Eagles Wake-Up Call: 1-On-1 With Billy Davis
We’re nearing the end of Year 3, and the defense is still not right.
The Eagles have dedicated 15 of their 21 draft picks to defensive players under Chip Kelly. They reconstructed the roster this offseason in part to funnel more resources towards that side of the ball; rebuilt the secondary and invested $25 million in guaranteed money in Byron Maxwell and another $2 million in Walter Thurmond to bolster the back end this offseason.
Yet the desired growth has not been achieved. After a strong start in which the Eagles were near the top in many of the key categories, they have since experienced a sharp drop in production. Through 14 games, they are now 30th in opponent rushing yards/attempt (4.5), 27th in points per game (25.9) and last in red zone efficiency (69 percent TD rate).
There are bright spots, for sure, from the development of guys like Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan to their overall success rate creating turnovers (they’re tied for sixth with 25 on the season). And, given the offense they play opposite of, the numbers can get skewed so proper context is needed when evaluating their performance. (Football Outsiders, which dives deeper into the numbers, has the Eagles defense ranked 13th in the NFL, their offense 27th).
But safe to say this unit has not risen to the level of the elite, and as the weeks and seasons begin to pile up without the defense reaching its desired goal, the more scrutiny Davis faces.
As a football lifer who served as a ball boy for Dick Vermeil’s Eagles (his dad was an assistant) and has coached in this league since 1992, Davis knows the drill. He’s worked for nine different clubs; has been on good teams and bad ones; has risen to the ranks of coordinator three times, and has been fired twice.
During our one-on-one with him this week, we asked Davis about his current mind frame, job stability, the state of the defense, and the never-ending climb up the NFL’s “slippery slope”:
We’re heading towards the back end of Year 3. I know so much has been poured into it, and for it to not consistently be showing the desired results…
“It’s highly frustrating. And I’m the kind of guy, I’m going to look at myself first always: what are we doing; what’s the scheme…And I am constantly searching for how I can do it better, how I can do it better. How can I help them makes plays and put them in position to make plays? And then you go play the games and every game is a new experience, a new problem that you have to solve, a new issue comes up that you weren’t expecting.
“And at this point, after three years, you would have loved, I’d love to be the dominant defense. And early in the season we felt like we were heading in that direction statistically in all the categories in the first five, six, seven games, and then it started bleeding on us, and we really haven’t been able to stop the bleeding to where it’s consistent. That’s probably the biggest thing — it’s there in flashes but it’s not consistent and I’ve gotta find a way to get this thing to where we’re consistently playing sound football. We were great against the run but it’s been bleeding on us lately; we’ve been good against the x-plays this year — finally — but the touchdowns are still there. It’s a challenge of constantly trying to solve the problems that are in front of you and making the most of the talent you have on the field that week.”
You guys were No. 2 against the run for the first six weeks…
“(Sighs.) It’s the same men, it’s the same calls. Dick LeBeau once told me, he said, ‘Billy, when you coordinate, if you knew their play and you put the best call on your call sheet versus what they’re about to run, you can lose the game on that call. Then you’re going to have the worst call on your call sheet against their best and a guy is going to win the game for you on that call, and there’s no telling which one is coming your way. What you have to do is stay true to yourself, true to your beliefs, be yourself to the guys, run the defenses you believe are the best for that group and what happens from there happens from there.'”
Who do you call on when it’s not going well?
[Dom] Capers and LeBeau. I’m not a guy that during the middle of the season I’m going to call. It’s the offseason, the conversations that you have at the Combine, at the Senior Bowl, on the phone over the summer break. It’s just philosophical. ‘Hey, I ran into these problems, what are answers?’ It’s offseason conversations that you have with all the guys, from Wade Phillips, I run into Bill Cowher now and then. You just have those kind of talks.
“We’re all in the same boat. You lose and play bad, the world is coming down on you. You win one and play well, everyone is praising you. It’s gotta be a steady run that you have where you don’t get too low with the lows and too high with the highs, but you gotta get it climbing in the right direction, and I’ve gotta find a way to do that right now.”
What time does your day start?
“I leave the house at 6:00, 6:15 (am), get home at 10:00, 10:15 (pm) on average. It’s tough to be a dad.” (Davis has five children.)
What does your normal work week look like?
“Monday the first half of the day is grading the Sunday game, second half of the day is moving forward to the next week. Tuesday you’ve gotta be ready for players and presenting them what you present them, and practice plans. Wednesday, Thursday is all about practice plans and game-planning, and when you get to the end week it’s about cleaning it up and putting it in a big package for the guys to understand and you get a little more time to get home like a Friday afternoon or a Saturday afternoon on a home Sunday 1 o’clock kickoff. That’s kind of the week.”
I know everyone takes a loss hard, but after a bad call or a bad game, what’s that typically like for you?
“Winning is better than losing. (Smiles.) The feeling on Monday is night and day. But what we try to do here in the building, especially when we present to the players is…The first Washington game is a great look at what it can be. If we make that last interception, if Walt [Walter Thurmond] picks it off on the two-yard line and we take it back and win that game, the 70 snaps before are viewed at with a little bit different lens.
“When you lose it, and that taste in your mouth, [it’s viewed differently], but they’re the same 70 snaps no matter what that last play said. So what we try to do is go in and say, ‘Guys, in and of itself, one play at a time, good enough or not?’ And we’ve gotta [smacks hands] string as many of those 70 as we can to be good enough. Whether that last play won it or lost it, did the last field goal go in and you win? Or did you miss? But the plays are the plays. So I try to stay on, in and of itself, what is the problem? And let’s solve the problem. Because at the end of the day we are teachers and we are problem-solvers, and we’ve gotta make sure we’ve got everything handled.”
I know you stay in the moment, but there is also a big picture that has to creep in at some point as a family man and you know the business as well as you do. Three years and the defense has had good moments but it hasn’t been a top unit consistently. When you think about your career, when you think about stability, being here, with two games to play, how do you look at all that?
“I’m confident that we’ll get it done and I’m confident in the job we’re doing and I believe in the process that we’re going through. I believe in our teaching, I believe in our scheme, I believe in our position coaches and our players. It’s on me to get this to be at a higher level and consistent.
“Anything out of my control I do not dwell on. I’ve been in this too long. The NFL is about as slippery as a slope as you can climb on. You see it constantly: guys go from head coach down to position coach. It’s constantly…as you’re climbing on this slippery ice slope you can stumble at any time, you’re still a good coach and you can climb high. It’s about collective winning and losing and that’s really what it is. You see guys that climb quick on the winning teams and the losing teams not so much. But your coaching has gotta be what your focus is on. Am I coaching it the way I believe in, and teaching it the way I believe in? Are they learning? Are the players getting better under me or not? And that’s what I’m constantly looking at.”
What do you lean back on as your foundation when you hit downturns?
“I lean back on my experience, I really do. On my experience and years around the NFL. Since I was nine years old I’ve been around the NFL. Been around the players and how they act and react. I’ve been around coaches and how they act and react. I’ve been around winning everything, I’ve been around losing seasons, expansions. I’ve been around death in the locker room. I’ve been around so many experiences that I can kind of put it in perspective because of all the years that I’ve been through highs and lows. That’s what I lean on.”
Do you have a core philosophy when it comes to those kind of things?
“Stick to what you believe in. Be true to yourself. Don’t change. Don’t be someone you’re not because of outside opinion. The outside opinion…the guys that have been in the league as long as I have, that have coached long, I respect highly the guys that have sat in my chair and have done what I’m doing, they mean a lot to me because they know exactly what I’m going through. A lot of people put their opinion on what they would do if they were in your chair having never, ever been a coach, never, ever being in the seat. Their opinion, although I appreciate it and that’s part of what makes the NFL so neat is everybody is so into it; we wouldn’t have all these opinions if people weren’t so excited about it and I understand that — so I take it for what it’s worth and believe in my experiences and the men that have done it a long time that I’ve coached with and walked the same path I’m walking.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
“The biggest relief will be when we win on Saturday.” Fletcher Cox is confident for Week 16.
Chip Kelly said the Eagles’ coaches haven’t considered shutting Bennie Logan down for the year.
In the latest Press Coverage, Tim and Josh each choose a player who needs to step up Saturday.
Examining what it is that makes Sam Bradford such an effective quarterback against the blitz.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Chip Kelly‘s expunging of DeSean Jackson signaled the beginning of the Eagles’ downward slope, writes the Daily News’s Les Bowen.
Well, here we are, nearly two full NFL seasons later. There has been no Jackson suspension, no arrest. DeSean missed six games with injury this season, but he seems fine now, is averaging a potent 18.8 yards per catch. He caught six passes for 153 yards and a touchdown in helping Washington top Buffalo on Sunday. It seems likely there is a guy in just about every NFL locker room who grew up around gang members. And for the second year in a row, Jackson will help the Redskins try to end the Eagles’ playoff hopes.
As the 2015 Eagles stagger toward the finish line, well short of expectations, it seems clear now that releasing their then-27-year-old, three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, not caring that they were handing him to a division rival while getting absolutely nothing in return, was the start of a trend that has helped put the Kelly era on a downward slope.
Sam Bradford had his best statistical game of the season against Washington earlier this year, but the opposing secondary will look different Saturday, writes CSN Philly’s Corey Seidman.
The two Redskins defensive backs the Eagles victimized most in that game, Chris Culliver and Trenton Robinson, are both gone. Culliver was in coverage on [Nelson] Agholor‘s 45-yard catch and Austin’s touchdown. He is now out for the season with a torn ACL.
Robinson was the strong safety burnt by [Riley] Cooper on the 62-yard bomb. The Redskins waived him earlier this month.
Cooper saw man coverage on that play, he said Wednesday, reiterating that the Eagles continue to see less man and more zone, which heightens the importance of route precision.
Bradford on Wednesday noted all the changes in the Redskins’ secondary, but said they by and large run the same scheme they did earlier in the season.
Happy Holidays to our Birds 24/7 family. An All-22 and more heading your way.