Eagles defense might finally start generating turnovers under Gannon

NFL: SEP 27 Bengals at Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 27: Philadelphia Eagles Cornerback Darius Slay (24) interacts with the Bengals bench after a play in the second half during the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles on September 27, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Over the past few years, the defense of the Philadelphia Eagles has gone from being a once-feared unit with a monstrous pass-rush, to an injury-plagued front seven with a secondary that has as many holes as a traditional Golf course. After a coaching staff revamp and a strong offseason, Jonathan Gannon looks to restore the Eagles defense to its former glory. To do this, he’s come up with an acronym that embodies the way he wants his players to perform.

The first thing is we’ve got to figure out what our players can do, and then we’ve got to put them in those situations as much as possible to utilize their strengths. The main thing for us is it’s not what we play, it’s how we play. And if you asked our players that, I think they know that from the jump as far as we’re going to run to the ball, we’re going to outhit people, we’re going to take it away, and we’re going to be smart. Those four things — hustle, intensity, take away, smart. The acronym for that is the HITS principle, and that’s what we’re going to hold our hat on. 

The Eagles defense was atrocious last year. While there were certainly bright points such as their 49 sacks which ranked 3rd in the NFL, they ranked 1st in penalties, 23rd in run defense, allowed an average QB rating of 102.4, and a whopping 26 points per game. Only making things worse was the fact that the secondary struggled to generate turnovers, as it did every season under Jim Schwartz due to his focus on the pass-rush running the show and corners playing off the ball to buy them time. As a team, the Eagles amassed 8 interceptions, but only one came from a cornerback (Darius Slay).

Jonathan Gannon joins the Eagles on the back of a season where he coached a group of tenacious Colts cornerbacks. The team totalled 15 interceptions last year and allowed a QB rating of just 90.5, ranking 10th in the NFL. Their run defense didn’t suffer though, as was always the by-product with the Eagles. The Colts ranked second in the league giving up an average of 3.7 yards per attempt on average.

Knowing that Gannon is bringing a whole new ethos to the table predicated on smart play (CC: Nate Gerry) and takeaways is beyond encouraging for a defense that has been crying out for exactly that since the arrival of Jim Schwartz. It almost felt as though run defense and pass defense success were mutually exclusive under Schwartz, but that doesn’t appear to be the belief anymore.

This, of course, bodes well for Darius Slay. While his production was some way off of his Pro-Bowl-best, it’s not like there was much he could do about it. His lone interception took 16 weeks to fall into his hands, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t making an impact.

He helped hold Terry McLaurin to just 28 yards, Jarvis Landry to 13, Michael Thomas to 33, and Juju Smith-Schuster to 11. Slay had only given up 50+ yards to a receiver twice last season and both came in wildfire defeats. He also only allowed two touchdowns all year, with Davante Adams doing the damage on both.

Jonathan Gannon helped Xavier Rhodes get back to the top of the Mountain last year, relighting a fire that burned out in Minnesota en-route to a season where he had 12 passes defensed, a pair of picks, and allowed just 51% of passes to be completed. Could the former DB coach work that same magic with Darius Slay? He seemed optimistic about it when asked about the secondary this past week.

I think Slay can go to another level. I think everybody in that room can elevate their game and play winning football for us. 

The stars are aligning for Darius Slay to have a huge bounce-back year and with a bit of luck, the rest of the defense will follow suit.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire