Could The Eagles Fire Billy Davis, Make Run At Rex Ryan?


Many Eagles fans have spent the past month or so clamoring about the unrealistic idea of the Eagles somehow finding a way to get into position to select Oregon Quarterback Marcus Mariota to reunite him with Chip Kelly. Unfortunately, barring Mariota getting an unforeseen arrest or otherwise drastically slipping on numerous teams’ draft boards, the Eagles are too far away to even dream of making a trade for the Heisman winning Quarterback. It makes a great sports radio topic on a slow day, but it isn’t even possible for the Eagles to get into a position to take him, so continuing to try to make that idea a thing is a waste of time.

While I would deem the idea of drafting Mariota as a pipe dream, potentially making a run at Rex Ryan this offseason may not be. And if the Eagles aren’t going to have a franchise Quarterback like Mariota, they need to begin to build a championship caliber defense to match an offense that even without an elite Quarterback is among the best in the league.

Let me first say this: I think Billy Davis has done a good job in his nearly two seasons as Eagles defensive coordinator. Many people seem to have forgotten this, but Davis wasn’t a popular hire. The defense was a statistical disaster in 2013 under Davis, but they were switching from 4-3 to 3-4 and led the league in defensive snaps. They also were the definition of “bend but don’t break”, as stats would indicate that they were the worst defense in the league, but they held opponents to 22 points or less in 11 of their 16 regular season games.

In 2014,  the Eagles defense has been a mixed-bag. Their front seven has been among the most effective in the league with Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry all having career seasons. The unit has improved to 18th in rush defense this year.

Unfortunately, the team is ranked 28th in pass defense. They’ve struggled with injuries to their linebackers this year, but that has had very little to do with the continued success of opposing passing attacks. In 2013, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher were more than serviceable the cornerback spot. In 2014, Fletcher has been one of the worse pass coverage corners in the NFL. Williams, who was brought in to provide leadership and a sort of nastiness to a young defense, has been below-average in pass coverage and has been anything but a leader. Throw out the fact that he has publicly questioned Chip Kelly’s tactics twice going back to training camp, but how about the amount of times the defense has had to stay on the field this year because of a stupid penalty from Williams. Oh, and Brandon Boykin, who had six picks a season ago as the team’s nickel corner, has struggled to replicate his 2013 magic.

I get it, Davis works with what he is given. The Eagles defense was a dumpster fire in 2012 and the front-office is still in the process of trying to rebuild it. Davis isn’t to blame for that. What he is to blame for is continuously putting Fletcher on an island against much more talented receivers with no safety help over the top. He is to blame for not even attempting to shake things up at the cornerback position until the fourth quarter of the Eagles week 16 matchup.

Like all of us, Davis has flaws. He doesn’t deserve to be fired because for the most part he has helped to transition this defense into being a serviceable 3-4 unit, at least against the run. But maybe that’s it for what Davis can do with this unit. If Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly sit down in a few weeks to assess where they go from here, can they honestly say that they believe that Billy Davis is going to build them a championship defense that may have to make up for the fact that they lack what most would deem to be a Superbowl Quarterback? I don’t think they can.

They certainly can look at everything that I’ve laid out and come to the conclusion that Davis has done enough to return for a third year as the defense’s head man. But championship teams are ahead of the curve, not with it.

Enter, Rex Ryan.

Ryan being fired by the Jets has been a foregone conclusion for the better part of this season. As a head-coach, Ryan hasn’t had too many things handed to him. He was hired by an inept general manager in Mike Tannenbaum, and when he was fired, was given an even more inept one in John Idzik. Brian Schottenheimer didn’t do an impressive job of trying to develop Mark Sanchez, and our old friend Marty Mornhinweg has done an even worse job of trying to work with Geno Smith or a seemingly disinterested Michael Vick. So he’s had poor general managing, poor offensive coordinators (who he did pick), and two Quarterbacks that have been busts. And the front-office has never done a great job putting weapons around the two Quarterbacks.

Nov 9, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan reacts after an interception against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan is the classic example of someone more than capable of being an NFL head coach, but only in the right situation. In this league, a head coach is only as good as his coordinators. Andy Reid was a very good head coach in Philadelphia when he didn’t have to worry about the stout defensive unit that Jim Johnson was leading. When Johnson passed away, Reid’s tenure unraveled in Philly. If you give Ryan a great offense and allow him to run the defense and just oversee the rest of the team, he’s going to look like a very good head coach. If you leave him with an empty cupboard offensively, then he isn’t going to last long.

So where does Ryan go after this year?

It’s very possible that another NFL team feels like they can surround him with a great offense, and would love to have him come in and run their defense and oversee the rest of the team. It’s also possible that Ryan takes a season off–whether it be for lack of offers or lack of head coaching interest–but coaching football is his craft. He’s a competitor, who it is hard to imagine taking a year off. So if a head coaching job doesn’t come, or Ryan doesn’t want to take a bad head coaching job just to do so, maybe he returns to being a defensive coordinator.

One would assume that if Ryan were to take a defensive coordinator job, he would take one in a situation where the spotlight would be on his team. Ryan would take a job in a big market, on a team that has defensive potential but is certainly far from a finished product. Boy, does that sound like the Eagles.

Think about it: Ryan has Philadelphia ties due this his father being a cult hero in the city. If he were able to build this defense into something special, not only would he put himself in position to get another head-coaching job, but he would also take on some sort of hero status in Philadelphia.

Would Ryan be interested in coming here? Your guess is as good as mine. The Eagles front seven is as good at getting pressure on the quarterback as just about any in the NFC right now, but the secondary is a mess. The front seven will also have some turnover, with Trent Cole possibly becoming a cap casualty this offseason. Brandon Graham is a free-agent, who seems likely to return, but nothing is a lock. So who does that leave to develop? Marcus Smith, who may be too raw for any coach to develop. One would assume that if anyone could find a way to use him that it would be someone with such complex blitz schemes like Ryan. But with the secondary issues and some potential turnover, does the Eagles defense become a two or three-year project that keeps Ryan from returning to head coaching for a few years?

Ryan’s defense is technically a 3-4 scheme, but if you watch film from his tenure in New York, it’s obvious that he uses as many 3-3-5 packages as his 3-4 base defense. So if there was ever a way to get Brandon Boykin on the field more and assure that your corners have help over the top, it may be to use more nickel packages. Using the nickel more keeps corners from being on islands as much. Regardless of who plays corner for the Eagles in 2014–it’s possible that neither Bradley Fletcher or Cary Williams return–they probably won’t have Chris Harris and Richard Sherman lining up across from each other, so they need to give their corners some help.

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Would using more nickel packages take away from the effectiveness of the front seven? Perhaps. But if the secondary can hold, the front seven would probably get more coverage sacks. And with Ryan’s complex blitz schemes, having one less person to rush the passer or cover over the middle might not be as big of a deal as one would think.

Ryan would have to deal with his defense playing more snaps than any other unit that he has ever coached, but they would be in better physical shape and perhaps he would welcome that challenge. Or maybe he would have reservations about running a defense that coincides with Chip Kelly’s offense in fear that it wouldn’t work and would ruin his stock as a potential re-tread head coach.

This idea will get filed under the probably won’t happen but don’t completely discount the possibility section. The Eagles probably won’t fire Billy Davis, but the Jets will fire Rex Ryan. It’s impossible to think that the idea of Rex in Philadelphia won’t at least enter the minds of Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly, especially if the Eagles do end up missing the playoffs.

Another idea to possibly considering: if Pat Shurmer were to get a head-coaching job, how about teaming up the soon to be fired Marc Trestman with Kelly. Trestman has gotten a raw deal in Chicago, but is a very good offensive mind. I’d love to see what him and Kelly could do with Nick Foles and the offense as a whole. But that’s another idea for another time.

What does appear clear is that it feels like the Eagles need to make some sort of tweak, and not just in player personnel, but in philosophy Perhaps making a move to add Rex Ryan this offseason could be the necessary tweak to help the team avoid leveling out as just a team that annual competes to win the NFC East.