In back-to-back weeks, the Eagles defense has looked completely outmatched. Jonathan Gannon is rightfully receiving a lot of criticism for his game planning against the cowboys and chiefs. Through the first two weeks, I praised the Eagles defense for their schematic approach and success against opposing offenses but the defense has taken a huge step back since then.
Below, I will break down the game against the chiefs, explain why I think the defense has regressed, and attempt to forecast if there is any hope for the defense to right the ship against the Carolina panthers.
Regression SZN: Scheme and personnel
Bad scheme and bad personnel.
It’s important to put the regression that the defense has shown in its proper context as they’ve played 2 elite offenses with excellent Quarterback play. The Eagles do not have the personnel to keep up with teams that have so many weapons on offense. One of the thinnest positions on the team depth and talent-wise is the secondary, so it’s reasonable to expect them to struggle against teams like the chiefs.
That being said, the defense has been pitiful. Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has not helped his players at all over the past two weeks. He’s run more cover 2 with less disguise against the best quarterbacks the Eagles have faced this season. Its hard to understand or explain when the team effectively disguised coverages in the first two weeks of the season.
I understand that Patrick Mahomes is going to put up great numbers on any defense but Gannon’s gameplan seemed complacent. As a defense you need to try to throw some different looks at a Quarterback. Would that have changed the outcome of this game? I don’t think so, but just sitting in cover 2 and not even forcing Mahomes to check plays at the line or adjust calls is ludicrous.
Now on to a few things that are not a coach’s fault. I write it every week, but the linebackers are bad, very bad. Teams can run the ball effectively against the Eagles because the LB’s cannot cover their gaps along the line of scrimmage. They can’t anchor and get pushed out of the play by fullbacks or tight ends. When they are in position to make the tackle, I saw them time and time again get driven back for 3 yards after contact.
The Cowboys caught on to this quickly and started to run a “duo” blocking scheme against the Eagles. This means the opposing offensive line will double team both defensive tackles forcing the linebackers to react quickly to fill the rushing lane. Eric Wilson and Alex Singleton were slow to react which allowed Dallas to run the ball with ease.
Not every team will have the quarterback or offensive line play to exploit the Eagles defense like this but it’s a copycat league, so teams are certainly going to try. Gannon needs to find a solution quickly or this team is at risk of having a disastrous season.
NEW IDEAS PLEASE
What can the Eagles do to try to improve the defense. Well, this week they face Sam Darnold, so just that alone should help this defense look a bit like they belong in the NFL.
I mentioned this earlier but it’s time to disguise coverages more. The philosophy of birds defense is to drop in coverages and play smart zone defense. It’s not an attacking or heavy blitz scheme but that doesn’t mean you can’t fake it. Show opposing QB’s pressure looks and bailout of them back into the zone, run a single high safety look but sink back into a cover 2 when the ball is snapped. The Eagles do not have the talent to beat teams consistently by just sitting back in their zones. They need help through game planning and scheming.
The linebackers have played so poorly it might be time to try some 3 safety looks. Anthony Harris has been lost in coverage but at least he can make a tackle. Bring him down into the box and use him in that Malcolm Jenkins kind of role. It can’t be any worse than what they are doing now.
Trying a tighter alignment along the defensive line might help the run game. It’ll be hard to get sacks, but they haven’t had many sacks anyway.
Play Davion Taylor. He probably isn’t good but at least he has potential.
Brandon Graham is way better than anyone realized. The line is not the same without him.
Yes, which might sound strange considering I’ve been so critical of the defense throughout this article. This week could be a get-right game against a team that doesn’t have an elite QB. I still believe in Jonathan Gannon as a coach, and I think he’ll adjust under the enormous scrutiny he’s faced this week.
They may not play as well as they did the first two weeks, but this defense should be able to limit the panthers to 24 or less points which would certainly be an improvement over the past two weeks. Here’s hoping the Birds can find a way to stop the bleeding.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire