Cause for concern: The Eagles Defense


Jul 26, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans (59) and outside linebacker Trent Cole (58) walk off the field after training camp practice at the Novacare Complex in Philadelphia PA. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

There is no denying that when it comes to creating offensive schemes that keep teams on their toes, Chip Kelly has been more than successful at that. On the college level, and even last season in professional competition, that is one area he has never struggled to enhance. In his second year as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles however, the most glaring issue will be solidifying a defense worth playing.

As fast-paced as this team has moved on the offensive side of the ball, when it comes to playing against their opponents on defense, they’ve looked flustered. In several games last season, the offense  jumped out to huge leads, but seemed to lack the ability to slow things down to prevent other teams from scoring against them. The most obvious example of this was their final game of last season, when they lost to the New Orleans Saints thanks to a last second field goal. The issue wasn’t so much the efficiency of the Saints’ offense, but the fact that the Eagles simply could not find a way to slow them down. The Eagles offense never came close to slowing them down in the fourth quarter, and it was something that had been a major weakness throughout the season.

To be fair, the defensive problems the Eagles have faced were there long before Chip Kelly. For the past few seasons they have had amazing trouble putting up a solid pass rush, and the talent on hand simply didn’t match what coach Kelly was aiming for. His philosophy has always been built on mismatches and versatility, and much of the defensive players available to him were Andy Reid guys.

For example, Trent Cole has consistently been the driving force behind the Philadelphia defense for the past several seasons. Last year Kelly moved him from being a career defensive end to an outside linebacker. While the change is one of the more common ones for teams that adopt 3-4 defenses, it was obvious that Kelly made the move because of Cole’s talent and not so much his fit. With 44 tackles and 8 sacks he certainly did his job, but playing further from the line left them much weaker in the battle for the trenches. Kelly used the personnel at his disposal to compensate, and quite frankly Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox just weren’t the best  players for the job.

Looking at the defensive line as a whole all one can really hope is that they’ve grown in the system and will be more manageable this season than they were last year.

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The addition of free agent Malcolm Jenkins and the continued progression of Brandon Boykin as a premier slot corner will go a long way to giving Kelly the secondary he desires. Jenkins may not be one of the upper elite safeties in the game, but in comparison to what the Eagles have been using he is an upgrade if I’ve ever seen one.

Teams were able to cut down multiple score games to come back against the Eagles last season, and in 2014, Chip can not afford to let that happen. The offense will be as dynamic as ever, but it’s not sneaking up on anyone. That means there has to be a sense of urgency on both sides of the ball.

What the Minnesota Vikings were able to do in Week 15 as they dismantled the Eagles 48-30 is something that plenty other teams are more than capable of. Philly lost the short yard game every time, and despite managing to muster 30 points of their own, it’s hard to win football games when you give up as much as you score. Does that mean that Kelly keeps his foot on the pedal and hope to run the scoreboard up on every possible play? No. It’s nice that the team is capable of putting up points, but teams game plan accordingly. The Eagles have to be versatile enough to know that when opponents start making them play their game, Philly needs to adjust accordingly. If that requires rotating players like Cole to the line on certain downs, or using more of Brandon Graham in situational plays then its worth a shot. Really anything is worth a look, and if that means slowing down the offense as well then so be it.

Conditioning doesn’t seem to be an issue with the way Kelly runs the team, but no one is immortal. The defense can endure a lot , but requiring them to constantly be on the field due to a quick paced score (or turnover) isn’t doing them any favors. At the least more huddles should be called this season if only to serve as an in-game tactic. The revolutionary offense that Chip has been tinkering with isn’t going to mean anything if the Washington Redskins are able to put up 27 points like they did in last years opening week. Especially when they were down 33-7 up until the final minutes of the fourth quarter of that game.

Moving forward, the secondary looks to be quite strong, though that remains to be seen as well. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher aren’t the greatest options at corner, but they manage. As far as the front seven goes, as big as Kelly is on mismatches and playing to the strengths of the personnel, he should certainly embrace rotating players to their natural fits when appropriate. If not, expect a lot of games where the featured running back runs wild on Philly.