Eagles

Why Sirianni is confident Gannon can fix Eagles’ drowning defense

Eagles

When your defense gives up 76 points and 851 yards in the span of six days, there are going to be some questions.

Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni had to answer a few of them on Monday.

Because the day before, the Chiefs put up 42 points — they made it look easy — scoring touchdowns on six of their seven drives. And that came just six days after the Cowboys dropped 34 on the same Eagles defense.

So where is Sirianni’s confidence level in defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon?

“I’m still very confident in Jonathan,” Sirianni said. “Let's not forget the first two weeks we stoned an Atlanta offense and then we stoned the San Francisco offense. At that point, there was a lot of chatter how good Jonathan was doing. And I still think he's doing good.

“Obviously, you come off two games where you gave up – I'm not going to say they scored 40 points, his offense gave seven points up against Dallas — 35 points and 42 points, or whatever it was. That's not good enough, right? We all know that.

“I know what he's capable of, I know what the defense is capable of and I know what his defensive staff is capable of. So, I'm very confident that we'll get these things fixed and that we'll improve from this and go from there.”

Sirianni is partially right. The Eagles’ defense held the Falcons to 6 points in Week 1 and held the 49ers to 17 in Week 2. (Don't know if you can say they "stoned" both, but they did enough to win.) But after giving up 76 points in back-to-back weeks, it’s time for Gannon to adjust. Because this can’t keep happening.

 

In the first two weeks of the season, even though the Eagles won just one of those games, the defense put forth efforts worthy of wins.

It didn’t do that against the Cowboys or the Chiefs.

Now, there’s a pretty obvious lack of talent with this Eagles defense. They have a few really good players and then the talent level drops off. Brandon Graham is out for the season, Fletcher Cox has been quieted by double teams and the linebackers have been exposed. The Eagles, as you’ve probably heard before, haven’t drafted a Pro Bowl defensive player since 2012. That’s on Howie.

But it’s on Gannon to figure out how to shore up the unit he does have.

That has to start with the run defense. Because the Cowboys put up 160 yards on the ground and the Chiefs put up 200. And it’s not like those teams started running the ball once they got a lead. They ran to get those leads.

Under Jim Schwartz, the Eagles were a consistently good run defense. That hasn’t been the case in the last couple games under Gannon.

“Anytime a team runs for 200 yards on you, you know you got to look at the coaching first, and look at it there,” Sirianni said. “Obviously, we were very critical and hard on ourselves this morning. It was some tough conversations in the defensive room this morning, but all in attempts to get better and to improve from this. We feel like we're taking the right steps to do so.

“But there's no secret. We need to do so, and we need to make sure we stop the run on first and second down.”

Gannon is just 38 and is a first-time defensive coordinator, just like Sirianni is a first-time head coach. But unlike Sirianni, Gannon’s name was thrown around a lot more during the last hiring cycle. If the Eagles didn’t hire him, he was still likely going to end up as a defensive coordinator somewhere.

There’s a lot to like about Gannon. He wants his defense to be multiple, he wants to focus on matchups, he wants to have very different game plans each week depending on the offense they’re facing. All that is good in theory. But the last couple weeks obviously haven’t worked out.

The game plan against the Chiefs was pretty obvious. The Eagles played soft coverages to avoid giving up big plays. And for the most part, that worked. But the Chiefs were then happy to methodically drive down the field time and time again, cutting through Gannon’s defense like a hot knife through butter.

“The big pass play gets limited,” Sirianni said, “but, if you're not doing some of the right things in the front with what you're doing in the front, then the run game can be susceptible, right? You give a little, you get a little.”

 

The Eagles’ defense struggled against their last two opponents, but it’s also worth pointing out that the Cowboys and Chiefs have two of the better offenses in the league. That’s certainly not an excuse, but there are some easier opponents coming.

This week, the Eagles will face a Carolina Panthers team that has a 3-1 record but is 13th in scoring and total offense.

Sirianni said there are ways he can help, especially when it comes to giving an offensive perspective to help his own defense. Sirianni is the head coach so every unit on the team is his responsibility. But let’s be honest: He’s the offensive coach and Gannon runs the defense.

Let’s see how Gannon responds.

“I have total confidence in our defensive coaches, and our staff right there," Sirianni said, "and in Jonathan.”

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