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Judging the Defense


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Judging the Defense

Posted: December 29th, 2021 | Author: Tommy Lawlor 

When you think of the Philadelphia Eagles, you think of defense. From Chuck Bednarik to Bill Bergey to Reggie White to Brian Dawkins to Fletcher Cox, the team’s history is filled with great players. From Marion Campbell to Buddy Ryan to Bud Carson to Jim Johnson to Jim Schwartz, the team’s history is filled with terrific coaches who delivered top notch defenses and won a lot of games.

Fair or not, that history is what current defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon will be judged against.

The early returns were not good. Embarrassing..soft…easy…those are not words any defensive coach wants to hear when describing his unit. They prefer words like tough, physical and aggressive. Gannon’s defense was too soft and too easy and it was embarrassing at times. The stats reflected that.

Gannon finally began blitzing more at midseason. After a frustrating loss to the Chargers, he began playing more press coverage. The defense has been much better since Gannon allowed his players to be more aggressive. Here are the numbers for the whole season.


That’s pretty darn good.

All stats need context and that is certainly true here. The common refrain is this:


There is truth in that, but it also is overly-simplistic thinking.

Yes, the schedule has been soft for the second half of the season. You also have to understand that it takes time for a new coach to come in and teach his system. Gannon knew it would take time for the defense to play well since he was trying to do something very different than what Schwartz did.

Making matters worse, the Eagles played some really good offenses in the first half of the season. Players were learning while trying to stop Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, Derek Carr and Justin Herbert. That’s tough for anyone.

The Eagles were near the bottom of the league in defensive DVOA. They are now up to 15th. And that probably is about where the defense is.

Some of the stats listed above look great, but this is nowhere close to being a great defense. I do think they’ve become pretty good, especially against the run. Only 1 of the last 8 opponents has run for 100 yards or more (Saints at 109). Antonio Gibson and Saquon Barkley just combined for 30 carries for 58 yards in the past two games. That is good run defense.

Pass defense is still an issue for the Eagles. We saw rookie Zach Wilson shred the defense in the first half of the Jets game a few weeks back. The Jets led 18-14 and had moved the ball really well. The Eagles then took over the game and kept them from scoring anymore, but that was still a concerning first half.

Gannon took a ton of heat early in the season, and deservedly so. His unit wasn’t playing well and he wasn’t solving problems. He did start making adjustments, both schematically and personnel wise, and the results have been good since. Give him credit for the adjustments. Give him blame for taking so long to make them.

One of the biggest changes was benching LB Eric Wilson and replacing him with T.J. Edwards. Wilson was expected to give the defense a veteran presence in the middle of the field. He was a playmaker for Minnesota last year and Gannon kept waiting for that to happen this season. Wilson simply never played well this year. Edwards took over and has played "winning football”, as Gannon likes to say. Edwards is good vs the run and he’s done a good job in pass defense as well.

Gannon also had to get veteran players to really buy into his system. Cox wasn’t happy and his play reflected that. As Gannon got more aggressive with the defense, Cox began playing better and he’s been regularly disruptive in the last month. They are on the same page now.

The Eagles have shown that they can shut down mediocre and bad offenses. We haven’t seen what they can do against a good offense. The last good offense they faced was the Chargers, but that still featured a ton of off-coverage. With the schematic changes and time for players to learn and improve, this defense should look different when they face Dallas in the final week of the season or if/when they meet someone in the postseason.

We’ll truly get a feel for where Gannon and the defense are at that point.

It is funny that some people don’t want to give Gannon and the defense credit for playing well against weak teams. That’s what a good defense should do. I get that there is residual frustration from some of the early games, but anyone who is watching the games and being fair and open-minded can clearly see a difference in this defense, no matter the opponent.

Gannon has his defense headed in the right direction.

The unit won’t become top notch until they have an offseason to add pieces. They desperately need a good safety. They might need a linebacker. Davion Taylor showed real promise, but then got hurt. At the least, they need better LB depth. Gannon’s scheme needs playmakers in the middle of the field and the Eagles just don’t have them right now.

Alex Singleton played well on Sunday. Rodney McLeod played his best game of the year. Genard Avery played his best game. Maybe Gannon is figuring out how to get the most out of these guys. Or maybe the Giants were just so stinkin’ bad that mediocre players looked good. We’ll see how things play out.

I’m genuinely curious to see how the defense plays when they do face a good QB and talented offense. We need to know how legit this defense is to know what needs to be worked on in the offseason. There are some obvious holes, but there are other spots where we need more info.

At the least, I’m grateful that this defense has gone from the passive, cautious group of the early season to a unit that will attack and make some plays. Nobody will mistake them for the ’85 Bears anytime soon, but we have seen real progress this year. That’s critical. We need to keep our expectations realistic based on this being Gannon’s first year as a DC and what he’s got to work with.

Give me a Super Bowl or at least a shutout and I’ll be a happy guy.



We lost a legend yesterday.

I wrote some thoughts on Madden five years ago.

I was lucky enough to have some Football Dads who helped me to learn and love the game. First and foremost, John Madden. Many of you younger fans will scoff at the idea of John Madden being important to anyone. I learned more about the game of football from listening to him than anyone else. And it isn’t even close. He is the greatest football announcer of all time. I don’t think there is even a 2nd place.

I get the fact that many now think of him as the guy who loved Brett Favre and felt a bit cartoonish with what he said and did. But that’s like judging Johnny Unitas on his time with the Chargers or Donovan McNabb on his time with the Vikings.

In his prime, Madden brought a passion for the game and combined that with an expertise that I had never heard before. He was fun and smart. He talked about OL play at a time when not many people discussed the big uglies. Madden shared great stories and had interesting opinions. Vince Lombardi was the greatest coach of all time. Joe Namath was the toughest QB he ever coached against. The hardest points to score are the first of the game. More than anything else, Safeties must be able to tackle. And so on. Every Madden game was an education for me.

Madden was a great coach. He won a Super Bowl and won more than 75 percent of the games he coached, which is an amazing record. He left coaching and got into broadcasting right as I was becoming a fan. Boy, talk about luck on my part. Madden got to be the voice of my youth. I got to listen to him do the big game almost every Sunday and it was a great experience.

A ton of people have tried to copy Madden. What they don’t understand is that he was just being himself. Other guys think this is a schtick and it comes off as phony when they do it. Madden was genuine. He was real.

Madden was special. He was a great coach. He was a great broadcaster. His beer commercials are some of the greatest ever made. He wrote several great books. His video game was amazing. Everything he touched turned to gold. That tells you that he was pretty smart, very talented and surrounded himself with good people.

I’m just so thankful I came along when I did and got to ride the Madden football wave for 30 years.


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Funny finding this piece from Tommy just now after debating with @UK_EaglesFan89 about the defense (in particular Gannon).  Pretty much everything I mentioned is echoed in this piece.  Good read and spot on.  ;)

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