Jonathan Gannon says the Eagles have the players to make his defense work
Gannon said he had significant input during the Eagles offseason identifying the players he needed to run his scheme.
Jonathan Gannon climbed up to the podium and kicked off his news conference with his routine pleasantry.
Yet the day would seem to be anything but joyful for the Eagles defensive coordinator. Two days removed from the team’s 33-22 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, in which his defense allowed Derek Carr to complete a career-best 91.1% of his passes, Gannon has drawn criticism from both near and afar. His scheme is predicated on limiting big plays down the field by way of two deep safeties, but it has often backfired.
At all three levels of the defense, there’s an argument to be made that the players don’t fit the scheme. The defensive line, at times, goes into an odd front that asks players to do more reading and reacting than in years past. The linebackers do more in coverage, and the secondary is often playing soft zones.
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Gannon said Tuesday that he had significant input during the offseason identifying the players he needed to run his scheme and reiterated that he has the necessary personnel to do so now.
“Do we have the right people in the building? Yeah,” Gannon said. “We have to coach better, I know that, 2-5, that says that immediately. Who does that fall on? Us. But in saying that, our guys have proven — we can be more consistent with it — that we can play winning football.”
Both Nick Sirianni and Fletcher Cox pointed out areas in which Gannon’s game plan against the Raiders left something to be desired. Sirianni said he felt the defense needed to be more aggressive at times and noted how the prolonged drives the Raiders reeled off negatively impacted the offense’s rhythm.
Gannon said Sirianni’s notion that he needed to “challenge” the Raiders more came from himself, conceding that the passivity went too far in Las Vegas.
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“When we got out of the game, I said, ‘The ball didn’t hit the ground,’ ” Gannon said. “That tells me we have to challenge a little bit more. That’s within our Rolodex of coverages, how we want to play, what we want to get done. I need to change some coverages up and challenge a little bit more. Get a little tighter. Get closer to people, close windows, pre-snap disguise, post-snap disguise, what we’re doing with the coverages.”
The Eagles have typically relied on their pass rush, but pressure was hard to come by in Vegas. Part of that was a result of Carr averaging 2.25 seconds to throw, the second-fastest average of the week according to Next Gen Stats. Still, the Eagles seldom send extra rushers (they rank 30th in blitz percentage) and the four-man rushes haven’t been as disruptive as expected.
After the game, Cox expressed frustration with the way he’s been used compared to years past and said that at one point, he voiced his objection to the coaching staff about play calls he disagreed with. Cox has been successful in four-man fronts that allow him to prioritize penetration and getting off blocks over defending the run. But at times he’s been asked to play in odd fronts with more reading and reacting.
“We have to coach better, I know that, 2-5, that says that immediately."
Gannon said he has talked with Cox about his frustrations with his role and didn’t fault him for publicly criticizing the scheme.
“He’s got good points. I need to do a better job of that with him,” Gannon said. “The key thing with that is together, player and coach, coach and player, how we do that and how we go about that. He’s had some very good ideas, as our other players have had good ideas, and then it’s up to us as the coaches to get that done and execute those things.”
Cox isn’t the only defensive lineman seemingly playing out of position. When the Eagles line up in five-man fronts, they often have to slide defensive ends on the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle, where they can be susceptible to double-teams. For smaller players like Josh Sweat, Tarron Jackson, or Ryan Kerrigan, Gannon conceded it’s not ideal.
Gannon, who has long preached the importance of tailoring the scheme to the players’ strengths, acknowledged that sometimes the game plan that week calls for that not to be the case.
“There are times where they’re probably ... no, they’re not ideally suited for that spot,” Gannon said. “But we try to [plan] within who’s playing, we try to make it where we’re putting those guys in position, for the most part, to get into the skill set that they are most comfortable with.
“Some safeties want to play deep half all the time; well, sometimes you’ve got to get in the box and play Cover 3,” Gannon added. “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.”