When Billy Davis was finally hired by Chip Kelly to be the Eagles defensive coordinator in February of 2013, there was significant head scratching. This was the guy it took more than a month to settle on? A guy who had been fired from his previous two stints heading up defenses in San Francisco and Arizona after two seasons each, a guy whose defenses had finished 32nd, 26th, 20th and 29th in those four seasons?
To be sure, and to be fair, Davis didn't have much talent to work with in each place or much time to adjust to that. And while there is some exciting and young talent on this Eagles defense, maybe the same should be said in judging his stint so far in Philadelphia, especially when injuries to DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and now, Trent Cole, are factored in.
The Eagles are tied with the dismal Giants for 26th in the NFL in overall team defense with an average of 371.4 yards allowed. They are 28th in the league passing yards surrendered, 18th in rushing yards surrendered, 22nd in points allowed per game, averaging 24.8.
And yet there have been times this season in which they have appeared downright dominant, have won games (Giants) and nearly won games (49ers) with their play.
Their gaudy sack total of 47, especially after a slow start, is impressive and - you hope - bodes well for the future. But it may also reflect the coach's true feelings about his secondary, particularly embattled cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. The more success with pressure, the more their flaws in single coverage are minimalized.
To be sure, Davis leaves an impression that he knows what he is doing. In a world dominated by paranoia and thin skin, he is the polar opposite of both, explaining his thinking in expansive answers devoid of any condescending tone, responding respectfully to even the harshest questioning of methods and results, being accountable regardless of how it reflects on his resume.
Like when he was given a chance the other day to pin his defensive struggles on the offense and its inability to sustain drives.
"The problem is us, nothing else," he said. "It's us getting ourselves off the field and lowering the number of snaps. We've had many where we've had 13 and 14 stops that we had to go out there and make, but they were three-, four-, five-play drives, and we were fresh, and we were off the field, and the offense was going.
"When we don't get off the field, it's a product of what we're doing. We have to make sure our third downs are better. On a couple of [Dallas'] long drives early in the game, some of those drives were because we couldn't get ourselves off the field on third down. So, it's about turning the ball over on third down and causing turnovers. Defensively, we have to get that cleaned up or it will take to toll on us. But we're the ones that are keeping ourselves out there."
That they are. Six games into this season, after they had shut out the Giants, frustrated Andrew Luck and nearly singlehandedly beat the 49ers, the hire of Davis seemed another act of Kelly genius, albeit short-lived. He would surely be on those infamous short lists for head coaches at season's end, and the search for a new Eagles defensive coordinator would be on.
That's surely on hold now, no matter how they play in these final two games or - hope beyond hope - in the playoffs. Unlike those other stops, Davis will get at least a third year here, and you only hope his "faith" in Fletcher and Williams is the act of a coach who values cohesion and not any projection of potential.
Because Billy needs a few more players for us to judge him fairly.