In the days since the Eagles’ 33-22 loss to the Raiders, defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has been under fire for his passive defensive strategy.
Not just from the public but also seemingly from within his own building.
After the game, veteran Fletcher Cox expressed frustration about his inability to attack in Gannon’s scheme. And while Nick Sirianni clarified that he’s ultimately in charge of the entire team, he said after the game that the Eagles’ defense needs to challenge the opposition more.
Those words from Sirianni apparently didn’t surprise Gannon.
“That came from me,” Gannon said on Tuesday. “We came out of the game, I said, ‘The ball didn’t hit the ground.’ That tells me we’ve got to challenge a little bit more. That’s within, ‘Hey, this is our rolodex of coverages, how we want to play, what we need to get done.’
“I need to change some coverages up and challenge a little bit more, get a little bit tighter, get closer to people, close windows. Pre-snap disguise, post-snap disguise, what are we doing with the coverages? That needs to get corrected. Because it’s hard to play winning football when the ball doesn’t hit the ground.”
Cox on Sunday let some of his frustrations leak out in his postgame press conference. Sirianni has said he’d prefer those criticisms to stay in house, but that obviously didn’t happen.
So what did Gannon think of those comments from the Eagles’ highest-paid player and defensive captain?
“I understand Fletch’s point,” Gannon said. “… What any player says after a game out of frustration comes from a good place of ‘we want to win.’ That’s what this game is about, winning and losing. And that’s where I think that comes from, from Fletch. I love that about him.”
While Cox said he didn’t view it as his place to talk with the coaching staff about scheme and philosophy, Gannon said he has talked with Cox and other players about what changes might need to occur.
The main gist from Cox was that he doesn’t think his role in this defense is allowing him to play to his full potential. It’s much different from the aggressive style of defense that helped him get to six consecutive Pro Bowls. While it’s still fair to expect more production from Cox regardless of scheme, his assertions weren’t lost on the coaching staff.
“He’s got good points,” Gannon said. “I need to do a better job of that (deploying Cox in a way that plays to his strengths). And the key thing with that is, player and coach, coach and player, how we do that and how we go about that? He’s had some very good ideas as have some other players had some very good ideas. And then it’s up to us as coaches to get that done and execute those things.”
In Sunday’s game, Derek Carr completed 31 of 34 passing attempts as the Raiders cruised to what was an all-too-easy victory. That has become a theme in recent weeks for quarterbacks facing the Eagles.
Within the last five weeks, Carr, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Dak Prescott all completed 80+ percent of their passes en route to lopsided victories against the Eagles. And the Eagles have given up an average of 32.4 points per game within that span.
While Gannon said sometimes they’re OK philosophically with high opposing completion percentages based on the results, these results recently haven’t been good. What they’re doing simply isn’t working.
Gannon understood Sirianni’s point that the Eagles’ defense isn’t allowing their offense to get into a rhythm because of limited possessions. The Eagles’ defensive philosophy of forcing teams into long drives only works if they get off the field. They Eagles’ defense hasn’t gotten off the field frequently enough over the last month.
“I can do a better job of mixing to get tighter and challenge a little bit more and put our guys in a better position to win certain downs,” Gannon conceded.
It seems like change is long overdue.
We’ll see on Sunday in Detroit if it actually comes to fruition.
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