Eagles: Identifying what Gannon’s defensive scheme will look like

With new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon in Philly, the Eagles defensive scheme will look a bit different than it has in year’s past.

When Jim Schwartz ran the defense, the team ran a lot of man coverage with a single high safety. That single high safety would often be Rodney McLeod, with either Malcolm Jenkins or Jalen Mills coming down to play near the line.

Gannon comes from the Mike Zimmer tree, where a 4-3 base defense and cover 2 is the default scheme. But during his time as the Colts defensive backs coach, the coverages he ran varied drastically based on the personnel he had.

During his first two seasons in Indianapolis, the Colts defense essentially ran a traditional Tampa 2 defense, allowing Pro Bowl linebacker Darius Leonard to roam the middle of the field. But once the team started to acquire bigger corners, something GM Chris Ballard made a concerted effort towards, their defense transitioned to more of a cover 3 scheme.

It looked very similar to Pete Carroll’s infamous Legion of Boom defense in the early 2010’s. He’s even referred to his defensive scheme as an “inverted Tampa 2” in the past.

With two stout corners who stood 6-foot or higher in Rock Ya Sin and Xavier Rhodes, the Colts successfully ran cover 3 for the majority of 2020. But since NFL offenses are so well equipped to pick apart zone defenses in today’s NFL, the Colts ran something called a cover 3 match concept, which utilizes zone and man coverage on the same play.

Essentially, the two main aspects of this defense that need to be understood is that 1). whenever a receiver is streaking deep, either down the seam or right up the sideline, the corner or slot corner will carry him and 2). this defense is designed to take away to deep shot and force an offense to dink and dunk.

If you watched the Super Bowl just a few weeks ago, you saw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers run this scheme to perfection against Kansas City. Kansas City tried to hit the homerun ball every chance they got, but were unable to because Todd Bowle’s implemented a very effective cover 3 match defense. Whenever the Chiefs ran RPO’s or quick hitting routes, they hit almost every time, but their stubbornness to stick with the deep ball essentially lost them the game.

How different will the Eagles defense look in 2021?

The way the defense lines up won’t look a whole lot different in 2021 as opposed to recent years. A 4-3 base defense will still likely be Gannon’s approach. The coverage and everything that happens post-snap will look tweaked, but in a good way.

It may take some time for Gannon to fully implement this cover 3 match concept, due in large part to the personnel he’ll have to work with in Philly. While Darius Slay is a serviceable outside corner for sure, he doesn’t really fit the mold of the bigger more physical corner Gannon desires. Neither do any of the current CBs on the roster for that matter.

Avonte Maddox will likely be moved inside to the nickel, which is something that should’ve happened years ago. But that leaves a pretty glaring hole on the outside for the Eagles to fill.

Perhaps Howie Roseman decides to target Xavier Rhodes in free agency this offseason, someone who’s had enormous success under Gannon’s tutelage. But this defensive rebuild will more than likely take a few seasons before it reaches its final form.

Fans should be excited for this new style of defense. It’s a scheme that nearly every great defensive coordinator is running nowadays. If and when Gannon gets the pieces to implement his scheme, this defense will be fun to watch.


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