Philadelphia Eagles: Romeo Crennel is an ideal resource for a young head coach

Mandatory Credit: John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports /

Fun fact: The Philadelphia Eagles still don’t have a head coach.

While the team has been in the hunt on a semi-casual basis, having interviewed two coaches thus far with a few more potentially on the books soon, they’ve had to watch Urban Meyer land in Jacksonville, Robert Saleh found a home with the other Gang Green in New Jersey New York, and Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator Arthur Smith has officially become the third head coaching candidate to come off the board after accepting a job with the Atlanta Falcons.

Now I’ve heard some people say that the Eagles’ head coaching position is unattractive, but *ugh*.

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So naturally, it would be foolish to think about who could fill out a hypothetical head coach’s staff when said head coach is, well, hypothetical, right? Yeah, a smart person wouldn’t do that, would they?

Based on the coaches the Eagles have brought in for interviews – Duce Staley, Robert SalehJerod Mayo – and the coaches they are reportedly still interested in – Joe Brady, Lincoln Riley – it’s pretty clear Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman are looking to identify the next dynamo wunderkind who can steer the franchise forward for years to come.

Could they still go out and hire a coach like Temple alum Todd Bowles? Sure, if the market keeps drying up, they may have to, but assuming that isn’t the case, I imagine the team would much rather lock up a sub-40-year-old than a retread with decades plural in the NFL.

So, regardless of whether it’s Duce, Brady, or Riley on the sidelines this fall, what is the best way to set up a young head coach with no NFL head coaching experience under his belt for success right away? Pair them up with a veteran defensive coordinator who knows the NFL like the back of his hand.

In that regard, the name Romeo Crennel should become very, very familiar to fans south of Market Street.

From interim Texans head coach to Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator.

What? You haven’t heard Crennel’s name before? Well, my friend, then you really haven’t been paying attention.

If you look up ‘NFL lifer’ in the dictionary, Crennel’s face should sit directly below the header. He’s been coaching since 1970, been in the NFL in one role or another since 1980 – originally as a special teams assistant before turning his focus to the defensive side of the ball in 1990 – and has spent 13(!) years as a defensive coordinator split between the Cleveland Browns, the New England Patriots, the Cleveland Browns again, the Kansas City Cheifs, and most recently, the Houston Texans.

Fun fact: Crennel has been coaching in the NFL for nine years longer than Joe Brady has been alive.

Crennel has also spent five full seasons and two more partial seasons as a head coach with the Browns, an interim-turned-full time head coaching position with the Cheifs, and most recently spent the final 12 games of the 2020 season as the interim head coach of the Texans, where he took over for a fired Bill O’Brien after Week 4.

But at his heart, Crennel is a defensive coordinator who runs an exciting, attacking scheme that has produced a pair of 100-plus tackling linebackers in each of the past three seasons.

Now yes, before you ask, Crennel technically runs a 3-4 scheme. If you want to stick solely to a 4-3 scheme, then he probably shouldn’t be on the team’s list, but honestly, in 2021, does it even matter what base defense a team plays anymore? With the nickel package effectively the new base defense for pretty much every team regardless of scheme, philosophy, or personnel, playing a 3-4 really just means having a nose tackle for 15-20 snaps a game for situational football.

Fortunately, the Eagles just so happen to have one of the best nose tackles in the NFL already under contract in Javon Hargrave, who played the position during his time in Pittsburgh. They also have rushers like Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and pending free agent Vinny Curry who can do a ton of damage rushing on the inside between the tackles.

Alternatively, the Eagles could always use a midround pick to procure a ‘true’ nose tackle to build a more traditional front moving forward with Hargraves and Cox at 3-4 defensive end, as players like Leki Fotu, Broderick Washington, and Bravvion Roy are seemingly always available outside of the top-100 picks.

In 2021, teams need to worry about their base package about as much as they do their dime package, so that really isn’t all that important.

What is important, especially with a rookie head coach, is having a defense that is effective, efficient, and can generate stops more often than it gives up points.

In that regard, Crennel is a perfect ‘starter defensive coordinator’ for a young coach just getting his feet under him.

Much like pairing Wade Phillips with Sean McVay, giving a coach like Brady, Riley, or Staley an experienced 73-year-old defensive coordinator who remains fiercely relatable to his players would be an asset. His defense can help control the time of possession, keep games close if things aren’t clicking offensively, and most importantly of all, can get a stop when his team needs it most. As far back as 2012, Crennel has been lauded for putting his players in the best position to succeed regardless of who he’s had under contract or where he’s been coaching.

Remember how Jim Schwartz would often try to force square pegs into round holes? Something tells me Crennel wouldn’t trot out Avonte Maddox at outside cornerback, Andrew Sendejo as a big nickel box safety/linebacker, or give Nathan Gerry nearly as much leeway to miss assignment after assignment as a coverage linebacker.

No, Crennel likes to run a pair of bigger linebackers who get far more involved in the running game than the pass – a scheme that Alex Singleton specifically would thrive in. While players like Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett would have to learn to drop into coverage for when Crennel wants to run Ravens-style deceptions, there’ little reason to believe either player couldn’t do so. Crennel’s scheme relies on two-gapping where down lineman attack the player in front of them, as opposed to shooting the gaps a la the scheme Schwartz. While this style of play typically prevents defensive lineman from racking up huge sack totals – though J.J. Watt does have three 16-plus sack seasons under Crannel’s watch – it allows the defensive line to dictate the game at the line of scrimmage and frees up the back seven to make plays.

The strength of this Eagles’ defense will remain their front four until Roseman can fill out his depth chart with plus cover corners, so putting Cox and Hargrave in a better position to impact the game has to be a priority.

The same goes for players like Darius Slay, who had a low-key meh finish to the season after laying lights out football for the first half of the season. While Crennel doesn’t run the man-press look that Slay is a prototype for – instead opting for a cover 4 look – he actually graded out as the best cornerback in the NFL at defensing in routes and out routes according to PFF, and only allowed a single first down while deployed in Cover 4.

Remember when Slay lamented that it’s harder to get a pick than a sack? Something tells me he’d get plenty of chances to pick off passes when playing in a read-and-react zone versus straight man coverage.

And I mean, come on, we’re literally talking about a dude who wears his play sheet on a lanyard around his neck and will occasionally tuck it into his pants just to be safe. This is a man who cares about one thing and one thing only when he’s on the field: Stoping an opposing offense.

Joe Brady could be the Philadelphia Eagles version of Sean McVay. dark. Next

Is it foolish to start “shipping” defensive coordinators to a team when they don’t even have a head coach in place? 100 percent. Did I just commit almost 1,500-plus words to that very subject? Guilty. Why? Because regardless of how the Philadelphia Eagles opt to tackle their impending free agency search, they will unquestionably need to find a veteran defensive signal-caller who can help whoever picks up the mantel forcefully taken from Doug Pederson moving forward. Assuming said coach is cool with a 3-4 -the scheme run by the Oklahoma Sooners since 2019, Duce Staley’s Super Bowl-winning Pittsburgh Steelers, and by the Panthers at times with their current multiple front – hiring a defensive coordinator like Romeo Crennel is the sort of decision that could help to mitigate any rookie coaching growing pains while adding 40 years of experience to the sideline.