The Philadelphia Eagles defense lacks several things, an experienced coordinator and linebacker talent among them, but perhaps the biggest thing missing is a fierce attitude.
To say their defense lacks a killer instinct and nasty demeanor is like saying Andy Reid is only a couple pounds overweight.
If you’re like me, you embrace good defensive football. Sure, having an offense that scores a bunch of points and makes big plays is certainly exciting.
I know that every time Michael Vick drops back and launches a long bomb, I’m breathless with anticipation of the huge play. Especially with the likes of DeSean Jackson on the team.
However, there is nothing I take more pride in than having an intimidating defense.
Defense is what gets me fired-up; it’s what gets my adrenaline pumping; it’s what makes me beam with pride when I see receivers forced to pay the price of going over the middle and quarterbacks who look like a deer in the headlights.
I want a defense that instills fear in the opponents.
When you’re “defending” something, you do it with everything you’ve got. If you’re being attacked, you might turn into a crazed lunatic in order to “defend” yourself. Or sometimes you defend by being the aggressor, just like an animal protecting its young.
In football, you have to have heart, desire, aggressiveness, fearlessness, and a little crazy in you in order to play good defense.
Who on the Eagles’ current defense can you say that about?
Don’t get me wrong, there are some good players on the defense. Trent Cole, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin and Nnamdi Asomugha are good at what they do and have pro bowl-level talent.
But would you say any of them give this defense an identity? Not in the least.
In fact, many people called the Eagles defense “soft” this year. Hands-down, that is the worst reputation a defense can have. Would a defense that had someone like Ray Lewis prowling the middle ever be called soft?
We can make all the excuses we want about why this year’s defense wasn’t that good; new scheme, shortened offseason, Juan Castillo, etc etc. But one thing that was simply inexcusable was sloppy tackling.
Poor tacking is why people were comparing the Eagles’ defense to the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles led the league in 2010 in missed tackles and were second-worst in 2011 (through Week 11). That is a disturbing trend and completely unacceptable.
Especially in a town like Philly where the great Gang Green defense and Buddy Ryan are forever revered.
This is why the Eagles must try to acquire players who have the mindset, desire and ability to deliver punishing hits to anyone who crosses their path. They need to have a few players with a violent streak.
This is where potential free agent safety LaRon Landry and Vontaze Burfict, a college linebacker and potential draft target, come in.
Neither player is perfect and both have flaws. However, both of them have that killer instinct and intimidation factor about them.
They are the types of players that receivers refer to when they talk about ”keeping their head on a swivel” when crossing the middle or entering the secondary.
Landry is a 6′, 220 lbs safety that is built like a brick house and hits like a mack truck. He’s a great “in the box” type of player and is able to defend the run and short passing game well. His struggles are in the deep passing game where his coverage skills are suspect.
If he makes it to free agency, he’ll be the top player available at his position. The question is, will the Redskins let him go? They could always use the franchise tag on him if they can’t agree to a new deal.
Unfortunately, Landry probably won’t see free agency. However, if there is a glimmer of hope that he will, it’s because he has ended the past two seasons on injured reserve with a problematic achilles tendon.
Therefore, he can be seen as an injury risk. And do you pay a lot of money to a player in that situation? Mike Jones of the Washington Post wrote a good article describing his current situation.
Landry would be a great compliment to Nate Allen at the safety position. Allen can cover deep and Landry can be the run defender and guy that puts the smack-down on receivers.
If he somehow hits the open market, the Eagles better be interested.
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is a player that draft pundits are all over the place about. Some view him as a stud and sure-fire first rounder while others see him as an overrated, out-of-control, and immature kid that is a second or third-round talent at best.
He’s the epitome of a boom-or-bust type of player.
From what I can gather so far, and of course things always change after the combine, is that Burfict has dropped on teams’ draft boards mostly because of a somewhat down season in 2011.
That, and of course, his penchant for personal foul penalties.
However, after reading this article titled “The Meanest Man In College Football“, written by Matt Hayes of Sporting News, it perfectly describes the type of player I want to see manning the middle of the Eagles’ defense.
Here are some excerpts from the article that stood out to me:
A Pac-12 coach calls him “deliciously violent.” An NFL scout calls him “what you get after you kick Ray Lewis’ dog.”
Or the play against Washington in 2009, when Burfict shot the gap on a fly sweep, knocked the guard off his feet and made the tackle. During film study, coaches replayed the moment over and over in sheer disbelief.
“I swear to God, he decleated a 325-pound guy,” Moos says. “You wouldn’t believe it if it wasn’t on film.”
Or two years ago against Oregon State, when the Beavers ran a simple isolation play with tailback Jacquizz Rodgers. Left guard Grant Johnson was pulling to the right side. Burfict negotiated traffic, burst through a hole as the play was stringing out and hit Johnson—who was in front of Rodgers blocking—with such force that the near-300-pounder flew into Rodgers and put him on the turf.
“Oh yeah, I remember that one,” says James Rodgers, Jacquizz’s brother and then-Oregon State teammate. “Players, we see a lot of stuff on the field. It’s not often that you’re left saying, ‘Did he just do that?’ ”
Almost always, he did, and here’s the best part about it: He’s already moving on to the next play, the next adjustment, the next chance to get better. In this age of chest thumping, me-first peacocks primping and posturing for all to see, Burfict is a rarity.
He doesn’t really care about the highlight reel. In fact, he has never seen his videos on YouTube and doesn’t plan on searching. The game, he says, is simple: The toughest guy wins.
“Especially in the position I play,” Burfict says. “I can’t be soft. I’m going against 300-pound guys coming at me full speed. You’ve got to bring that violence.”
Hmm, he can’t be soft and has to bring that violence. Sounds like the right middle linebacker to me!
Burfict stands at 6′ 3″ and weighs 252 lbs. He actually might remind you of an old fan favorite of the Eagles: Jeremiah Trotter. They’re just about the same size and have much of the same mentality.
Trotter was not great in pass coverage but everyone viewed him as a top linebacker during his prime in Philadelphia. I think Burfict would end up the exact same way, or even better.
As a matter of fact, I heard Trotter on sports radio recently saying how he thinks the Eagles should draft Burfict.
At this point, it would seem that the Eagles might be able to land him with one of their second-round picks. But, would they actually draft a player with such a reputation?
The Eagles like “high character” guys but if Burfict is the kind of person off the field as that Hayes article suggests, he should impress during his pre-draft interviews.
Plus, if the Eagles think they can get him in the second round, it’ll relieve the stress of thinking they need to draft a linebacker in the first, which is something they’ve never done under Andy Reid.
At the end of the day, the Eagles defense needs an identity. Long gone are the days when we had the likes of Brian Dawkins, Jeremiah Trotter, Hugh Douglas, Hollis Thomas, and Troy Vincent.
All of those guys were leaders, great players, had colorful personalities, and made that defense what it was. This defense lacks all of that. LaRon Landry could bring some Dawkins back to the defense while Vontaze Burfict could bring back some Trotter.
Getting Landry might be a longshot but if the opportunity presents itself, the Eagles would be fools not aggressively pursue him. As for Burfict, the Eagles can likely get him if they wanted him bad enough. It’s just a matter of whether or not he’s on their radar.
One thing is for sure, the Eagles defense needs players like these two guys. They need to start taking chances and stop trying to play it safe with “high motor” guys (but less talent).