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The Eagles Defense Has Become a Complicated Mess

Eagles Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo

Eagles’ newly minted Defensive Coordinator hasn’t shown much ability yet.

When the Philadelphia Eagles signed a bunch of new players, sports experts raised the team’s power rankings on both sides of the ball. But this rang false for me because the Eagles had lots of holes that were masked by the brilliant performances of Michael Vick, Desean Jackson, Trent Cole and the always gambling Asante Samuel.

By signing a crop of new players the Eagles sured themselves up to an extent, but some of the movies were perplexing. For example, signing two more corners when the team is so desperately in need of safeties and linebackers. A lot has been made of the Eagles deficiencies at linebacker and their inability to stop the run.

That inability would be less damaging if Philly wasn’t also getting regularly beat by tight ends. Of the 8 touch downs scored against the Eagles thus far, 5 have been by running backs or tight ends. Having three stellar corners to guard against the pass is useless if other deficiencies allow opponents to largely abandon the pass and still come up with a win.

Right now the Eagles have married themselves to a rather complicated defense.  Defensive line coach Jim Washburn as implemented the Wide 9 approach which takes the defensive ends out of the run defense and puts them almost exclusively on pass rush every play. Unfortunately, for ultimate success it requires linebackers who can cover in space and stop the run.  In my view, this scheme needs a talented middle linebacker as bad as a base 3-4 defense needs a solid outside linebacker. That should be a first priority for next year.

Currently, the Eagles are rotating the D-line to keep legs fresh and that also has it’s pitfalls.  While it’s great to have 8 different guys learn the base defense and be semi-interchangeable, it has become obvious that some of the guys are heads and tails above the rest. Those guys are already playing 30%+ more snaps than others, but keeping weaker players in constant rotation has produced mixed results.

To make use of the three star corners, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Samuel and Nnamdi Asomugha, the Eagles are 1. keeping Rodgers-Cromartie on the bench often   2. Putting Rodgers-Cromartie in the slot when Joselio Hanson is much better at it  3. Forcing the secondary to play in a zone style that suits Samuel and Samuel only 4. having Asomugha roam the field lining up in different spots.

Asomugha, an expert man corner,  has lined up in the slot, as a safety, behind an end, and as right corner. It has been disorienting for him and his teammates-the lack of communication is glaring. When watching the Eagles D play, you get a sense that no one knows where anyone else is. One of the biggest trends in the NFL is the focus on giving QBs different looks and keeping them confused. I get it. But when you’re keeping your own players confused it defeats the point.

Next year when everyone is more comfortable and communication is improved- between the front and back of the defense- perhaps the Eagles can get fancier. But for now, a simplified defense that emphasizes the players’ strengths would be much more productive for a team where 63% of its starting defense players are new to the team and there were no off season opportunities to jell.

To simplify, the Eagles should consider tightening the spaces in the Wide 9 more often, allowing Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie to play man defense, and giving the best D-line men significantly more time on the field.  I realize that this might be a plan that upsets the longest tenured corner on the team, but it’s obvious the Eagles plan to move him out. A little less playing time for Samuel should be a consideration to improve the secondary’s performance.


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