Wake-Up Call: What the Eagles Want At Safety


Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Today’s question comes from reader/commenter Nick via e-mail:

As I’m sure you’ve noticed in the comments, I’ve been discussing at length how we passed on Jairus Byrd (and, with hindsight and knee injury aside, probably shouldn’t have) because we wanted a more “complete” safety to have the mirrored look, but ended up playing a lot of single high. What’s the root cause of the change there? Seeing a lot of 3-WR seems like the obvious answer, but I wanted to know if it was adjusting to what we’re facing or an outright change in philosophy.

I don’t think there was a change in philosophy, Nick. As you pointed out, the Eagles played a lot of single high in 2014. Two primary coverages qualify as single-high: Cover 1 and Cover 3.

Cover 1 is man coverage where the single high safety plays center field. Cover 3 is a zone look, but is still considered single high because one safety is responsible for the deep middle of the field. The Eagles actually played a lot of both these coverages in 2013. I don’t have exact numbers to reference, but I’d guess they played more Cover 1 this past season.

As for the “mirrored” look, the Eagles still want that. Last year, it wasn’t always the same safety playing the deep middle. Sometimes it was Nate Allen, and other times it was Malcolm Jenkins. In other words, the whole mirrored thing still applies.

I remember Greg Cosell of NFL Films once describing the four main aspects of safety play: the ability to play single-high, the ability to play two-deep, the ability to play in the in box and tackle, and the ability to play man coverage.

For the Eagles, the man coverage thing is a bigger deal than it probably is with other teams. And I think that was one of the reasons they passed on Byrd (although, to be fair, his price tag and health were probably bigger factors). But whether it’s manning up tight ends or slot receivers, the Eagles’ scheme demands that the safeties be able to cover.

In the past two years, they have not shown interest in guys who are primarily center fielders or primarily box safeties. Every team says it wants versatility at virtually every position, but with the Eagles and safety, it’s actually true. Of course, as we’ve seen first-hand, there’s a difference between being able to do a lot of things and being able to do a lot of things well.

I think Jenkins is pretty close to the prototype of what they’re looking for in terms of skill set. Unfortunately, they can’t just clone him (unless the sports science program really gets going this offseason), so they’ll have to see if they can find someone similar in free agency or the draft.

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WHAT YOU MISSED

A look at all of the pending free agents for New England and Seattle, along with notes on which players might fit with the Eagles.

Fifteen observations from Super Bowl XLIX – from Russell Wilson’s interception to Johnny Karate and everything in between.

Vegas released its first round of Super Bowl odds for 2015. There’s a gap between the Cowboys and the Eagles.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice.com projecta Eagles picks for the 2015 NFL draft and has them picking versatile defender Shaq Thompson in the first round:

At the pro level, because of his smaller size, there will be debate about whether Shaq Thompson is a 4-3 WILL, or if he’s a safety, or if he can play ILB in a 3-4. What is not up for debate is that he’s a ridiculous athlete who makes plays. He’s fast, he’s agile, he’s a sure wrap-up tackler, and is thought of as a high character player with good instincts. He was even a very intriguing running back at Washington. Some teams value “tweeners” like Thompson. Other will struggle to figure out where he fits in their scheme.

Could the Eagles find a way to use Thompson creatively if he were to be available at 20? On the one hand, this will be the Eagles’ third year in Billy Davis‘ scheme, so they’ll be much further along than they were two years ago. On the other hand, we’re talking about a defense here that didn’t even have a dime package until last offseason. Still, the way I see it, Thompson is simply too athletic to pass on even if he may not have perfect measurables for any specific position in the Eagles’ scheme. Just go get him and watch him make plays.

Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation looks at what the Eagles will need to improve to contend in 2015:

In order for the Eagles to contend in 2015, the Eagles need better quarterback play. (Duh.) Considering they led the NFL in turnovers in 2014 (and since 2011), it’s so ridiculous to suggest they’re only an improved secondary away from winning a title. It’s part of the puzzle, yes. But it’s irrelevant if the turnovers continue to happen.

In order for better quarterback play to be accomplished, they Eagles need to revive the run game. It can’t be merely average again. It needs to be elite. Fixing this area will give the Eagles the best shot they can to win with Foles. It will take the ball out of his hands and, theoretically at least, opens things up for him in the passing game. Combine this offense revival with an improved secondary and the Eagles should be in a pretty good spot. Of course, all of that is much, much easier said than done. For now, it’s the goal. Chip Kelly and Ed Marynowitz have their work cut out for them.

COMING UP

We’ll look at what the national media are saying and begin our offseason positional previews.

Birds 24/7 intern Tucker Bagley contributed to this article.