Eagles’ Takeaways Are No Accident

Eagles Defensive Coordinator Bill Davis Speaks to PressIn Chip Kelly’s final season at Oregon, the Ducks’ defense led the nation in takeaways with 41. They finished second in that category in 2010.

In his two-year stint as defensive coordinator  in Arizona, Billy Davis’ units were sixth in takeaways both seasons, generating 59 in all. He had similar success in that department as DC in San Francisco.

The 2013 Eagles are currently ninth in the NFL with 22 takeaways, and gaining steam. Nine of those have come during this current four-game winning streak.

What is it about the concepts and teachings of this coaching staff that helps create a turnover-friendly environment? Let’s take a look:

The scheme

A major benefit of deploying a two-gap 3-4 is that it frees the safeties of certain responsibilities in the run game.

“The 3-4, you really don’t have your safeties responsible for certain gaps,” said Nate Allen. “You’re not playing quarters and also have to fill up a ‘B’ gap or something like that because, you know, that’s when you start biting on play action and stuff and things start going downhill.

“It alleviates somebody from having to come down and be responsible for a gap, and usually that’s your safety guy that’s coming down for that extra gap.”

The safeties were overloaded with run responsibilities last season, which had plenty to do with why they got burned over the top so frequently. This year things are much different.

“The secondary, we’re pass guys, that’s our main focus,” said Allen. “The run game, as far as gaps and where we’re fitting, we really don’t [have to worry about that.] We’re pass first, pass second and then pass third.”

As the ball is snapped on 1st-and-10 from the Philadelphia 39, Allen doesn’t look to have a care in the world about the run game.

nate Allen 124 1

And that’s good because play-action is coming.

Nate 124 2

Allen is free to survey the field as the play develops. Palmer will target Michael Floyd (at the bottom of the shot). Allen comes over to assist Bradley Fletcher in coverage. Up front, DeMeco Ryans gets home on the pass rush and prevents Carson Palmer from following through on his throw.

Nate 124 3

The pass comes up a little short as a result, and Allen is able to elevate and make the play.

nate 124 5

“I think a lot of times when you don’t have to devote that second safety to the box, he can see the football.  Now they have a better chance to break on footballs,” said Kelly. “When you can cause a pass‑rush with four guys and get to the quarterback a little bit, now we have guys who have eyes back to the quarterback and kind of locate it.  If you don’t let the quarterback get his feet set and feel comfortable back there, he may throw one up or serve one up for him.  Billy said it all along, I felt as our defense continues to understand the techniques and what we’re trying to do, that they’re going to come in bunches, and they’re starting to come in bunches, which is a positive thing for us.”


The players get a kick out of watching the coaching tape, and seeing a crazed Jerry Azzinaro bolting up and down the sidelines.

The defensive line/assistant head coach is always stressing to his players to run towards the ball, even if they think they are out of the play. There’s a chance that the ball comes out or takes a funny hop, and he wants his guys in position just in case.

It’s important to practice what you preach.

“If you watch Azz out there, as soon as they hand the ball off or the quarterback throws it, he runs in the general direction [of the ball] just telling us to go,” said Casey Matthews. “It’s actually funny when you watch it on film, there’s no sound but you see him just run. He’s got this awkward running [motion]; it’s pretty good.”

The message is getting home, though. Consider the following play a couple weeks ago against Green Bay:

Scott Tolzien is getting ready to release the ball and as you can see, he’s going right. Ryans (bottom left) is on the other side of the field.

ryans 124 1

Cary Williams challenges the throw and forces a deflection. The ball would have harmlessly fell to the turf if Ryans did not stick with the play.

ryans 22 124 1

But he did, and is able to make a diving grab for the interception.

ryans 124 2

Even on incomplete passes the defenders are told to scoop the ball off the ground just to get in the habit in the event of a fumble. In pre-practice they work on what they call a “city fumble,” which means the ball is loose amid a lot of bodies, and the defender jumps on it. A “country fumble” is in wide-open space and the player is asked to scoop and score.

The strip sack is also something that the players routinely work on.

Several trash cans were lined up a few yards apart from each other on one section of the practice field Wednesday. The linebackers and defensive linemen had to maneuver past them before making a B-line for an assistant coach, who was playing the role of the quarterback during this drill. As the defender approached the coach raised the ball over his head and the defender had to try and swat it out.

A couple players said that as the season has worn on, you can see the defense going after the ball more instead of focusing just on the quarterback hit. Such was the case with Trent Cole against the Cards.

Cole 124 3

The defensive backs are routinely put through a “deep ball drill” at practice where a quarterback fires the ball down the field, and the DBs have to sprint after it before jumping into the air to secure the interception. They go through a similar routine during pre-game warm-ups.

It kind of looks like this:

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And this:

Williams 124 1

And we saw it on that Allen interception as well.

nate 124 5

“We emphasize two feet off the ground catching the ball. It’s just something that they get used to doing  and are comfortable doing it,” said defensive backs coach John Lovett. “They have to be the receiver down the field, they can’t worry about defending the receiver. When the ball’s in the air they have to go be the receiver.”

These  are the kind of little things that are drilled on a regular basis. Nothing out-of-the-ordinary, but it’s interesting to see how practice habits can carry over to the field.

That covers general philosophy and fundamentals. The last piece of the puzzle is the game plan. And that’s where Davis comes in.

“I think you have to give a lot of credit to Billy Davis and the coaches because our scheme is pretty confusing I think for quarterbacks to understand what we’re doing,” said Connor Barwin. “You see a lot of teams that play a lot of man-to-man, they don’t get a lot of turnovers because of the nature of playing Cover-1 man-to-man. But we play a lot of zones — different zones — and I think it’s hard for quarterbacks to really zero in on what they’re doing. That’s how you get quarterbacks to make wrong decisions or bad throws.”

Put it all together, and you have a defense that is starting to generate turnovers at a pretty good rate.


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  • Michael Myers

    led the nation in takeaways, not turnovers…

    • Michael Myers

      or forcing turnovers…

      • Tim McManus

        Thank you, Mike! – Tim

        • GEAGLE

          Tim…you are wrong for picking against us this week

          • OregonDucker

            Because the “difference” will be coaching.

  • MildEagsFan

    What do you expect when you have the BEST front 7 in the NFL, and probably a top 3 or 5 secondary unit.

    • theycallmerob

      wow, i mean….i like where our D is headed, and Davis has greatly outperformed my expectations….but that’s a pretty ballsy statement. whatever you’re smoking, it’s better than what I had in college

      • Kevin.Rosenberger

        Well…Ill tell you Im smoking some pretty good stuff right now and it still seems ballsy. Oh well, the defense is playing about 10 times better than i ever expected so ill just keep smoking.

        • theycallmerob

          green with envy

        • OregonDucker

          Chase the smoke with some Chip KoolAide. Then we will welcome you to the Chipper fan club.

      • MildEagsFan

        put it in the air, I don’t care if I fuck up the planet. Smoke too much to buy so I started to plant it.

    • G_WallyHunter

      That’s uhhh.. that’s quite optimistic.
      Nothin wrong with that, I guess
      But top 3 to 5 secondaries? umm.. possibly by the end of the year?

    • Richard Colton

      Best front seven in the NFL this year? Yes. Best all time front 7? I’ll need to see the last few games before I pass judgement but at this point I have like this:
      #1 Purple People Eaters
      #2 Monsters of the Midway
      #3 (tie) Gang Green ’91
      #3 Eagles 2013

      • Maggie

        The Steel Curtain. Four down linemen, 3 linebackers. 1976. Pitched FIVE shutouts and a couple of field goals against. Several in HOF.

        • Richard Colton

          would you put them 4th? either way, according to Mild – our D deserves all-time consideration.


    Everyone complained about our sack numbers, but there are certain QBs that I don’t even want to sack!!! Eli,Carson and NOW Stafford, I’d rather not Sack these guys, I much prefer rushing their throws because they will give you opportunities for INTs..
    …our front 7 is too nasty for Stafford to get time. he will connect for big plays to Tron, but he will also rush and force balls…Detroits offense will turn it over ATleast twice on Sunday in the outdoor cold…it becomes crucial in THIS game that we keep it clean, and be responsible with the ball. i LOVE that FOles had an INT SCARE against the cardinals because it didn’t count yet it will check him to make sure he doesn’t take risks like that this week. I’m not worried about him throwing INTs, I’m worried about Suh murdering him and forcing fumbles..in this game, I’d rather our Oline take the holding penalties! because Suh will mess around and hurt someone and ruin their season…we can’t allow him to touch FOles….
    I haven’t looked into Detroit enough yet…but I do KNOW the Eagles are winning this game!! These teams are similar in quality. neither team is that much more talented than the other..Closely matched teams and when two teams are close like this, what will separate us is that we are a much better coached team than them! we are a more Discaplined team then them, they commit more penalties, turn the ball over more..and if they are MORE talented then us, they aren’t SOOO much more talented that they can overcome the Undiscaplined ball they play..

    The one thing that I hope we realize! is THIS is a team that WILL come back and beat you in the 4th quarter if you aren’t sharp…

    • theycallmerob

      hands down, we have the better coach. checkmate

      • GEAGLE

        Lol Schwartz…..he shouldn’t be coaching on the same field as chip

      • OregonDucker

        Chip knows Farley on the Lions DL. (schemed him in the BCS Championship Game.) He knows his tendencies and strengths. Look for run plays that target Farley throughout the game.

        • hokieduck


    • Philip Soloninka

      I don’t love the Foles INT scare as much as I love his response when questioned about it afterward. When he says stuff like that, it gives me so much more confidence in him.

      • GEAGLE

        Did you read his comments about how he is building a database in his mind about what he can and can’t get away with on an NFL field…this kid GETS IT!! Two years from now we will be rooting for a SNIPER of a QB!!!

        • Philip Soloninka

          Nick “The Database” Foles… I can dig it.

  • breakdown6

    Do these drills defer from what they did in the Reid era?

  • Tom w

    Weather for Sunday. High of 32 windy snow …. Perfect for a dome team on the road that throws haha

    • BlindChow

      They should have flown Foles up north over the bye to practice his snow game.

  • UncleCarm

    God Bless Graham for those two sacks last week, but I’d like to see him poking at that ball a little bit, if he can do it without jeopardizing the tackle. I may be asking too much.

  • PaoliBulldog

    Thanks for pointing out that interceptions aren’t the same as fumbles in open field as fumbles in tight quarters as muffed kicks …. Different techniques involved in forcing and converting all of them into turnovers.

  • John J. King

    Let’s hope they keep it up. It’s fun to watch what was probably the most criticized coaches and players I have ever seen become – suddenly and without warning – contenders.

  • PhiEagles14

    Honestly think Djax has his best game of the year here… I haven’t seen him take a screen/short pass to the house in a while and i think he will get one this week. This offense would be amazing for Sammy Watkins on the other side of D-jax and J-mac growing a pair and playing in the slot….

    • G_WallyHunter

      if Djax wants to bang off 30 pts and help me win this week, please lord almighty make it happen. I think you’re right, especially if Houston is out, he might go off on this secondary, great matchup. If Oline does what they did against Zona’s front 7, he’ll have plenty of time to shred it up.

  • tofoomeister

    “Beeline”, from the belief that a bee returns to the hive on a straight course.

  • Sophie Marceau

    like Rachel responded I am amazed that anybody can get paid $8005 in 4 weeks on the internet. check here…❥❥❥bay91

  • theedevilsadvocate

    man im so happy for the eagles i hope we go 11-5 and romo chokes these next few weeks and we watch the cowgirls implode!!!!!!!!!!!

  • hokieduck

    Huge Duck and Chip Kelly fan here. I started coming on your boards when Chip made the leap. I have watched you folks go from angry, to skeptical, to hopeful, to believers, to… fanatics. That has been a fun transition to watch.

    Go Eagles. WTD.