Three Things We Learned About the Eagles’ Defense

We covered the offense earlier this week. Now it’s time for Billy Davis’ defense. Here are three things we learned this spring:

1. Disguise will be a buzz word to describe this unit.

Jason Kelce was asked last week to go over the sequence of how the offense sets the protection.

The first thing he said? “It’s all depending on whether it’s a three-down or a four-down defense.”

One of the trademarks of Davis’ defense will be pre-snap disguise. The idea is simple: Make it as difficult as possible for the opposing quarterback and offense to know where the pressure is coming from. We don’t know whether this will be a more of a traditional 3-4 or more of a 4-3 under, but that’s the reason we saw the Eagles going with three down linemen in most packages during OTAs and mini-camp.

“The guys that are standing up as ends, it doesn’t mean it’s a 3-4,” Davis 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.”

It was telling last month when Davis said he was always impressed with the way Jim Johnson was able to create the “illusion of pressure.”

That might mean having DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks stand up at the line of scrimmage in the A-gaps before dropping back. It might mean Connor Barwin dancing around the line of scrimmage in various spots before the ball is snapped. It might mean asking the middle linebacker to hustle back and act as the free safety on a specific play (something we saw once or twice at practice).

“There’s a lot more disguise, position swapping than there was in Houston,” Barwin said.

Added safety Earl Wolff: “Disguise and trick the quarterback, which allows us to make more plays on defense.”

There’s plenty to be worked schematically once the pads come on, but get ready to hear the word disguise quite a bit this summer during training camp.

2. Roles for Trent Cole and Brandon Graham are still to be determined.

Let’s start with Cole. In his ninth NFL season, the veteran is being asked to take on responsibilities that were previously foreign to him as he lines up at outside linebacker.

For most of the spring, Cole was at right outside linebacker with the first team – rushing the quarterback from a two-point stance, dropping back into coverage and setting the edge against the run. But he wasn’t used exclusively in that role. He also played defensive end in four-man fronts (primarily in nickel), and there were even times when he was one of the defensive linemen with his hand in the dirt in three-man fronts.

Cole has admitted that he played poorly last season, totaling a career-low three sacks while battling a hand/wrist injury. But it’s not like he’s a fossil. Cole won’t turn 31 until October, and from 2007 to 2011, he averaged 11 sacks a season. In other words, there’s a pretty strong track record there. He may never get back to being a double-digit sack guy, but he should still be able to be a productive player.

Graham, meanwhile, remains a mystery. He most often lined up at left outside linebacker with the second team behind Barwin this spring. That spot appears to be a bit of a “joker” with the player being asked to perform a variety of tasks and display some degree of versatility.

Is Graham suited for that kind of role? His best skill is quite clearly rushing the passer. Last year, no one else on the team matched his production in that area. But now, Graham’s being asked to learn a new position, and the spring offered few hints about what Davis has planned for him.

The bottom line here is that Davis has emphasized personnel being the key, and he has said he’ll play the best 11. But that can only be true to a point. For (an exaggerated) example, if your best 11 players are all defensive backs, well, there’s not much you can do to get them all on the field at the same time.

Hearing him talk, I got the sense that Davis learned in his previous two stops as a defensive coordinator (Arizona and San Francisco) that sometimes you just don’t have the players, and no scheme or coaching tweak can make up for that.

But Barwin, Graham and Cole are without question three of the best 11 defensive players on the roster. In the spring, it was rare to see them all on the field at the same time. We’ll find out if that changes this summer.

3. The linebackers and safeties are excited about the scheme change.

It was no secret that the Wide-9 made life difficult for pretty much everyone except for the defensive linemen. The safeties, for example, had specific run responsibilities that made it difficult for them to guard against play-action.

“Not to say that the safeties aren’t going to be called on to make plays against the run, but we’re not going to be the first guys onto the scene,” said Kurt Coleman. “It’s going to be a big change for us, which is kind of good. It allows us to sit back and read the QB a little more, be more patient.”

Added Davis: “Any time you ask the secondary to be primary B or A gap run defenders, you’re just asking for trouble on play-action and deep balls. I hate to talk too much about last season not being here, but just all the transition and all the different communications that happened, I don’t know how you fight through that and play good. I really don’t.”

But it’s not just the safeties. It’s the linebackers too. Against the run, the defensive linemen were often flying upfield while Ryans and Kendricks were left to deal with offensive linemen before attacking the ball-carrier.

“I’m definitely sideline to sideline, going to be able to run a little bit more, be a little more freed up,” Kendricks said.

“We had a lot of people in our face last year, so I mean if tackling was an issue, it shouldn’t be this year.”

There’s always a fine line between excuses and reasons. But it’s obvious that many of the Eagles’ defenders are embracing the scheme change with open arms.

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  • cliff henny

    don’t forget sconces. Philly is now the best educated fanbase on light fixtures

    • Johnny Domino

      Talk about disguise, I think it is worth mixing in an occasional window treatment.

    • ICDogg

      Too many sconces and we’ll get torched.

      • Johnny Domino

        Torchiere-d

        • Max Lightfoot

          Gack! Very good (or bad)!!

  • nicksaenz1

    Excited for the scheme changes. It’ll be fun to watch how this plays out. May not be the most talented defense (possibly a slight understatement), but if Davis can truly create the desired confusion for offenses and put the players in position to succeed and make plays, then that’s all you can ask of the man.

    • cliff henny

      i’ll be happy this year if i just see max effort, professional tackling and increase in turnovers. we have to understand this is a work in progress. if this defense ends up ranked 18-22 range, i’ll consider it a job well done.

      • nicksaenz1

        Yeah, that’s kind of where I was going. We were 29th in scoring last year. If that can move to the range you stated we’re in much better shape going forward. We were actually middle of the pack in yards surrendered last year. Tied for last in TO +/- at -24. Absolutely killed us. We’ve gone on at length about turnovers, regardless of who the QB was, but only forcing 13 turnovers? Pathetic.

        • cliff henny

          yup, hopefully most fans are on same page as us. to think this defense is going to be anything but a work in progress this year is asking too much. no reason they cant tackle better, improve redzone td ratio (mean, felt like it was in high 90′s), confuse offense into a, just 1 on average, TO a game, and try and tackle, that’s not asking alot. should be better, but let’s not confuse it with anything JJ ever rolled out. least a couple years away from that

          • GEagle

            Defense has a chance to be better then people think. We have plenty of holes that still need an offseason worth of additions to fill, and we have talent that is still a year or two away from being developed..Our CBs aren’t probowl shut down corners, but what they are ally good at is getting physical with recievers, jam them at the line, slowing them down..Combine that with the fact that we could have a pretty good pass rush, and we have a chance at getting off the field on 3rd down…Cox and Graham are going to be difficult to block on the weak side. fans haven’t even gotten to see how good Kendrick’s is at blitzing. Demeco can get after it, Barwin will be an asset, whether it’s getting the sack or chasing a QB into a teammates arms…..We will still have a lot of work to do, and we have a ton of holes still..but much f that can be covered up if we are able to get good pressure on 3rd down. don’t interpret this post as me claiming we will have a top 10 defense…but I think that it can be better than people think

          • cliff henny

            until recently, i wanted eagles to be built around defense, now, as long as they play good redzone defense, get sacks and TO’s, that’s all i care about. nfl is so ridiculously offensive skewed now, better off trying to throw up mid 30′s and get extra possessions and force FGs. still watch nfl religiously, but not like i did back when defenses could play. SF was exception. teams can win SB w/ 30th rank, that goes against everything i learned/saw from 80-08. dont think nfl is as good of a product today. why i like kelly, believe that’s how he thinks. have to play the game how the rules are written.

          • GEagle

            You know I’m a defensive guy so I can’t disagree at all. Defense the way we knew it and Love it is dead. All that matters now is 3rd down, TO’s and holding teams to FG…
            ..
            I think its impossible not to improve on 3rd down Qb pressure from last years pathetic performance. We will also have a much better secondary(not the most talented, but I can appreciate 4guys fighting and competing for us as opposed to what we saw last year)
            ..
            We can’t possibly not improve on forcing TO’s. last year was a joke. schematic disguise will confuse QBs 100% more then our non blitzing vannilla schemes last year, combine that with improved turnovers and being owed some serious TO Karma lol, I have to think we will be improved at forcing TO’s.

            We will be better at holding teams to FG’s for one simple reason..TOUGHNESS!!! We were a soft bunch of girls last years. I doubt chip will allow it.

            like I said, I don’t expect a top defense in 2013, but I expect a defense that looks like the buddy Ryan Eagles when compared to what we saw last year lol…I do however think we could have a nice amount of pieces of an eventual good defense already in place. 1 more offseason of development, and a year of two of gelling and player development, and we could have a defense that we can be proud of. next year I expect us to be in the 14-20 Range….I’ll tell you this would anyone really be THAT surprised if we had the best defense in the division in 2013? I don’t see very steep competition

        • Warhound

          I’d like to give you two UPs. One for your point and a second because, unlike some in the media, you know the difference between a ratio and a differential!

          • nicksaenz1

            Lol! It’s baffling that it’s a difficult concept. But, to the point, it’s a stat that NEEDS corrected if we’re righting this ship.

          • Startibartifast

            It’s actually just a difference.

          • Warhound

            Right you are!

    • Richard Colton

      yeah Nick I’m excited too. Still, you can’t shine a turd. No matter how good the scheme, you still need players. Fast forward to our Super Bowl in 2015 – I wouldn’t be surprised if 9 starters on that D aren’t on the team yet.

      • nicksaenz1

        I wouldn’t be either. You can almost bank on 3 in the secondary, if not 4, and at least 3 more in the front 7…. And you may not be able to shine a turd, but our renaissance man/most interesting man in the world probably can. We should ask.

        • cliff henny

          wont post picks of the south park randy marsh/bono biggest crap ever episode…not going to lie, did google the pics though

          • nicksaenz1

            Please do. Although, the Shake Weight is still my favorite episode.

          • cliff henny

            all great, but when cartman inherits 1m and buys the amusement park. that one is stupid funny. oh, and crack babies athletic assoc was tremendous. when cartman visit the colorado dean, simply wrong. knew a girl who wrote for them in first 3/4 yrs. she told me couple storylines that got cut, what we see on tv is tame

          • theycallmerob

            The Great Wall of Southpark was tremendous. Those damn mongorians….

          • Mike Giongo

            How about the Ben Affleck and J Lo episode, the Jonas Brothers one, or Scott Tenorman? Those are three of my favorite South Park episodes of all time…

      • Andy124

        ” Still, you can’t shine a turd. ”
        Adam and Jamie disagree.

        • nicksaenz1

          I was leaning toward Dutch. Dude knows everything and can do anything. It’s incredible.

          • Andy124

            I was leaning towards MythBusters, because they actually did it.

          • Richard Colton

            ewww. I hope not.

          • ICDogg

            Yeah… the original expression was “Polish a turd and it’s still a turd”, but then it got shortened to the inaccurate “You can’t polish a turd” somewhere along the line.

          • Richard Colton


            You guys are unreal. Guess this means there’s hope for caseymatthews

          • nicksaenz1

            Sh*t.

          • UKEagle99

            How is “you can’t polish a turd” inaccurate? Can you do it?

  • Chris

    More than anything, i just want the D to keep us relatively close in games this year. I have no expectations of them being turnover machines or a top-5 team…limiting the big plays and a better RZ defense should be enough to help them win a few more games.

  • B-West

    Really hope we can finally put the stamp on who Brandon Graham is as a player this year. PFF had a write up on Graham recently, and they discussed his limited use. Get him on the field this year and cut him loose. If that comes at the expense of Trent’s playing time, so be it.

    https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2013/06/13/pass-rusher-profile-carlos-dunlap-and-brandon-graham/

    • Richard Colton

      Graham excited a lot of us with his play last year, but if he can’t make the transition to 3-4 OLB then there might not be a spot for him.

      • GEagle

        We will play plenty of 4 man lines…so he always has a spot as a situational pass rusher like Bruce Irvin…That probably won’t get him presented with a contract extension that he would be looking for, but If last year is any indication, he can ATleast be an effective situational rusher…there will always be a place for that at the right price..
        ..
        I do however think that the extra space he gets rushing from the OLB spot will do him good. I worry more about How Trent Ole handles the extra space…Give Graham an extra head start and he will bullrush dudes straight into the QB all day. I’m expecting a big year even if at worst, it comes out of a situational role

        • Richard Colton

          Sake of argument: Say he gets 13 sacks next year, but looks hopeless dropping back into coverage. Market dictates he gets JPP money. Do the Eagles pay a guy like that to be a situational Irvin type pass rusher? Square peg, round hole?

          • UKEagle99

            JPP needs another good season before any team succumbs to agent comparisons and ponies up top money. 1 hit wonder so far imo, it was a good 1 hit but do it again.

          • xlGmanlx

            Sounds like an asset to me, in howie we trust

          • GEagle

            Damn..that’s a hard question. If you can only do one thing on defense, it should be to pressure the QB…Pass rushers get paid. Very tough to say what’s going to happen with graham…however a guy that Humgry should be welcome n our defense anytime…but yeah, he probably won’t be N egle in your scenrio

      • xlGmanlx

        Don’t you think we should wait and you know, actually let him play a meaningful game before we decide he can’t?

        • Richard Colton

          key word – might. He looked really good at the end of the year, but I think he could price himself at of Philly if he A)plays well but B)doesn’t fit the system.

          best case scenario – he can rush standing up as well as he could with his hand on the ground, and can drop back into coverage without looking foolish.

    • xlGmanlx

      He is a football player, only stamp he needs

      • B-West

        Once on the field, sure. But as far as rebuilding this roster, and in particular the overhaul of this defense, they need to find out what kind of player they have in Graham.

        I’d rather give the lion’s share of the snaps to Graham to see if he can handle it, instead of seeing if Trent still has it. My point of view is that all the focus should be on a few years down the line, looking to peak once the roster and coaching staff overhaul is complete. Even if Trent shows that he still has it, hes not a viable building block at his age.

        And to tie in an answer to Rick, scheme fit goes right along with that thought process as well.

        • GEagle

          Graham and a 3rd round pick for Dion Jordan or Ziggy ansah(both play on 4man lines) lol

          • cliff henny

            your hellbent on getting jordan on the eagles one way or another

          • GEagle

            come on daddy..you seen his face on draft day. now they jerking him around and messing with his contract…Easy way or the hard way, Dion will trade the fins in for his bird wings sooner or later. can’t franchise him forever. idiots got him playing in a 4-3 lol…They might as well get something out of him eventually becoming an Eagle lol…This is what I have to tell myself to sleep at night lol…

          • UKEagle99

            Dion J needs to hire Eli’s agent and get it done!! :-D

          • GEagle

            Amen to that!!!

          • cliff henny

            have any of the top 5 guys signed yet? know they are pretty well locked into salary range, but someone has to go 1st to set the market. yeah, and DJ makes no sense as 4-3 olb, thought reid went to KC, sound like something he’d do

          • GEagle

            It’s not about the money, they are trying to not guarentee his money, so Dion can’t double dip and get paid by two teams at once if a guy they tradede a lot to move up to get at number 3 is a bust. Not sure about the top 5 but I do member someone in the 5-10 range already signing because I though…why would the 3rd pick take a non GUARENTEED contract, if the 6 or 7th pick doesn’t have to….if you trade all the way up to 3, I would think you should be confident in the kid you drafted..Tannehill is an idiot for allowing the dolphins to include the wording in his contract…but Tannehill was picked 8th, not 3rd…If I’m Dion, I am not budging

          • cliff henny

            oh, didnt know either of that, tanne’s contract or dion. guess if you can get away with it. heck, even logan got some guarentee for couple years. wish howie tried that with watkins.

          • GEagle

            tannaehill let them include it in his contract last year. But he was the 8th pick. If I’m the 3rd pick and a team gave up a ton to go get me, no way I’m giving away my GUARENTEED money..Great point about Watkins lol

  • OregonDucker

    At Oregon, Chip generally kept out of defense. However, one defensive strategy he insisted on was disguise. He wanted to confuse the QB – and the Duck’s quick defense did that every game. Just ask Barkley.

    • cliff henny

      helped he hung half a hundred by HT, 3-4 times a year. boy, that’d be awesome to see just once…especially against Dallas.

    • UKEagle99

      If that’s the case then I am definitely going to FedEx the coaching staff stick on noses and plastic glasses, their own mothers will not recognise them when I am done!

  • Max Lightfoot

    It should be an exciting season. Whether exciting means winning more games or watching the Sack of Rome version 2.0, I don’t know – but it should be exciting! Cain’t wait! Go Birds!

    • UKEagle99

      I hope you are right. All I know as an Eagle fan entering my 27th year I’ve never ever found losing exciting.

      • Max Lightfoot

        Errr … exciting as in unexpected angina attack that turns out to be heartburn? I agree – do not like losing. And last year was the most unlikable year in my recent memory. I’ve been a fan since 1967, so I’ve seen it all – except a Super Bowl win. Glad you are hanging in there – a fan should be one for life. Go Eags!

  • Scott J

    Schemes and disguised blitzes won’t matter if they don’t tackle.

  • MediaMike

    On the D:
    What I like:
    - Barwin, Isaac S, B. Fletch, and Absent Cary Williams signings
    - possible creative uses of the best 11 guys on the field in terms of blitzes, assignments, coverages, etc.
    - continued use of 4 man fronts for nickel and dime D
    What I don’t like:
    - the safety population (injury risks (Phillips), and a collection of guys with no track record of being able to play the position at an NFL level for a full season(Chung, Allen, Coleman), and a rookie (Wolff)
    - the lack of a 2nd true 3-4 DE by body type. Ideally you need your DEs in a 3-4 to be 6-4+ 300lb + guys that can set the edge. Cox can do it, but who else is big enough to do that?
    - size at ILB. Ryans and Kendricks are both going to be solid players running to a play, but often on run downs one of them will be 1 on 1 vs. a guard or center. I’d prefer one of the two LBs be Levon Kirkland (275lb years not 300lb years) size to do that.
    - the lack of a shutdown CB. I think Fletcher and Williams are both high quality #2 type CBs. Boykin as well. But we’ll need a guy who can really lock down most WRs we face. We don’t have that guy yet.
    Ultimately Rome wasn’t built in a day, but those are my thoughts right now.

    • GEagle

      good post MM…Gonna try and play some Devils advocate:
      1) Safety position. Like you said, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so we were going to have a weakness right? Ta Da…the safety position lol. However I can assure you it will be light years better the. What we saw last year, all though that isn’t really saying much.
      ..
      A) Because Allen SUCKS in the Box, and CHUNG sucks in coverage, they might be so bad at their weakness that we are forced to always play to their strength. If you keep Allen out of the box, and you keep Chung out of coverage and use him to blitz and patrol the box..it could be a better then we expect stop gap until we draft and develope two young studs
      ..
      B) Earl Wolff is far from a lock to become a stud starting safety. however, I will NEVER write off a young man with His type of High Charecter AND FREAK, NO LIMITS, athletic ability. He has the potential to become the Mykal Kendrick’s of the Safety corp. Unfortunately we will have to be patient and give him two years of playing time to ally find out..
      ..
      2) If you like Fletcher Cox’s body(no H-MO), then how do you not like Cedrick Thorton’s 6’5 310lb muscular frame? Bennie Logan is also a big boy very experienced in doing ALL the dirty work needed to have a successful front 7. WE will just need to develope him and get him acclimated to the nfl level, but he basically made himself into an NFL player by doing all the dirty work for a high Caliber SEC defense..so when you talk about under appreciated but important things like setting the edge..it’s hard for me to not be excited about Bennie..Dixon I hear is also in shape, and he is a big boy. there is a chance we can play Dixon and Sopo together at times on rushing downs.
      ..
      3) I have ZERO concerns about our ILB. I think they can become one of the best duo’s in the NFC. I’d take those two over anything in the division that’s for sure. ideally Meco would be 10lbs heavier, however he is physical and crafty enough to alleviate my concerns.
      ..
      4) CB, tough to lay devils advocate against your lack of shutdown corner argument. If Boykin had the side of Bradley Fletcher, I think he could definitely be that for us, but I’m not expecting any sudden growth spurt for Boykin. The one saving grace is that we have a chance at being pretty good at pressuring the QB on 3rd down, especially when you factor in the confusion and protection breakdowns our disguise will provide. The strength of our outside CBs are jamming viewers at the line, slowing them down from getting out into their route. That buys more time for an already potentially good pass rush, to get to the QB and touch him, before having to worry about the shutdown coverage aspect of our corners. But if we can’t get pressure then yeah we could have problems in coverage. Want a shutdown corner? Then you better PRAY that our future franchise QB is already on this roster and just needs to be developed so that you don’t have to use a first round pick next year on a QB, allowing us to go after a shut down corner that chip Kelly knows very well…..IFO EKPRE-OLOMU!!!

    • smotlz

      What if they use Isaac s to set the edge