Jonathan Gannon has drawn up two successful defensive game plans in two playoff games. The Philadelphia Eagles only allowed one touchdown against a New York Giants team coming off a 31-point performance, and they contained a shorthanded San Francisco 49ers offense with laughable ease.
However, the second-year defensive coordinator is by no means a fan favorite in Philadelphia.
While he is finally earning sensible respect during a Super Bowl run, Jonathan Gannon has taken heavy criticism during his tenure with the Eagles.
He works in a city that glorified Buddy Ryan for the “Bounty Bowl” and obsessed over Jim Johnson’s aggressive use of the blitz. His defensive strategy instead aims to eliminate explosive plays, the main focus of modern NFL offenses, by concentrating less on aggressive play underneath. Poor defensive performances early in the 2021 season earned him some major skepticism, and he still hasn’t fully recovered in the minds of his critics.
There’s also the simple factor that a defensive coordinator is an easy scapegoat for fans looking to oversimplify a problem. Quarterbacks take unreasonable blame when offenses fail, but there is no individual position on defense with nearly as much impact. The coordinator gets the finger pointed at him too often.
If you’re one of the people (like me) who criticized Gannon and his passive approach on defense in 2021, it’s time for a mea culpa. If you’re still clinging to a negative perception of the Eagles defensive coordinator, you’re ignoring the fact that he’s answered the call for every challenge he’s faced this season.
Usage of Haason Reddick
Sheil Kapadia spoke before Week 1 of the 2022 season about the addition of Haason Reddick.
“I believe Haason Reddick is the type of player who basically tells you what you have in a defensive coordinator. Do you have a defensive coordinator who knows how to put him in positions to succeed and really make him a difference-making player, or do you have a defensive coordinator who’s a little confused about it?” Kapadia said.
Reddick couldn’t get his NFL career off the ground quickly in his first two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals because of poor usage. Conversations swirled during training camp about his role on the Philadelphia defense. Would a talented player fall into the background once again because of his defensive coaches?
The former Temple Owl eclipsed his career high in sacks by a wide margin with 16 on the way to his first Pro Bowl and a second-team All-Pro selection. He forced five fumbles and recovered three during the regular season. He knocked Brock Purdy out of the NFC Championship Game with a strip sack on the most consequential play of the game.
The opportunity to get into the backfield on the play came because of a matchup against a reserve tight end. The matchup might not have happened without the deliberate scheming of the defensive coordinator.
Reddick deserves the credit for his own explosion with the Eagles. However, mark it down as a challenge that Jonathan Gannon has accepted and mastered.
Jonathan Gannon vs other Head Coaching Candidates
The masses (reasonably) questioned why Jonathan Gannon entered the conversation as a candidate to become a first-time head coach last offseason. His defense struggled against legitimate competition in 2021. They allowed 33.2 points per game against teams that finished with winning records and 13 points per game against teams that finished with losing records.
Jonathan Gannon once again landed in the pool of head coaching candidates, but it looks like he’ll be staying in Philadelphia next season.
DeMeco Ryans deservedly earned a reputation as one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL in his time with the 49ers. He’ll now take the next step as head coach of the Houston Texans.
If Ryans deserves a job as a head coach and Gannon doesn’t, why did the Eagles blast the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game? Purdy doesn’t play defense, so his injury didn’t have all that much to do with the fact that San Francisco’s overhyped defense gave up 31 points on Sunday.
The unit fell into disarray when they faced adversity in Philadelphia on Sunday. They continually shot themselves in the foot with untimely penalties in the first half and made themselves look childish with aggressive penalties out of frustration in the second half.
The Philadelphia defense is the one that stood tall. DeMeco Ryans did an excellent job with the 49ers leading up to the NFC Championship Game, but Jonathan Gannon clearly outshined a coordinator who got a job as a head coach.
Lack of Takeaways
The lack of game-changing plays in 2021 led the legendary Brian Dawkins to challenge Gannon and the defense to improve that element of their game in 2022.
“We’ll see this year (2022) what type of mindset this defense has. One of the things for me (in 2021) was: We need to take the ball away more,” Dawkins said.
The Eagles finished tied for 26th in the NFL with just 16 takeaways during the 2021 regular season. They increased that number to 27, tied for fourth-best in the NFL in 2022. They forced one turnover against the Giants and three against the 49ers.
Dawkins also spoke during the same interview with the John Kincade Show on 97.5 The Fanatic about the Eagles offseason.
“You can grade them on what they have, but you have to see the product that steps on the football field and how they manage the product and how they put people in position to have success,” said the Hall of Fame free safety.
When one of the greatest and most beloved players in franchise history speaks about what the Eagles need entering an upcoming season, people will listen. It’s safe to say that Jonathan Gannon and the Eagles have collectively responded to the challenge.
The (Supposed) Fatal Flaw of the 2022 Eagles
The 2022 Eagles finished 14-3 during the regular season, and they have blown through two playoff games. However, there have been points when they’ve shown potential weaknesses.
After Week 9, the Eagles ranked 29th in the NFL allowing 5.2 yards per rush. Their run defense ranked 20th overall and 22nd in the DVOA metric from Football Outsiders. They faced a four-game stretch against talented running backs Jonathan Taylor, Aaron Jones, Derrick Henry, and Saqoun Barkley.
The four star backs averaged under 50 yards per game against an Eagles team that brought in veterans Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh to sure up the middle of its defensive front. Running into a line with this kind of size and depth doesn’t seem like a great game plan anymore.
While Howie Roseman deserves credit for bringing in the two valuable veterans, Jonathan Gannon has also plugged them into the rotation flawlessly.
Perception in 2021 vs. Numbers in 2022
Too many people developed a negative perception of Jonathan Gannon too soon, and some of them are holding onto the snap judgment. It’s okay to let it go.
Jonathan Gannon coached the top-ranked defense in the NFL by yards allowed and the sixth-ranked defense by the DVOA metric during the regular season. The Eagles shattered their franchise record with 70 sacks and finished just two shy of tying an NFL record one season after finishing 31st in the league with 29 sacks.
He avoided the insistence on blitzing like Jim Johnson or talking trash like Buddy Ryan and instead stuck to his own style. The Eagles tied for third in the NFL by allowing just 40 completions of 20 or more yards, accomplishing Gannon’s goal of limiting explosive plays.
The Eagles ranked dead last in the NFL in opposing completion percentage in 2021 by allowing a 69.97% rate. They improved to 11th in 2022 at 62.56%. Their red zone defense jumped from 29th to 11th in just one season.
Beyond the success on the field, Jonathan Gannon has earned the respect of his players as a strong leader. Head coach Nick Sirianni sang his praises after the victory in the NFC Divisional Round against the Giants.
“Man, what did they score? 7? Yea, big time,” said Sirianni. “Sometimes I have to hear some things about Jonathan Gannon, and I don’t know if it’s you guys. (It) might be more other people. I won’t say names, Angelo (Cataldi). But this guy is an unbelievable coordinator. The fact that he doesn’t get respect from our radio station blows my mind. It blows my mind… Every time I hear an answer about Jonathan Gannon, I laugh to myself. As a matter of fact, coaches from other teams ask me, ‘Does Jonathan Gannon get crap here?’ I’m like, ‘Somehow, yea.’ This guy is incredible. He’s going to be a head football coach in the National Football League because of what he does. This guy is a stud. He’s a stud. I can’t wait to talk to Angelo on Monday.”
While Jonathan Gannon and the Philadelphia defense have responded to every challenge they’ve faced on the way to compete for the Lombardi Trophy, they haven’t yet had the opportunity to disprove one criticism.
Patrick Mahomes torched them for over 300 yards of offense and five touchdowns at Lincon Financial Field in Week 4 of the 2021 season. He was part of a string of accomplished starting quarterbacks who exposed the flaws of the system’s design.
Can Jonathan Gannon and the Eagles overcome one last obstacle on their way to a Lombardi Trophy?
Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire