They say you never know what you have until it’s gone. For the Eagles, that’s Jim Schwartz.
Coming off the team’s blowout loss to the Raiders, Schwartz’s replacement at defensive coordinator, Jonathon Gannon, is catching criticism from all sides. The fan base, head coach, and even his players are getting in on the action.
In his post-game presser, Sirianni didn’t hesitate to point out that Gannon’s defense needs to be more aggressive and adaptable moving forward, explaining:
“We need to challenge more. It obviously always starts with us as coaches being able to put them in positions to make plays, so we have to call defenses that are going to allow the defenders to challenge more and then our defenders got to challenge more… any time you’re not playing well, you’ve got to make changes, you’ve got to adapt, you’ve got to move. I’m not saying you have to make a complete philosophy switch, but we’ve got to do things to help our players out.”
In their respective pressers, Fletcher Cox and Rodney McLeod added:
Cox: “Honestly, it’s just not what it’s been. Obviously, you just have to play what’s being called, and when you’re so used to playing so aggressive the last, however many years I’ve been playing, it just changed. So, you can’t just be as aggressive, kind of got to play what’s being called.”
McLeod: “We have to figure out ways to create more negative plays, get them behind the sticks, get them off track, off rhythm, and that’s on us as players at the end of the day. We gotta find a way to do that. Find a way to be aggressive within the calls and within the scheme.”
There’s obviously merit to these comments. Switching from a one-gapping, attacking defensive front under Schwartz, to a more balanced and reactive front gives players like Cox less opportunity to create pressure, and that’s allowed opposing QBs to attack Gannon’s mostly soft coverages with ease. The coaching staff acknowledged before the season that the new scheme would be an adjustment, but thus far it’s mostly been a disaster.
The Eagles defense currently ranks 24th in points allowed, 17th in yards allowed, and 23rd in DVOA. Their marks in opponent third-down conversion rate (26th) and opponent red zone scoring percentage (28th) paint an even more clear picture of this unit’s struggles.
Consider this additional nugget from NBC Sports’ Reuben Frank:
In the Eagles' first 1,285 games, they allowed 8 quarterbacks to complete 80 percent of their passes.— Reuben Frank (@RoobNBCS) October 24, 2021
In the Eagles' last 5 games, they've allowed 4 quarterbacks to complete 80 percent of their passes.
These numbers underscore a defense that has been too conservative and vanilla to challenge opposing offenses. Gannon admitted as much when he spoke to the media this afternoon:
“I need to change some coverages up and challenge a little bit more, get a little bit tighter, get closer to people, close windows. Pre-snap disguise, post-snap disguise, what are we doing with the coverages? That needs to get corrected. Because it’s hard to play winning football when the ball doesn’t hit the ground.”
He went on to acknowledge that he needs to better deploy his personnel in ways that utilize their strengths, specifically mentioning conversations he’s already had with Cox and others in regard to upcoming changes. Ideally, Gannon will be able to install new/more aggressive looks as soon as this weekend against a vulnerable Lions offense.
While it’s true that the defensive half of the roster is mostly lacking in talent, and the offense hasn’t done much to put them in good situations (ranking 31st in time of possession), Jonathon Gannon has earned every bit of criticism he’s receiving. Jim Schwartz was the preferred punching bag for portions of this fan base and media over the past few seasons, but absence makes the heart grow fonder in this case.
For what it’s worth, none of the five defenses Schwartz coordinated with the Eagles ranked worse than 15th in DVOA—grading out at 4th, 5th, 15th, 12th, and 15th respectively. Though there were certainly a few mean streaks of poor pass defense (mostly due to bad personnel), his units never once preformed as bad as Gannon’s has through seven games this season. While I’m willing to be patient with a first-time defensive coordinator, if this defense doesn’t turn a corner soon then Gannon will be an easy scapegoat for Sirianni at the end of the season (if he himself even survives the year).
In the meantime, this ought to be a lesson for the fan base in appreciating what you have before it’s gone. Jim Schwartz never quite got the respect he deserved in Philly, and given how this season is playing out, it’s as good a time as any to tip your cap to the only defensive coordinator in franchise history to win a Super Bowl.