Three Leftovers: What’s In Store For the Eagles’ Defense?

Before I hop on a plane and head to Indianapolis for the Combine, here are three Eagles leftovers I’ve been meaning to get to, pertaining specifically to the defense.

1. Coordinator Billy Davis did not want to put a label on his defense just yet. And that’s understandable. The Eagles are going to be making several roster moves between now and OTAs. Davis needs to see what he’s got to work with before making final decisions on scheme.

But change is coming. And it’s likely to be drastic.

Chances are the Eagles are headed for some type of hybrid scheme in 2013. That means there will be downs when they line up in a classic 3-4 look. And that means we’ll probably see the 4-3 under look as well. The main takeaway here is that pre-snap disguise seems to be very much something Davis plans on incorporating.

“If you go up against Eli [Manning] or Peyton [Manning] or Drew Brees or [Tom] Brady, and they know what the look is, they eat you alive,” Davis said. “That’s what Bill Belichick is a master at: the look. How does it look? To the quarterback, if it doesn’t make sense, or it doesn’t look like what he looked at all week, you gain a little advantage on those great ones, as opposed to just aligning like it’s supposed to look. That’s the game against the other coordinators and quarterbacks.”

It may sound obvious, and well, it is. But it’s different than what we’ve seen here the last couple of seasons. In general, the Eagles lined up four-down linemen, whose primary job was to rush the passer. They threw in the occasional blitz or stunt. Sometimes, they had the defensive tackles shift outside and moved the defensive ends to the middle like rush linebackers. But overall, you knew what you were going to get from the Eagles’ front seven.

“One of the advantages of the 3-4, when you put four big guys down in a 4-3, the offensive line blocks those four big guys. It’s identified – this is who those four rushers are. We’re going to handle them,” Davis said. “When you do a 3-4, the fourth rusher could come from either outside guy or either inside guy, which really makes protection things and run-blocking schemes have to change and adapt.”

2. Pace is going to be important on defense too. Yesterday, I wrote about how Chip Kelly’s up-tempo practices are likely going to be on display at the Novacare Complex this spring. When we talk about Kelly, we immediately think offense. But one of the reasons Jeffrey Lurie hired him is because he thinks Kelly is a trend-setter. And last year, we saw more quarterbacks in the NFL get their teams to the line early to run some version of the no-huddle.

It’s now the defenses’ turn to figure out how to combat that.

“We have to learn to practice quicker and play quicker,” Davis said. “And that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re stream-lining the defense to where we can handle those challenges of the faster-paced offense. The communication by the defensive players has to be quicker and clean. The most frustrating thing in the world is when I see written on anybody’s paper, ‘communication issues on the defense.’ It drives me nuts.”

While Davis’ explanation is easier said than done, it’s likely that the Eagles’ defense is going to be practicing against a no-huddle offense everyday. That’s bound to help them on gamedays.

Davis talked about how when he was with the Cardinals, they went to the no-huddle attack with Kurt Warner in the second half of the Super Bowl and nearly completed a comeback against the Steelers.

“When it goes so fast and they’re on the line, he [the QB] says, ‘hut hut’ and all of a sudden you show a blitz, then he can take his protection, he can change it,” Davis said. “So they’re really trying to get you to expose what you’re doing. Defensively, we have to understand that and give them a little bluff, give them different looks to where ‘hut hut’ doesn’t necessarily mean you show the blitz.

“Then they try to get you out of your pressure package because you’re so afraid of them going so quick. So you’ve got to have the courage to stick with your scheme and what you’re going to do and understand that you may lose a down or two because of it, but ultimately, you don’t let them do what they’re doing. And that’s part of the rhythm that, defensively, we have to take them out of.”

One personnel note here. Some have questioned whether DeMeco Ryans fits going forward, especially in a 3-4. My answer is 100 percent yes. He’s exactly the kind of player you want directing the front seven when opposing offenses are using up-tempo attacks.

3. Kelly said he preferred finding coordinators who had NFL experience. But the seven defensive assistants under Davis have a combined one year of NFL experience. That belongs to defensive backs coach John Lovett, who was the Jets’ quality control coach in 1984.

Maybe Kelly didn’t plan it this way, and it just happened. But it sure seems like he saw value in adding college coaches, given how much NFL teams are now borrowing from the college ranks.

Davis was asked if he’s going to have to reach into a new bag of tricks to come up with answers for the pistol, the read option and whatever else is on the horizon.

“The bag of tricks is coming from this staff,” he said. “Because this staff, all the coordinators on this staff, have been facing that for a long time. And as we talk and go through it, it’s something I haven’t seen a lot.

“I remember last year in Cleveland, we had to spend a lot of time watching Washington and figuring out how we were going to adapt Coach [Dick] Jauron’s offense to stop that. Well, the guys that are in our defensive staff room right now, they’ve solved that problem a hundred times.”

Inside linebackers coach Rick Minter, who has coached at 12 different college programs, seemed to agree.

“Sixty to eighty percent of your teams in college never huddle. They get on the ball rather quick,” Minter said. “So, if this is a little bit of the wave that the NFL is headed, then the coaching knowledge that Chip has assembled on defense goes into that expertise area, because the seven coaches on defense, outside of Bill Davis, have been in the college game. He’s the lone NFL guy.

“He’ll bring the expertise of the NFL, bring the big picture. And we’ll say, ‘Here’s what they’re doing in college. Here’s what Chip does every day.’ So we’ll be a good complement.”

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