In The Jon
Blame Falls On First-Year DC Jon Gannon
It’s one thing to be bad.
Lots of teams are bad, and it’s usually obvious why.
Nobody looks at the 53-man rosters of the Jets and Texans and struggles to reconcile why those teams have two combined wins.
Figuring out why the Eagles are 2-5 isn’t rocket science. Fire your coach, trade your quarterback, present a resume of missed draft picks over a four-year span and you’re probably not going to be very good.
But it’s a whole other animal when you’re disjointed, discombobulated, and without any legitimate answers — or solutions — to the questions of why you’re actually this bad.
And that’s where we are with Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and his collection of unproductive, unhappy, uninspired players toiling in a scheme that doesn’t cater to their strengths – the few actual strengths they possess.
Watching an All-22 breakdown of their ineptitude against the Raiders on Sunday is an exhaustive study of head-scratching scheming, inept job performance, and mind-boggling offseason roster management.
Tape review is supposed to provide answers and clarity, to uncover the truths that can’t be seen from TV copy.
Replay of Sunday’s debacle in Las Vegas only raises more questions.
First and foremost, why is Gannon intentionally employing several players out of position?
And what offseason personnel conversations took place that convinced this team that its current personnel could carry out the responsibilities of Gannon’s intended scheme?
Josh Sweat, who signed an extension last month, prospered under the prior regime as a wide-9 edge rusher. Now, he’s playing an interior line technique with both hands in the dirt and has just 1 1/2 sacks in seven games.
Ryan Kerrigan stacked enough sacks in his 10 years with Washington to become the club’s all-time leader, mainly by rushing the edge and from a stand-up position. He’s now playing inside, with both hands in the dirt, and has one tackle this season.
That’s right, this season. All of us have one fewer tackle than Kerrigan.
Fletcher Cox made six Pro Bowls because of his upfield burst that collapsed pockets and tormented quarterbacks. Under Gannon, he’s being asked to read-and-react while offensive linemen take turns driving him backward.
So far, Cox’s only reacting has come during post-game press conferences.
Gannon addressed both scheme and personnel questions Tuesday in his weekly press conference, but his lengthiest and most detailed answers involved some Olympic-level verbal gymnastics.
The first-year play caller kind of, sort of, maybe acknowledged that some of his best players aren’t well positioned to succeed, but then said he expected them to succeed anyway.
“There are times where they’re probably, no, they’re not ideally suited for that spot,” he said, “but we try to within who’s playing, we try to make it to where we’re putting those guys in position, for the most part, to get into the skill set that they’re most comfortable with.
“And that’s just like any corner or linebacker or safety. Sometimes they get a little bit – some safeties want to play [deeper] all the time. Well, sometimes you’ve got to get in the box and play Cover 3. Some corners want to play man-to-man all the time. Well, sometimes with this call, because of what we’re trying to get done with that call, you’ve got to play Cloud.
“So, it’s always a blend of taking our guy’s skill set, putting them in that position as much as possible within the scheme of, ‘This is who we’re defending and how we want to play.’”
Didn’t Gannon say multiple times he didn’t have a scheme, that he’d make the best use of his personnel?
Pride comes before the fall, and you have to wonder if hubris got the best of Gannon when he accepted the job.
How else to explain his brimming optimism all training camp despite below-average talent at critical positions.
If Howie Roseman, the man responsible for all personnel decisions, knew that Sweat would suddenly have his underwhelming college role reprised in this new defense, why would the team’s executive vice president of football operations have inked Sweat to a lucrative, long-term deal?
If Gannon intended to play a base Cover 2, why were coverage linebacker Eric Wilson and Kerrigan the only free-agent acquisitions in the front seven when most Cover 2 schemes require a run-stuffing defensive lineman and thumper linebacker?
It’s become impossible to watch the Eagles get gashed in the run and picked apart underneath week after week without question the process from top to bottom.
One day after head coach Nick Sirianni emphasized “doubling down” on core concepts, Gannon did exactly that.
He insisted his voice was heard in offseason personnel meetings, that his blueprint was shared and received, and that the team’s offseason acquisitions were stamped with his full support.
“Everybody that we need to play winning football is in that building right there,” he said. “I’m 100 percent confident in that.”
Maybe, but the Raiders were the latest team to be 100 percent confident they could expose that scheme, and they were 100 percent correct. Just like the Cowboys, Chiefs, and Buccaneers before them.
In fairness to Gannon, it’s not like he’s running some radical defense that’s never before ben executed. Cover 2 has been around since before most of us were born. Teams have won Super Bowls behind Cover 2 schemes.
Gannon even adjusted his two-shell looks against Las Vegas to play a safety in the box, somewhat reminiscent of the style of defense Schwartz architected with many of the same players.
“The coverages that we had up for that game were a little bit different than what we’ve played in the past,” Gannon admitted.
The fact that his adjustments didn’t work reveal just how outmatched the Eagles are against teams willing to run, and with smart, accurate quarterbacks who can pick apart zone defense.
Roseman’s years of ignoring linebacker and safety in the draft, coupled with modest free-agent spending at both positions, left Gannon with one fantastic mess with which to work.
But Gannon must be the one to fix this mess. He insisted he’s got the personnel to win, so hold him to his word.
The overall talent might be subpar, but most of the starting 11 were here under Schwartz, and the defense was never this loose against the run, never this soft against quarterbacks, and their flaws were never this puzzling to comprehend.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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