We already have a good grasp on what Nick Sirianni’s offense will look like this season. A heavy emphasis on the running game will certainly remain, with some more intricate passing concepts sprinkled in.
As for Jonathan Gannon’s group on the other side of the ball, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what to expect out of that crew.
Howie Roseman added a lot of pieces to the Eagles defense this offseason. The front-seven has been bolstered substantially with the additions of Haason Reddick and Kyzir White through free agency, along with Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean in the draft. The acquisition of James Bradberry gives the Eagles the best cornerback trio they’ve had in over a decade.
It’s a night and day difference from the talent Gannon had to work with last year. Philly’s defense has legitimate playmakers at every level — something they haven’t had since the Super Bowl season.
When assessing how Gannon may utilize this new-found talent, there are two main things we should focus on:
1.) How will Gannon alter his scheme to accommodate the new pieces in his front-seven
2.) Will his philosophy change in a tangible way (AKA, will he be more aggressive in 2022)
Firstly, it’s pretty clear that Gannon is going to shift to more odd fronts this season. It just makes too much sense.
Reddick is a natural stand up pass rushing linebacker, Jordan Davis is a natural nose tackle, and guys like Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, and Javon Hargrave all have experience playing in a 3-4 defense. And they’ve all had success playing in that type of system.
There are a handful of key players who haven’t played in an odd-front defense during their NFL careers, like Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett, but they both have enough athleticism to stand up from time to time and come screaming off the edge. The responsibilities of 3-4 outside linebackers aren’t all that different from a 4-3 defensive end. Sure, they may drop into coverage every once in awhile, but their main purpose is still setting the edge and getting after the quarterback.
It’s important to note that the Eagles likely won’t employ a full transition to the 3-4 look. It’ll likely be a hybrid front that will allow Gannon to mix and match his players throughout a game. We saw some of this in 2021, where the defensive lineman had more gap responsibilities as opposed to just rushing up the field.
When it comes to breaking down how Gannon’s defensive philosophy may shift, it’s also safe to assume he’ll get a little more exotic with his looks and how he utilizes blitzing.
The Eagles blitzed on just 16.4% of their defensive plays last season, the second-lowest percentage of any team in the league. It would be foolish to expect the Eagles to start blitzing at a 30-35% rate, but the blitzing should increase nonetheless.
For the first time in a long time, the Eagles have real corners playing on the outside who can man up or play opportunistically on blitzes. This should allow Gannon to take linebackers and/or safeties out of coverage from time to time to rush the quarterback.
Couple that with the plethora of different skill sets Gannon has at his disposal in the front-seven, the blitzing creativity can be endless.
Statistically, the Eagles actually had a top-10 defense last year, even though it didn’t always feel like it. Gannon absolutely terrorized below average quarterbacks, while subsequently getting absolutely terrorized by good quarterbacks. The Eagles don’t really face that many top tier signal callers this year. They’ll see Aaron Rodgers late in the season, but aside from him, they’ll face the likes of Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz, and Kyler Murray. A bunch of good, not great quarterbacks.
By season’s end, there’s no reason this Eagles defense shouldn’t be a top-10 unit once again. Only this time, it’ll actually feel like a group that can go toe-to-toe with some of the best offenses in football.
Gannon’s approval rating among the fanbase is kind of hit or miss. Some hate him, some love him. There doesn’t seem to be any in between. His performance this year — with an assortment of upgrades across his defense — will go a long way in solidifying his stature with Eagles fans.