Wake-Up Call: Evolution of Davis’ Defense
Today’s question comes from reader Brad via email:
What are your thoughts on the evolution of Billy Davis‘ defense? We saw more schemes in year-two than year-one and the front seven took a big step forward. How do you think this growing process impacted the secondary last season and what should we expect to see different next year?
I have conflicting thoughts about the growth of Davis’ defense, largely because the front seven took a very healthy step forward while the back end crumpled to the ground down the stretch.
Davis gets equal parts credit and blame. It’s hard not to be impressed with the way he took the pieces up front — many of them odd-shaped for the desired design — and helped craft them into a high-functioning unit that was generally stout against the run and finished tied for second in the league in sacks (49). He attributed the jump in production to the players’ increased comfort with both one another and the defense, and that’s a big part of it, but Davis also deserves recognition for scheming people free and bringing the best out of his personnel.
His success in that area makes the failures in the secondary that much more difficult to comprehend. You can pin the league’s second-worst pass defense on the players and the (since removed) position coaches to a degree, but Davis owns a part of the breakdown as well. In some cases, his game plan and reaction time could have been a lot better.
I think you’re right to point out that the playbook expanded in Year Two. The development of guys like Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks gave Davis more schematic flexibility. And the addition of Nolan Carroll bolstered the depth at the corner position, allowing the Eagles to add a dime package to the mix. (When DeMeco Ryans was lost to injury, you can argue that they were forced to rely on that package too much.)
With another year comes increased familiarity, which in theory should help this defense take another step forward. And if the Eagles land a quality defensive back or two in free agency, it’s certainly possible that this group can take it to another level. The degree of improvement will hinge in part on Davis, who to this point has produced mixed results as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator.
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WHAT YOU MISSED
Greg Cosell weighs in on the top quarterback prospects in the draft, including Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley.
Sheil takes a look at what’s in store for the Eagles offensive line in 2015.
Could any current Eagles change positions before next season?
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Jimmy Kempski of Philly Voice looks at who could be a cap casualty this offseason, including Lesean McCoy:
The Eagles couldn’t possibly get rid of DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy in consecutive seasons, could they?
Of the players on this list, with the exception of maybe James Casey, McCoy is the only player in this article with any kind of trade value whatsoever. McCoy has a huge cap number in 2015, and while he is willing to restructure (translation: take more guaranteed money, which every player would want to do), he is not going to listen to any pay cut talk.
McCoy’s situation could be a 1000 word post on its own (and maybe it will be later this week), but the reality is that the Eagles don’t have another running back on the roster ready to take over for McCoy is he were to go the DeSean route. Darren Sproles is a change of pace guy only, and Chris Polk has not proven he can stay healthy. The only way the Eagles could ever jettison McCoy is if they already had another proven quality runner in place first.
And obviously, as noted above, there are plenty of other ways the Eagles could save cap space before they need to do something drastic with McCoy.
Tommy Lawlor of Iggles Blitz goes into what Chip Kelly and Ed Marynowitz will have to work out in their new relationship:
The biggest challenge for Kelly and Marynowitz will be making tough decisions. Do you have WR Dorial Green-Beckham on your board? He has elite talent, but was kicked out of Missouri due to multiple drug arrests and an incident where he was accused of pushing a woman down some stairs.
How do you grade RB Todd Gurley? He is an elite talent, but missed time in 2013 due to an ankle injury and then missed time in 2014 due a torn ACL. Some risk, but potentially big reward.
How do you grade Nick Marshall, the Auburn QB who will move to CB in the NFL? He played CB early on at Georgia, but moved to offense at Auburn. Major projection, but a talented prospect.
Kelly and Marynowitz don’t have to go out and find talent. They have to be able to make tough decisions based on the data that is given to them. They will watch tape and fall in love with some prospects. As long as they don’t ignore the scouts work and focus on their own opinions, this can work just fine.
We’ll take a look at what the national media are saying about the Eagles.