As we get ready to start the Chip Kelly era of Philadelphia Eagles football, the QB drama and offense are not what’s of concern. The offense has the talent and coaching skills to compete this year.
Hell, I’m even excited about the apparent improvement to a special teams unit that has been dreadful and uninspiring the past two years.
However, the defense is a different story.
The Eagles’ defense has been a unit in disarray since Jim Johnson passed away. Sean McDermott couldn’t fill Johnson’s big shoes and then there was the whole Juan Castillo debacle followed by the complete collapse under Todd Bowles.
Then you mix in Jim Washburn’s “Wide-Nine” and the questionable relationships he had with the other defensive coaches and it was a recipe for disaster.
The game planning, cohesion and communication on defense has been severely lacking for the past four seasons. Players were questioning the coaching staff and each other. There was no continuity and at times, a severe lack of respect amongst the coaches and players.
In other words, the defense has been a dysfunctional mess. And no, they didn’t put any “fun” in that dysfunction.
Now we have an entirely new regime and are transforming into an entirely different defense. A defense that requires specific types of players who can handle specific types of duties. Not to mention, a defense that has simply lacked talent of any kind at the majority of positions.
Initially, the hiring of Bill Davis as the man to be in charge of leading this makeover was met with reactions of “meh” and “who?” I mean, the man has a ton of experience but has only had one successful defense (2009 Cardinals) on his resume.
His other defenses (as a coordinator) were lackluster, to say the least. However, we rationalized that Chip Kelly knew what he was looking for and, after all, Jim Johnson didn’t come to Philly with the greatest of resumes either and look what happened there.
The plan this past offseason was to try and “quick fix” the defense via free agency by signing Connor Barwin, Isaac Sopoaga, an entirely new secondary and trading for Clifton Geathers.
Unfortunately the free agent pickings were slim. All of the moves they made were considered “mid-level” at best and came with questions. Hell, the most talented player they signed was Kenny Phillips and he’s already off the team.
They invested only one high draft pick on the defensive side of the ball (Bennie Logan), one mid-round pick (Earl Wolff) and the rest were late-rounders and undrafted free agents.
In other words, the defense is mainly made-up of a “bunch of guys” with only one potential stud in Fletcher Cox.
Our first glimpse of this year’s defense against the Patriots in the opening preseason game brought back haunting memories of the last few years. The starters played the first quarter and were gashed quite easily by the first team Patriots offense for two 80-yard TD drives.
Confidence inspiring it was not. Yes, it was Tom Brady, but they made it look way too easy.
The second preseason game against the Panthers was a much better showing by the first team defense. They only allowed two field goals in the first half and appeared to tighten things up as compared to the previous week.
However, the Panthers aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts to begin with.
Then came the third preseason game, aka, “the dress rehearsal” for the regular season. The defense was up against the not-so-awesome Jaguars offense who were playing without their starting quarterback.
What happened? The first series of the game on defense, the Eagles promptly allowed the Jags to march 90 yards for an easy touchdown.
The next two defensive series were good: they forced a 3-and-out followed by a two-play series that consisted of a sack and interception.
Then, they erased the good feelings by allowing two scores on the next two defensive series where they gave up a long drive that was converted to a field goal and a one-play, 63-yard TD run on the next.
Yes, this was preseason and the defense will need time to gel. However, we can only go by what we’ve seen on the field and what they’ve done off of it. Neither has inspired much confidence that they can handle their end of the bargain and help the team be competitive.
As far as individual players go, I fully expect good things from Cox, Logan, Barwin and Mychal Kendricks (who has had an impressive preseason). As long as Trent Cole and Brandon Graham don’t find themselves in coverage too often, they should produce as well.
Beyond that, it’s all a question mark.
We need to hope that this “bunch of guys” can learn to play well collectively and as a cohesive unit. More-so than how Michael Vick performs this year, how well the defense performs will directly correlate to the Eagles’ chances of reaching the playoffs.
If the cumulative numbers that the first team defense gave up during the preseason — 503 yards and 37 points in what amounts to five quarters worth of action — is any indication of what’s to come, this could be another year of watching opposing offenses go through the defense like a hot knife through butter.
(I only counted the first three preseason games, the Jets game was a joke)