Davis Using Steelers Tape As Blueprint For Eagles’ D

Billy Davis isn’t sure where exactly the Eagles’ defense is going to end up in the next six weeks, but he knows it’s going to look nothing like the unit that took the field in 2012.

And so during the spring, the tape from last year’s team wasn’t of much use to him from a teaching standpoint. Instead, Davis decided to show the players tape of a different defense to use as a blueprint: the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“If you want to teach a technique, the best way is to show somebody doing it correctly,” Davis said. “Well, we don’t have any padded film of that so we use other teams in the league that play similar techniques. And I’ve got a heavy background with the Steelers and a couple coaches so we just chose to use some of those.”

As we mentioned earlier this week, Davis was 26 when he got his first job in the NFL as a quality control coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The names that were in the room with him back in 1992 still resonate in the league 21 years later.

“The actual Dom Capers, Bill Cowher, Dick LeBeau and Marvin Lewis… those conversations, I don’t think I could take any more notes than I took at that time,” Davis said. “Just learning and just sat down and picked their brains and really listening to how they solved problems.

“I really learned a bunch of great minds in the same room that were willing to listen and share new ideas is really the reason that defense was built from the foundation so solidly. They’re running the same playbook that we ran way back then in a couple places in the NFL.”

The defense Davis is describing is best known for the zone blitz, a concept of rushing five and dropping six into coverage. For a long time, sending a blitz meant playing man coverage behind it. But the Steelers’ scheme used zone coverage, sent one extra rusher and focused on disguising where the pressure was coming from.

The key number is five. LeBeau and the Steelers rushed five 32.7 percent of the time last year, according to the Football Outsiders Almanac, second-most in the league.

Guess who was first? Capers and the Packers at 34.7 percent.

“I remember like it was yesterday when Dick LeBeau brought up a fire zone blitz that he ran way back with Coach [Hank] Bullough…” Davis said. “So all these schemes go way back. The credit doesn’t go to anybody actively coaching to be honest with you. These guys go way back to the guys who aren’t coaching anymore.

“That’s where Coach LeBeau said, ‘It may be a little crazy, but let me throw this at you.’ And Coach Cowher loved it. And Coach Capers loved it. And then we sat there and kind of worked through the little intricacies of how it could hurt us or how it could fit our personnel. And then it just worked out for us.”

The concepts are used throughout the league, and the Eagles will continue to implement them in the coming weeks at training camp.

But Davis isn’t sure exactly what the defense will look like by the time the regular season rolls around. The change in scheme requires the players up front to demonstrate specific skills that the coaches haven’t been able to evaluate without the pads on.

The first full-squad practice is today. The first full-contact practice is Sunday. And the first preseason game against the Patriots is just two weeks away.

“Moving toward a 3-4,” Davis said. “Now we still have to prove through the pads and the offseason that we can get to that. If we can’t get to it because of the personnel skill set, then we’ll stop short of it, and it’ll be a little bit different than the 3-4 that you primarily like to play.

“The defensive line and the linebackers, the main guys that you have to evaluate if they can play the 3-4, without the pads, you can’t run-evaluate, you can’t pass-rush evaluate in shorts. Now that the pads are on, we will see the skill set of the defensive linemen playing some of the techniques we’re asking them to play. We will see the technique of the outside backers if they can or cannot do things from a two-point stance when the pads are on when the contact happens. Shorts are different.”

With new faces, players changing positions and a completely new staff, Davis acknowledged that he’s not expecting a quick fix.

“It’s a learning curve,” he said. “The biggest thing, the Pittsburgh Steelers still run that same playbook and they’re veterans and every player understands it thoroughly. Here, everything’s brand new. The communication, the words we’re using. Everything is brand new.”

Coming off a season in which the Eagles allowed 27.8 points per game, third-worst in the league, “brand new” seems like the correct approach.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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