Billy Davis has spent time watching and studying Jim Johnson’s defenses with the Eagles.
And the part that stood out to him was how good Johnson was at creating the “illusion” of pressure.
“Now he had some great dynamic pressures, and I’ve studied a lot of them,” Davis said today at the NovaCare Complex. “They were out-of-the-box thinking. But when you really break him down, it was more guys up in the A-gaps with the illusion of pressure than actual [sending] more than four rushers.
“There were times that he brought more. …But he did a great job of keeping offenses off-balance through both pressure, illusion of pressure and non-pressure. And you need all elements to attack an offense because there’s some times you pressure some of the stuff Coach [Kelly] does, you’re going to get eaten alive.”
It’s a brave new world for the Eagles’ defense. For the last two years, the plan has been simple: Invest in the defensive line and the cornerbacks. Ask the pass-rushers to line up in the Wide-9 and get to the QB. Rarely send extra pressure. And see what happens.
Well, everyone saw what happened. The defense was a disaster. And now, there will be plenty of change.
Davis often pointed out that his unit is still a work-in-progress. The Eagles have shown a lot of 3-4 looks at practice, but the coaching staff is still in the process of evaluating personnel, which isn’t easy since the players don’t have pads on. But Davis made it clear that flexibility and disguise would be at the forefront of his scheme.
Asked to describe what he’s running, Davis said, “Multiple is the best way. And I know you guys are tired of that answer. I know you want to hear one or the other something. What we’re doing here is we’re taking that Wide-9 4-3, and we’re moving in the direction of the 3-4. But where we stop is yet to be determined by the players we have.”
That was the other point the new defensive coordinator brought up consistently: Everything the Eagles do will be based on personnel.
In practice, we’ve seen Trent Cole and Brandon Graham drop back into coverage, something that is new to them. But Davis reminded reporters that the team is still in fact-finding mode and wants to get a better grasp of what players are capable of.
“Everybody out there has a system that runs four down [linemen], three down [linemen], they just have them in place,” Davis said. “So you use them at different times.
“Who do you have? What do they do best? Let them do that the most amount of times. You can throw in the other things as change-ups and keeping people off-balanced with what you’re doing, but at the end of the game, you want to sit back and say, ‘Well, that guy’s great in coverage. He was in coverage. He’s a great rusher. He’s a rusher.’ And it’ll be dictated off that.”
Translation? If Graham doesn’t look capable in coverage this summer, don’t worry. He’s not going to be asked to match up with Jason Witten next season.
Davis’ key message was that he doesn’t want offenses to know what the Eagles are going to do when they’re evaluating the defense pre-snap. That’s part of the reason the base package very likely will feature just three down linemen.
“The guys that are standing up as ends, it doesn’t mean it’s a 3-4,” he said. “The stand-up is more confusion for the offense – is that guy dropping or rushing? When his hand’s down, most of the time, he’s probably [rushing]. And it affects protections and everything else.”
“We’ll pressure anybody on the defense,” Davis said. “We’ve got pressures for everybody. We’ll bring anybody we need.”
The opener is more than three months away, and the last thing Davis wants to do is implement a rigid scheme with pieces that don’t fit.
It’s another reminder of the state of the franchise. While certainly the coaches want to put a winning product on the field in 2013, they are well aware that the type of change they are implementing requires time. And so Davis envisions a defense that evolves throughout the spring, into the summer and even during the season.
“When the Washington Redskins game comes Monday night and the lights come on, after that game, we’ll know where we are,” he said. “That’s our starting point. We’re going to work our tail off to get as good as we can get to that point. We’ll see where we are there, and then every day after that, we’re working our tail off and seeing how good we can get, and how quick we can get there.”