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Judging JG


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Judging JG

Posted: December 14th, 2021 | Author: Tommy Lawlor 

Jonathan Gannon has had quite a wild ride as the Eagles defensive coordinator. There was a lot of hype when he was hired and he inherited a unit that had some talented pieces. More than a few people thought the defense might have to carry the team, especially early in the season.

The defense didn’t play nearly as expected and Gannon became a punching bag for angry fans who detested his bend-but-don’t-break style. Bad defense is bad. Passive defense isn’t something Eagles fans can handle.

The low point came in Las Vegas, as it so often does in life. The funny thing is that with Gannon he wasn’t betting the house and being too risky. Quite the opposite. Gannon had his defense playing soft against the Raiders. Derek Carr went 31 for 34 and had a lovely fall afternoon. When you make Derek Carr into a superstar, something has to change.

Luckily, Gannon did change. He began blitzing more. He started playing more aggressive coverages. The defense has responded well. Four of the six opponents were held to 18 or fewer points. Denver did score 29, but a lot of that came when the game was out of hand.

This isn’t to say the defense has turned into Gang Green or the ’85 Bears just yet, but they are playing better. They responded to personnel changes and schematic changes. Gannon has found out which buttons to push, so to speak.

Still, there are parts of games where the defense falls apart. The Jets scored on their opening three drives. The Saints went wild in the fourth quarter. The Eagles weren’t facing top talent in either game and still couldn’t stop those units when they were hot. That’s a concern and something to address.

When the defense does go into a funk, social media quickly fills up with calls for Gannon to be fired. "Get that bum and his garbage defense out of Philly!!!” might be one of the nicer versions to share with you. Part of that is fans living in the moment. If social media had existed when Buddy Ryan’s defense gave up 28 fourth quarter points to Joe Montana in the Niners back in 1989, Ryan would have heard the calls for his dismissal after the 38-28 loss. All coaches have to live with criticism.

Gannon is new and doesn’t have a track record, though. It is fair to question if he is the right man to lead the Eagles defense.

I’m okay with Gannon. He’s got sound ideas. Gannon focuses on stopping explosive plays, hardly a new concept. He just seems to take it to the next level. His safeties play way deep to keep things in front of them. That requires them to be able to attack quickly when things do happen in front of them. That also puts pressure on the linebackers to cover a lot of ground in the middle of the field.

Right now the Eagles have a pair of problems. They don’t have the players to run this system at a high level and the players they do have are learning on the fly. When you play a lot of zone, players have to work together to cover areas. This is the same principle as playing zone in basketball. Players must all be on the same page with how to defend each situation. Timing is important. When do you pass a receiver on to the next guy?

Jim Schwartz wanted his players to think less and play fast. He wanted to attack. Gannon wants to run a more complex scheme that does require players to think, to understand the situation and handle it correctly. That takes time to master. Gannon is teaching his players and they are gaining valuable experience. This will pay off down the road.

As for the talent aspect, that also takes time. Buddy Ryan didn’t have the players to run his 46 scheme when he got to Philly back in 1986. It took time for him to draft and teach Seth, BE, Jerome, Eric, Clyde, etc. I’m not saying that Howie Roseman is going to magically build an elite defense, but the Eagles will find better talent at safety than Anthony Harris and Rodney McLeod. I don’t know if it is age or fit, but those guys just aren’t making plays.

I’d be shocked if Nick Sirianni let Gannon go at the end of the year. They are close on and off the field. Sirianni is going to be loyal to a guy who has done a better job than he gets credit for. Fans focus on the low moments, but the Eagles right now are 9th in the league in yards allowed. That’s not the defensive coordinator you fire.

I know that stat needs context and is greatly helped by shutting down bad QBs, but the point is that really bad defenses can’t do even that. I would not argue that Gannon has gotten the most out of his players. I think installing his system and teaching them has been balanced with truly using them to max out their ability this year. Gannon has shown that he can adapt and find some fixes.

I hope Sirianni preaches to Gannon in the offseason that he must be quicker at making changes in games. That Raiders game was torturous. Gannon shouldn’t have had to wait a week to be more aggressive.

Personnel upgrades should be the focus of the offseason, not finding a new defensive coordinator.


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Tommy is spot on with this piece.  The defense, as a whole, has been playing better as of late (for the most part).  With a new coaching staff and trying to implement an entirely new scheme, we knew it would take time for the players to learn and adjust - as Tommy mentioned Gannon has had to balance installing the defense and teaching them how to play in it with scheming to get the most out the players.  Factor in the need for young talented playmakers in all 3 levels of the defense and it has been quite the challenge.  Hopefully we begin to address the latter in April (and boy genius makes the right picks).  But Gannon should indeed be given more time.  

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