wasn’t McD who did too much, maybe he was following orders. I’d always believed that JJ had the stones to run the D his way and Andy respected that. When Sean came in, I wonder if Andy pulled rank and tried to remake the D. If there ever was a guy who could take the simple and make it complex, who loved to tinker with something that was already good when change wasn’t really needed, it was Big Red.

  20. 20 Neil said at 5:08 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    On the other hand, Reid really preferred to be hands off with the defense except for some episodes during the Juan era, as far as I remember.

  21. 21 Midnight_Greenville said at 5:49 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    It may be difficult to know how good or bad this defense really is, depending on how things go with the offense. If the uptempo offense doesn’t really hum this year, I could see the defense on the field for a lot of snaps without a lot of rest in between. The stats may not tell the full story, and there may be some rumblings among the fans for a change when some of the blame rests with the offense. You could argue that happened to an extent the last two years with all of the turnovers as well. But this year it could really be magnified if there are a lot of 1 minute offensive drives.

  22. 22 Telmert said at 8:54 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    Good point. I just looked it up – Oregon was 99th last year in time of possession. 120th the year before at an average of 25:20 per game. No matter how the defense is constructed they’re going to be at a disadvantage under Kelly. Stat-wise they’ll probably be mediocre at best. You’re right – if Kelly’s offense struggles, the defense might be *really* bad in terms of scoring and yards but actually play OK. Actually, that might be true even if the offense plays well (particularly if they play *really* well). It will be tough to evaluate Davis and tough to fend of the wolves.

  23. 23 Midnight_Greenville said at 9:20 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    You’re right. I didn’t even really consider that even successful drives in Chip’s offense might only last a couple of minutes. Hope the defense comes ready to play.

  24. 24 awful waffle said at 1:35 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    That “Juanita” stuff still annoys me. Washburn was a real jackass. Glad he’s gone.

  25. 25 Neil said at 1:09 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    In nature terms, Washburn was an alpha dog. In a dog pack, someone with his mindset is almost always the leader. Not always, like Tennessee where Schwartz and Fisher had just as dominant mindstates but greater football knowledge which made Washburn respect them as leaders. Juan only had the latter. The decision to put Washburn under Juan was a horrible blunder by Andy. Even worse and most puzzling to me even now is how Washburn wasn’t fired during that bye week. What actually happened sent a message to the players, subordination will be tolerated at the middle of the totem pole by the very top if you have a good enough resume. Andy chose anarachy, and we saw the result with the defense.

  26. 26 SteveH said at 9:00 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    Right there with you on that one Neil. At the time it wasn’t really known what was going on behind the scenes with Washburn but once that was uncovered it was very surprising to me that Andy decided to can Juan and leave Washburn in place. Open insubordination like that had to be devastating for the morale of the defense.

  27. 27 A_T_G said at 9:04 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    Yes to both comments. That is the worst decision that I know of by Andy, by a wide (9) margin.

  28. 28 Baloophi said at 1:54 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    Dust off the resume, Tommy – the Eagles are letting Lou Riddick go…

  29. 29 TommyLawlor said at 2:01 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    I saw that. Might be giving his duties to Tom Gamble, who has a lot of experience with Pro Personnel. I thought Riddick did a good job for the Eagles. Hate to lose him. Hope he gets a good job.

  30. 30 Baloophi said at 2:10 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    Yeah, there might be too many head chefs in the kitchen with Gamble now on board…

  31. 31 CampDracula said at 7:57 PM on May 9th, 2013:

    Help me understand how anyone on the Eagles’ staff has done well with Pro Personnel in the past few years. All I see is a lot of exciting big names that didn’t work out. Isn’t that what happened with the Redskins? And isn’t that where Riddick came from? Am I missing something?

  32. 32 T_S_O_P said at 2:39 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    What about positional coaches? Pete Jenkin’s also retired in 2008, John Harbaugh left in 2008, Spags left the year before. For McDermott ( also a guy who vacated a positional coaching position) where were the Ted Williams’ and Dave Culley’s of the defense, and STs had had the same instability. J J’s original coaching staff had been stripped bare.

    At the same time, the D was either losing its leaders and/or not valuing them. I’d like to import a link to Sam Lynch’s article from a couple of years back here regarding this. Moreover, free agents were coming in hard and fast on the defensive side of the ball and getting paid big bucks. Remember Witherspoon? This must of added to the lack of value players were feeling, as aluded to by Todd last year.

    Banner is no longer here, some of that is how he dealt with vested veterans as well as draft and FA failures. Most of those F ups were on the defensive side. We found no DeSean’s or LeSean’s during the period from Johnson’s death until now.

  33. 33 TommyLawlor said at 9:21 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    The positional coaches in McD’s tenure weren’t very good. Several are out of the NFL now.

    One of the reasons we had to bring in ‘Spoon is that Joe Mays was so bad. We traded for Wil to come play MLB for us. He started great and then got worse as the season went along.

  34. 34 Matthew Verhoog said at 10:05 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    Had an epic 1st game, and then disappeared

  35. 35 T_S_O_P said at 11:27 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    The defensive coaching side saw far more turnover of staff than on Offense, it also nurtured 3 head coaches in comparison to 2 from offense.

    I doubt JJ would have had a championship calibre defense or even much more of a competitive one here from ’08 onwards unless he would have been given the final say on the FAs bought in and the veterans that were lost.

  36. 36 GvilleEagleFan said at 3:58 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    Not that we can ever know what would have happened if he hadn’t died, but I knew when JJ passed so late in the offseason that we were headed to a time of trouble. I honestly think if JJ had been able to coach for three more years, we could have had a shot at the Super Bowl. At the very least, I like to think he’d have spoken some sense to Reid when they traded up for Graham about the value of a FS talent in his scheme and could have developed Thomas to a similar level of stardom that he’s found in SEA. I’m not ragging on Graham here, as Tommy has said in the past coaching and injuries have made that comparison moot, but I have to think part of the failure to replace Dawk was the absence of the coach who had featured him in his defense.

  37. 37 wbxhc said at 8:39 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    Don’t you mean Juqua Parker, not Thomas?

  38. 38 TommyLawlor said at 9:22 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    He was JT and then changed to JP. Weird that I went with the old name.

  39. 39 T_S_O_P said at 11:28 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    He was JT under JJ

  40. 40 Neil said at 1:16 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    I looked this up on wikipedia because I thought the same thing. Says there it was his father’s dying wish he change his name. Not sure what that’s about.

  41. 41 Steven Dileo said at 8:56 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    I don’t blame McDermott for changing his defensive philosophy. The 2008 defense had success with their unit because they played teams like Pittsburgh and New York that didn’t have a quick strike offense. In the NFCCG they struggled against the Cardinals because the ball was released quickly rendering the blitz ineffective. I don’t think the same exact unit of 2008 with Jim Johnson, would have had similar success against New Orleans, Dallas, or Green Bay.

    Offensive schemes have changed and this idea that a good blitz scheme can build a good defensive unit has been abandoned. It’s the reason why Reid went out and got Jim Washburn,. He had to generate pressure with the front 4 and not rely on the blitz, because QBs like Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady were really good at recognizing the pressures and getting rid of the ball quickly.

    One thing that really puzzles me about the coaching staff is why Rory Segrest was able to keep his job with the Eagles for so long. He was a failed ST coach and there was a significant drop off in DL play when he took over.

  42. 42 TommyLawlor said at 9:24 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    That Arizona offense lit up everybody, including the Steelers in the SB. The Eagles D was stifling in the first couple of playoff games. I think you tinker with that, but McD should have waited to make changes.

    Maybe Segrest is a super nice guy that Andy really hoped could succeed. No idea.

  43. 43 T_S_O_P said at 11:30 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    Seagrest was bought in by Jenkins as his heir apparent. It was always the plan as far as I remember.

  44. 44 Steven Dileo said at 12:28 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    It seemed like every week he was changing the LB positions. Bradley was injured, Gaither was injured, Akeem Jordan got injured and ever Trotter was brought back. Didn’t the Eagles have 9 different starting MIKEs back in 09/10? It also didn’t help that the best FS on the roster was Macho Harris. Asante had a pretty bad year as well. He had 9 ints, but he was getting burned on double moves and exploited on bubble screens. I’m not sure if JJ would have fared better.

  45. 45 T_S_O_P said at 11:46 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    In 2009, the Eagles were 2nd in the NFL in sacks by defensive lineman (38 of the 44 team sacks by the defensive line); ranked 9th in the NFL in both rushing defense and tackles for a loss by defensive lineman (21). Trent Cole was selected to the Pro Bowl with 12.5 sacks and Broderick Bunkley selected to the Pro Bowl as 1st Alternate. Mike Patterson was tied for 2nd in the NFL in total tackles by a defensive tackle.

    He (Segrest) was a guy that had most fans scratching their heads because they thought he was plucked out of thin air to coach the DL

  46. 46 ACViking said at 1:52 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    This is some great research to support a great factual argument.


  47. 47 Neil said at 2:21 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    Considering that line of reasoning and what the wide 9 actually ended up being, it’s pretty funny. He wanted to stop trying to outsmart those really smart QBs, so he switched the defense to playing the exact same overshifted 4-3 every single down that made it impossible to confuse ANYBODY about what was about to happen.

    If you ask me, the problem with the wide 9 wasn’t the wide positioning of the ends. It was the fact that it was the exact same thing over and over with almost no potential for any sort of misdirection as Juan ran it.

  48. 48 austinfan said at 5:58 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    I’ve always thought the problem with the wide 9 was not thinking out the LBs needed to make it work – and Detroit has the same problem. You really want a MLB who’s almost an undersized NT for gap control, and two big, athletic LBs, so you put less resources in DEs (go for mid-round speed balls) and more into LBs and your SS.

    Even the TB 4-3 under had one DL who was a body eater in McFarland, and really fast LBs in Brooks, Quarles, SIngleton, etc. A quick one gap 4-3 can work, but if you’re gonna put the DEs that wide, the LBs have to be pretty exceptional.

  49. 49 Neil said at 5:12 PM on May 9th, 2013:

    I definitely agree with all of this. It makes me wonder though how wise a defensive scheme is when you need such amazing talents. That’s part of what’s nice about the 1gap 3-4 the team is moving toward, some deficiency in talent can be masked by disguising intent presnap. If you’re up against somebody who isn’t fooled, well, then you sure are going to need to rely on execution and talent, no different from a 1gap 4-3 with wide ends.

  50. 50 Mike Flick said at 9:18 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    If stability is key, how come the Texans went from historically bad defense to a top defense overnight, while changing defensive coaching staffs? Spagnolo in a season turned the Giant’s defense into a powerhouse in his first season.

    Also Defenses usually are better than offenses in training camp because it takes time for continuity and timing to develop on the offensive side. But defenses not as much.

    Offensive lines, stability is key. Defensive lines is all about talent.

  51. 51 austinfan said at 10:06 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    Houston made very few personnel changes, added JJ Watt (that’ll make any coach look like a genius), moved Mario to WOLB and Reed as a backup LB. Their other personnel fit Phillips’ one gap system.

    SF had run the 4-3 under Davis, and are running some hybrid of a 4-3 under/3-4 one gap, so again, most of the personnel were in place. The biggest changes were bringing in Rogers at CB and Whitner at SS, which were relatively scheme independent moves, and drafting Aldon Smith.

    Eagles are moving from the wide 9 and total chaos in the back seven to a 4-3 under, so it’s a much bigger transition. Of the 8 DL they rotate, Jenkins, Patterson, Landri and Tapp are gone (Babin in mid-season), Jordan at LB. The secondary is also been completely revamped with 3 or 4 new starters and a number of new backups (Poyer, Wolff). Players who remain are in different roles, Cole, Graham, Thornton, Curry.

    So I’m just hoping they start to jell at the end of the season.

  52. 52 Mike Flick said at 2:14 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    I am with you on the personnel changes being drastic, and there may be some time needed to get players that fit the system.

    That is a talent problem.

    The point of the talent being there and giving them time to just get better within that system is what I am questioning. I thought the guys should be able to learn the system pretty quick.

    Maybe you are saying the same thing, that it is talent not taking time to learn the scheme. Getting Watt or Smith being the catalyst, not giving them time to adjust or get comfortable together.

    You see it all the time with o-lines, where they go for a couple years without injury and as a unit they perform much better than a group of individuals.

    On the point of Mario fitting the 3-4, I would beg to differ. He was out because of injury, but didn’t really fit in the scheme.

  53. 53 theycallmerob said at 5:18 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    Which begs the question of how Graham and Cole will do at OLB? I’m with you on the talent issue, but the cupboards are so bare on that side of the ball (starters AND depth) that it may take years to rebuild. Especially considering we didn’t seem to draft any true defensive “studs” or playmakers, as HOU and SF seemed to walk into.
    And of course, that is all before you factor in an entirely new coaching staff and scheme change. So much to do in one offseason, but I will give credit where credit is due: I believe the FO did a heckuva job cleaning out all of the egos, whiners, and Leon-type guys (“ain’t no ‘we’ in team”). As these past few years have shown, talent (on paper at least) will only get you so far.

  54. 54 Anders said at 7:20 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    The only reason it seems SF got more talent than us is coaching. Before Harbaugh, how well did all that talent play?

  55. 55 theycallmerob said at 8:21 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    I don’t disagree. I merely brought them up with regard to the high draft pick each used on defense during their big switches (Watt, A. Smith). I’m hoping Cox gets to that level this year.

  56. 56 Anders said at 8:38 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    True, but if Kendricks, Cox and Graham all can play at a high level and the secondary can just be average, we should have a top 15 D.

  57. 57 GEagle said at 11:01 AM on May 9th, 2013:

    The weakside is going to be a force with Cox and Graham…I dont see how Graham playing Predator is a concern? he isnt being asked to do anything different. Rush the passer, get around the OT, contain the same gap as always against the run…Only thing different is he will be standing up at times, and have a little more of a headstart before he gets to the OT…I think its safe to say that if Graham doesnt suffer any setbacks on that Knee, and Cox continues to progress the way he is destined to, then our weakside will be a force….There is also a chance that we can bring pressure on 3rd down…Bring the heat on 3rd down and get off the field, and it will mask all sorts of defficiencies on defense

  58. 58 Anders said at 12:15 PM on May 9th, 2013:

    Its a concern. Not every 4-3 DE can stand up and the other way around (I think Ware and Spencer will have trouble as 4-3 DEs) so its a concern until he have proven its not a concern

  59. 59 GEagle said at 8:34 AM on May 10th, 2013:

    Fair enough…but we got much bigger fish to fry than how Graham will fair at predator

  60. 60 GEagle said at 9:29 AM on May 9th, 2013:

    In Terms of Personel, we could be getting there. Its really now a question of how young guys develope…we need to consistently progress, developing young players, adding pieces to it, while gelling as a defense. Yes, we would all like to have a great defense, but the goal should be to Gel and Develope, working towards having a top defense by 2015..
    Some pieces are already in place(Projecting 2015):
    The weakside can already be a force with Cox at 3tec and graham at Predator. Demeco and Kendricks are already in place as the ILB’s. Barwin is in place for the SAM. So thats 5 members of what can become a high caliber front seven, already in place..All of which seem like good charecter guys who will do whats needed for team success…

    Then the question marks..How good can these guys become?
    1)Logan…a more athletic mike Patterson type who will be a glue guy that does whatever is needed to make our scheme successful and make his teamates successful. I think he has the potential to grow into a starter on a good defense, but I dont expect it to happen overnight. I see him as our future NT.
    2)Cedrick Thorton is a guy I cant figure out. I guess I havent put any time into doing my homework on him, and watching him in college…WHats his Ceiling? How good can he be? Im sure, he can atleast be a depth contributor on a good defense 3 years from now.
    3)Kruger is the question. Raw, but very High Ceiling. Some smart people think that had he stayed in college he would have been a 2nd or 3rd round pick…so how do we view Kruger? We cant really view him as a 2nd round pick, but I have a hard time looking at him as a 7th round pick..He has a celing that could make him our starting 5tec in 2015…Who knows if he reaches it…So I wont count him as someone who we can count on by 2015, but we can add Logan and Thorton to the list of 2015 contributors that we can count on…So front 7 guys in place already for a top defense in 2015:
    Logan/Thorton(could be anything from rotational contributor to starter)…
    So we have 7 players of a front 7 rotation in place, 8 if you count Kruger…I cant count Cole or Curry as guys who will definitely be contributing in this scheme in 2015…We need 14 front 7 guys that can play(starters/backups)..At the very least, we are half way there in terms of 2015 personel of a good 2015 defense in place

  61. 61 GEagle said at 9:38 AM on May 9th, 2013:

    in terms of the Secondary Personel in place for a good 2015 defense..Players I think we can count on:
    1)Cary Williams (RCB starter)
    2)Boykin (Nickle)
    3)Chung (worst case scenario he can be a great backup and ST ace, but he could develope into a solid starter)
    4)Wolff (Like Chung, I think worst case scenario he can be a solid back up)
    Potential Guys:
    1)Brad Fletch..Love his ability, Knees are the issue
    2)Kenny Phillips (See Brad Fletch)
    3)Poyer (Depth-starter potential/ST contributer)
    So we have 4 players in place for a good 2015 secondary(not neccessarily 4 starters)..we need 8….then we have 7 out of 14 front 7 personel in place…So on paper, we are half way there. Need to add 4 members of a secondary, and 7 members of a front 7(mostly backups)….

  62. 62 Tumtum said at 9:58 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    I could of sworn we switched back to 1 gap in 08′ or 09′. We had not done very well against the run the year before and sacks were down. Maybe it was 10′? I remember thinking that they might as well since 2 gap wasn’t really stopping the run.

  63. 63 Neil said at 4:51 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    The DTs played 2gap until Juan and Washburn took over.

  64. 64 Tumtum said at 8:38 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    Did a quick google to see if I could find any articles discussing the switch before 2011. I didn’t find any. I guess I am wrong, I could of sworn they went back though!

  65. 65 austinfan said at 10:13 AM on May 8th, 2013:

    A problem with lack of continuity is that it makes it hard to draft and evaluate players. Teo got slammed in Philly, but he’s the 3rd DE in Tampa Bay and was a solid rotation guy, not bad for a late 3rd rd pick. Demps is sitll playing, package safety for the Texans, Mays became a solid 2 down MLB for Denver. Patterson is a solid nickel back, Dixon went from a solid run stopper in 2010 to trash in 2011. So it wasn’t just the veterans they let leave, it was a total system failure.

    When you know what you want at each position, and know the roles you’ll coach them to fill, it’s a lot easier to draft and evaluate players.

  66. 66 Jack Waggoner said at 3:09 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    I absolutely agree.

  67. 67 Steven Dileo said at 12:17 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    What always confused me about the Eagles defense was how they would have a bunch of young players that would show promise in their first year, get promoted to a starting position and then get cut a year later.

    At one point in time I thought that Akeem Jordan, Omar Gaither, Chris Gocong, Stewart Bradley, Moise Fokou, Dmitri Patterson, Quintin Demps, Brian Rolle, and Nate Allen had solidified their position on this roster.

  68. 68 Neil said at 1:19 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    Funny and sad how more than half those names are LBs.

  69. 69 ceteris_paribus1776 said at 7:13 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    It’s what happens when you are starved for playmaking LBs; you adjust your perception of what talent is! None of those players are starters on other NFL teams. Half of them are marginal roster guys!

  70. 70 ACViking said at 12:31 PM on May 8th, 2013:


    This post is rich in history and historical lines tracing back to, among others, the father of NFL head coaching: Paul Brown.

    Beautiful. Just beautiful.

    By the way, here’s a couple of interesting stats I recently came across and an historical notes or two (or three).

    In 1984, the KC Chiefs — playing the 3-4 defense — had three 1st Rd picks across the front: DE Art Still (2nd overall in ’78 from U-Kentucky via Camden NJ), DE Mike Bell (2nd overall in ’79 from Colorado State) and rookie NT Bill Maas (5th overall in ’84 from Pitt).

    Each of them were among the best at their position during their careers, especially Still and Maas.

    In 1984 — in a 3-4 defense — the 6’7″ 253 lbs Still finished the season with 14.5 sacks. Bell, at 6’4 255 lbs, had 13.5 sacks. And NFL D-ROY Maas, 6’5″ 271 lbs had 5.0 sacks.

    (Big, tall, talented D-linemen in a 3-4 defense make a difference . . . and they beat up little O-linemen, too.)

    The Chiefs in ’84 had maybe the best season by a 3-4 defensive line in NFL history. It’s remarkable that 3-4 DEs on the same team collected 28 sacks. Plus another 5 from the NT. Dominant.

    But in 1984, the Chiefs’ LBs — none particularly memorable — collectively had just 9.5 sacks.

    Also worth noting were the four D-backs on the ’84 Chiefs.

    The CBs were All-Pros Kevin Ross (7th Rd pick from Temple via Camden, 5’9″ 185lbs) and Albert Lewis (3rd Rd’r – Grambing 6’2″ 195 lbs).

    The safeties were All Pro Deron Cherry (free agent from Rutgers) and Lloyd Burress (3rd Rd Maryland)

    DEs Still and Bell played together from ’78 to ’87. With Maas, the D-line played together for 4 seasons.

    The CBs Ross and Lewis — among the best tandem in NFL history — played together for 6 seasons (’84-’90). The foursome played together from ’84-’89.

    This was pre-free agency. So the Chiefs were able to keep these guys together.

    The problem with Chiefs’ defense, besides a lousy offense, were even more lousy linebackers (sound familiar?).

    During the 8-year period from ’79 to ’87 . . . the Chiefs had the same 2 starting DEs. Only 2 different NTs. And only 4 starting CBs (2 tandems, one of which — as noted — was among the best in NFL history).

    But at the 4 LB spots, during that same 8-year period, the Chiefs used 16 different starters. None of them, but one, lasted more than 3 seasons as a starter (ILB Gary Spani, who started 5 seasons).

    Linebacks — especially in a 3-4 defense — really do matter. And both the Ravens and Steelers have shown the you if you run a 3-4 defense, you need very good LBs.

    (That’s my take, at least . . . which is why I think Chip really wanted D-Jordan as his first 1st-Rd selection.)

    The forgettable LBs makes the ’84 season by the Chiefs’ 3 D-linemen all the more impressive.

    In early 1988, the Chiefs traded Still the Bills for a pair of conditional picks in the ’89 and ’90 drafts (which turned out to be an 8th and a 5th).

    At Buffalo, Still was reunited with former Chiefs D-coordinator Walt Corey.


    In ’87, new Bills HC Marv Levy — who’d worked with Corey in KC — hired Corey to coach-up the Bills 3-4 defense.

    Levy in the meantime was developing his no-huddle “K-Gun” offense, rung by the not-especially mobile QB Jim Kelly, HB Thurman Thomas, WRs Andre Reed (Kutztown) and future HOFer James Lofton . . . and TE Keith McKellar, for whom the “K-Gun” was named, and Pete Metzelaars.

    In just the second season of Levys’ new, exotic offense and D-C Corey refining their 3-4 defense, the Bills were in the AFC Title game (losing to the Bengals). In ’89, the Bills lost in the Divisional Round. And then they had 4 straight years of heartbreak.

  71. 71 Anders said at 5:03 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    You are 100% right, LBs matters for a 3-4. Of course it wont hurt if you got a star on the DL (like the Ravens with Ngata, Suggs and Kruger last season)

    Its funny you mention the K-Gun, because everybody make it sound like the no huddle offense is something new, but I mean there was the K-gun a long time ago and it would surprise me if you knew some nugget about a team running it before them (maybe in college?).

  72. 72 A_T_G said at 9:29 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    Wait, the k-gun wasn’t named for the K-named guy gunning the ball around? Wow, I would have lost that bet.

  73. 73 ACViking said at 4:03 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    Re: Fletcher Cox . . . Maybe as Good as the Best 3-4 Local Product in the 3-4

    In 1974, a Camden High graduate named Art Still committed to the University fo Kentucky. He became an All American DE.

    In the 1978 draft, Still was selected No. 2 overall by the Chiefs.

    Over the next 10 years, Still — playing in a 3-4 defense — was a 5x All Pro and a 4x Pro Bowler.

    He garnered 48.5 sacks in the 7 seasons in which that statistic was kept during his career. In 1984, playing a 3-4 DE, he finished with 14.5 sacks.

    Still was very athletic. He measure 6’7″ 250 lbs. — big for those days. Two years later, he had 10.5 sacks as a 3-4 DE. Impressive numbers.

    Fletcher Cox is not as tall as Still but more stout. He’s also similarly athletic. Schemes, including pass-pro, have surely changed since 1986.

    But Cox if lives up to his potential, he could be as great as Art Still. And that’s damn great.

  74. 74 Mitchell said at 4:18 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    I would just like a playmaker. After hardly any takeaways last year it would be nice to have some……

  75. 75 ClydeSide said at 6:18 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    John Harbaugh, Rex Ryan and Mike Tomlin all worked for Rick Minter in Cincinnati. Minter is a solid football coach and teacher.

  76. 76 jshort said at 6:49 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    Last year’s defense might have been tolerable, Pathetic field position (ST’s) , unimaginable turnover ratio (O), would spell disaster for any defense. The ship was sinking, the rats were sleeping. I would have cut vick’s ass just for uttering dynasty.

  77. 77 Stevo said at 7:05 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    Tommy, to expound on your point about 3 years, I couldn’t agree more. I think the hiring of a lot of college coaches on the D signals that the administration understands that the D is going to be a work-in-progress for a while and needs good teachers to start from the basics. As much as I’d love to see a quick turnaround, it’s not going to happen with the talent on the roster and uncertainty around the transition to a new defensive scheme. I’m sure Billy Davis must have given the heads up to Kelly that it’s going to be slow process, especially considering his stints as D-coordinator were so short each time — he’s not going to want to relive that.

    Given that it’s an offense-driven league, Kelly & team were smart to load up on offense early in the draft as a great offense can help mask weaknesses on your own defense. It’s interesting that the back half of the draft was dominated by defensive “projects” who project more as potential starters or role players a year or two from now. Hopefully, the Eagles offense can make the defense look okay enough to keep the team competitive. Quite frankly, I’m keeping my expectations for the defense quite low this year.

  78. 78 A_T_G said at 9:36 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    Giving up 28 points is a lot easier to swallow when you score 35.

    I was really hoping we drafted Jordan at the top of the draft, but maybe getting a stud OT and building the defense more methodically will turn out to be for the best. I certainly have no complaints about our top two picks.

  79. 79 Stevo said at 8:09 AM on May 9th, 2013:

    I agree, my heart was set on Dion, and I’m starting to dislike Miami b/c of it. Though, of course, the offense is still a projection at this point, I’m keeping my expectations up a bit more on that side of the ball. As you mentioned, the blueprint seems to be the 35-28 type of wins this year, and if we’re seeing bursts of offensive explosion from time to time this season, we’re perfectly on schedule, in my opinion. Much more curious to see how quickly the offense comes together and takes to Kelly’s system this year.

  80. 80 Neil said at 6:11 PM on May 9th, 2013:

    Dion was definitely intriguing because there isn’t another player quite like him, but that also leads me to consider that maybe there’s a reason there isn’t another player like him? Maybe that kind of player just doesn’t work at this level where tackles are dancing behemoths you can’t just run around, so you need to be big and strong enough but that slows you down in coverage. For all the talk of Lane being raw, he’s physically almost complete. He might add another 10-20 pounds, but at 300 that’s a lot less of a big deal than at 240, and he might not need to add that weight at all, whereas Dion surely would have had to. As far as technique, Lane and Dion do both have a lot of learning to do. In all, I think the difference in upside is very slight, but Dion has a greater risk of failing.

  81. 81 GEagle said at 8:38 AM on May 10th, 2013:

    You can’t say that player doesn’t work at the next level, because he has never existed before..Even a guy like Kearse couldn’t do insanely freakish things like cover a slot that Dion could do…his wingspan in coverage would have been so damn valuable,..it’s ok, Dion certain,y wasn’t thrilled to be drafted by Iami..did you see his face? They can’t franchise him forever..let them develope him for us. can’t franchise him forever. See you in 6years Dion, perfect timing to get us over the hump hahahahaha This is what I tell myself to sleep at night….do we play the dolphins this year? I want to smash that team!!!

  82. 82 Telmert said at 9:11 PM on May 8th, 2013:

    Another great article.

    I always wondered if Babin and Clemons really hurt McD, too. McD got nothing out of them in ’09 – they left and had 23.5 sacks between them the next season while the entire Eagle team only had 39. GM and Head Coach can’t be too happy with that.

  83. 83 Baloophi said at 12:36 AM on May 9th, 2013:

    Hopefully Billy D and the new coaches are better at second half adjustments than coaches during the post JJ era. I’m tired of getting out-smarted after halftime…

  84. 84 Two Farm Fresh Eggs With Links – Late Breakfast Edition | The Philly Fourcast said at 9:23 AM on May 9th, 2013:

    […] read by Tommy Lawlor about what the Eagles defense needs to do going […]

  85. 85 Pitmanite said at 11:31 AM on May 9th, 2013:

    I’m by no means an advocate of Sean McDermott, but you provided this list of names to make the case that Sean couldn’t coach them up, but outside of Clemons, not a single guy on this list went on to be a really good or impact player anywhere else. If you said, Sean couldn’t coach these guys up, but then Demps, Harris and Jordan went on elsewhere and play well above what they showed while with the Eagles, I could say it was his fault. It’s not like Bunkley & Gocong were phased out with us and then went on to kick ass with their next team. Whether Sean was a good coach or not, he was a young D-coordinator and he got the pu-pu platter with players and coaches on his staff. We went from Dawkins to a combo of Demps/Harris. That’s rough and both guys were out of the league fairly quickly after that.

    S Quintin Demps
    LB Akeem Jordan
    LB Chris Gocong
    MLB Joe Mays
    DE Chris Clemons
    S Macho Harris

    This is one of the biggest problems I’ve had with Reid’s tenure the last several years. We’d draft these rookies who would be starting or getting a bunch of playing time, so we’d get excited as if it meant they had a good draft, but it was fools gold. They were getting PT simply because they happened to be the tallest midget.

    Anyway, I’m just happy for a fresh start, and I am fully on the Chip Kelly bandwagon. Speaking of which, is it too early for us Eagles fans to book flights and rooms for the SB this year?

  86. 86 Mortong said at 1:33 PM on May 9th, 2013:

    Andy gave up on Sean McDermott too soon.

    In 2009, the defense was better than you thought – they ranked #3 overall according to Footballoutsiders DVOA rankings (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/teamdef2009), the Eagles were 11-5 primarily because of that defense, and their Week 17 and Playoff losses to the Cowboys were almost entirely the fault of McNabb and the offense failing to produce anything.

    In 2010, the defense wasn’t as good as the 2009 defense, but they were stilled ranked pretty high by Footballoutsiders: #11 in the league. McDermott’s unit was more than adequate to win a Super Bowl that year with the offense the Eagles had. Think about the playoff game against Green Bay and how the Eagles were a missed field goal away from winning that game (driving down the field late in the game for a game-winning field goal instead of needing a touchdown.)

    Something to think about: in Week 1 of the 2010 regular season, the Eagles defense held Aaron Rodgers to his fourth-lowest yardage total (188 yards), his third-lowest Y/A (6.06) and his third-lowest QB rating (73.1). The only teams to do better against Rodgers that year were the Jets and the Lions, in games in which Rodgers was injured and had to leave early. And in the playoffs, the Eagles defense held Rodgers to his lowest yardage total (188) and his lowest Y/A (6.67).

    Sean wasn’t really the problem. I feel as if, given another year, he could have done a better job in 2011 and 2012 than Castillo did, if only because the learning curve was massive for Castillo and was not there for McDermott after 2 years as a DC. Give him Asomugha and Jenkins, and I really don’t see the McDermott defense in 2011/2012 being worse than the Castillo version, and it would probably give up fewer late-game leads.

  87. 87 Neil said at 5:36 PM on May 9th, 2013:

    These are good points, but I remember talk of McDermott having “lost the locker room”. Not sure about the nature or extent of what that entails, but I could see it being the primary reason he was canned.

  88. 88 A_T_G said at 6:01 PM on May 9th, 2013:

    Is this really the Morton of old? One of the things I remember giving you credit for when a few of the commenters were down on your style was calling for the McD firing long before I saw it was a possibility.