Sure, there were more experienced coordinators on the proverbial board, like eventual Cowboys DC Dan Quinn, but in Gannon, the Eagles were getting a certified wizkid who learned from some of the best and would finally fix all of the faux pas that made many a fan sour on Jim Schwartz over his tenure.
Fast forward to Week 7 of the 2021 NFL season, and I would imagine many a fan would give just about anything to have Schwartz and the rest of the 2020 coaching staff back.
So what gives? I thought Jonathan Gannon was supposed to be good? Why has the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense been one of the worst in the NFL by any identifiable metric?
Let’s try to find out.
You just can’t win the with Philadelphia Eagles’ current defensive scheme.
Jonathan Gannon’s defensive scheme could be defined by one simple phrase: Bend but don’t break.
Gannon figures that it doesn’t particularly matter how many plays, yards, or completions his defense gives up in any given game as long as they don’t equate to big plays down the field or points on the board. To accomplish this feat, Gannon often deploys two safeties up high to take away big shots down the sidelines and seldom rushes more than four to maximize his intermediate coverage versatility.
Sure, the team still mixes things up occasionally with man coverage or even the occasional blitz, but the Eagles currently run zone coverage more than any other team in the league and have all but completely abandoned running a four cornerback dime package as a result.
*sigh* How’s that going for the Philadelphia Eagles?
The Eagles are currently giving up the 10th most points, 14th most yards, and most maddeningly of all, the fifth-most rushing yards per game of any team in the league despite playing their defensive linemen tighter to the center and getting both their linebackers and safeties involved in run support.
By contrast, Schwartz’s attacking wide-9 4-3 front never dipped below 11th in run defense, and generally, his run support wasn’t particularly creative or revolutionary.
That’s what’s so gosh darn frustrating about Gannon’s scheme; it’s supposed to bend, not break, but instead, it’s bending and breaking.
Take, for example, the Eagles’ Week 7 bout against the Las Vegas Raiders. At one point, Derek Carr completed 16 passes in a row and was able to pick apart the Eagles’ coverage like he knew the play call. The Raiders routinely gashed the Birds’ front with their second-string running back and had nine different players record a catch for 323 combined receiving yards.
Remember how Darren Waller‘s absence was supposed to be a lucky break for the Birds? Well his replacement, Foster Moreau, turned in a career afternoon, catching 60 yards on six catches, and even caught only his ninth touchdown.
But wait, it gets worse; once the team got seriously behind, Gannon started to blitz and drop a safety down into the box, but it didn’t really matter, as the Raiders were able to ID the calls and attack them accordingly.
I mean, when you can run the ball for an average of 4.2 yards per attempt, why even worry about down, distance, or safety configuration?
If the Eagles were getting pressure up front, attacking the quarterback, and collapsing the pocket, maybe things would be different. Maybe the Eagles’ rush would force opposing play-callers to shrink their playbooks and get quarterbacks jumpy as they anticipate the rush, but instead, the secondary is getting gashed by signal callers who can basically run their offense as they see fit.
So, if the Eagles’ coverage is bad despite having a pair of players in Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox who are playing very well, and they’re only averaging 1.57 sacks per game, what exactly is Gannon’s defense good at?
Apparently, it’s giving up points.
Say what you will about Jim Schwartz’s defense, about how often it gave up big plays down the sidelines or how infrequently the team rushes more than four, but at least the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense had an identity. In 2021, Jonathan Gannon routinely has to abandon what he likes to do in favor of blitzing more and dropping a safety into the box to help slow down the run. So riddle me this; if a coordinator has to abandon the tenants of his scheme in clutch situations to try to win games, is it really that good of a scheme in the first place?