Personnel fit has been a big topic around the Eagles’ defense lately. They have players, they have coaches, but do they have players who fit what the coaches want?
Two Eagles defensive linemen – Fletcher Cox and Ryan Kerrigan, who have 10 Pro Bowls between them – have either complained about their role or at least made it clear that they’re uncomfortable with what they’re being asked to do.
Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said throughout the offseason that he would tailor how the Eagles play defensively to the players he has, but instead he’s tried to shoehorn guys into a soft Cover 2 that’s been torn apart with precision passing every time the Eagles have faced a good quarterback.
Gannon, whose unit has allowed 155 points in the Eagles’ last five games and is on pace to break the NFL record for highest opposing completion percentage, said Tuesday he likes his personnel and thinks the Eagles have the players to make this defense work.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Everybody that we need to play winning football is in that building right there. I'm 100 percent confident in that.”
Other than Javon Hargrave, Avonte Maddox and Darius Slay, nobody has played consistently well on defense, but Gannon has been reluctant to make changes or adjustments either during games or between games to try and get more out of his personnel.
But he said trying to match players with scheme is a constant process that even began during the offseason in meetings with Howie Roseman and the scouts to figure out who fits his scheme the best.
“It's been a good collective process of what we're trying to do and who we need to play in those roles,” he said.
Gannon talked about the challenge of fitting the players on the roster with the roles that his defense demands.
‘What are our guys' skill sets? What are we asking them to do? Who does that well? Let's get them on the field,” he said. “We'll see who's playing at a high level.’ (There are) certain guys you can't afford to take off the field, we're not going to take them off the field. But that's an ever-evolving process of who we have, how we're playing, who we're playing, where are we at, year one, year two, year three, whatever. Is this guy a rookie? Is this guy a fifth-year guy?
“That's all taken into account when we decide, ‘Hey, here's the 11 that are going out in this package. Here's what they need to get done to play winning football.’
You can tell pretty quickly when a coach starts losing his players. A team that’s mailing it in has a completely different look than one that’s losing but still buying in.
So far, we haven’t seen that.
We’ve seen a defense that’s often been overmatched and even embarrassed, but at least guys have been playing hard.
Gannon said everything he sees from his players is total buy-in. He senses that they believe in what he’s running, it’s just a matter of him coaching better and them playing better.
“I think so, and I'm confident in that because, when we go out and install the game plan, they're juiced up,” he said. “When we explain to them, ‘Hey, here's why we're doing what we're doing,’ they understand, and you see it in practice, and you see it in the game. They are trying to do what we want them to do.
“A lot of people, they start pointing fingers at the players. I've never met a player that wants to mess up, ever. So when things aren't going great, it always comes from, ‘Hey, let's look from a standpoint of what are we asking this guy to do? How are we coaching it? What are we saying to the guy to improve the player?’
“So that's what I love about our coaching staff. That's what (Monday) was. That's what (Tuesday) is. ‘Hey, how do we improve our guys?’ Let's serve the players because when you serve the players and they play better, you win football games.’”
The Eagles have faced four top-10 offenses so far, and they don‘t face another current top-10 offense until the Dallas rematch the last day of the season.
Seven of their next 10 games are against offenses ranked 20th or worse.
So maybe Gannon can get things turned around.
“Our deal is figure it out,” Gannon said. “That's what we're paid to do. Figure it out. We need to figure it out better than what we're doing, flat out.”
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