In defense of Eagles' Billy Davis
AS COORDINATOR, Billy Davis coached the defense. As a pedigreed inside linebacker, DeMeco Ryans led it. Their performances this season probably ensured they will be coaching and playing elsewhere in 2016. Some of that is their fault. Some is not.
AS COORDINATOR, Billy Davis coached the defense.
As a pedigreed inside linebacker, DeMeco Ryans led it.
Their performances this season probably ensured they will be coaching and playing elsewhere in 2016. Some of that is their fault. Some is not.
They could not control circumstance, and they could not control Chip Kelly.
And, so, here is a final, likely futile, defense of Davis and his indefensible defense.
Just before his final postgame confession, after the Eagles' playoff chances vanished in a loss to Washington, Davis stood apart from a gaggle of interviewers and muttered, "I hate this bleep."
Davis is a teacher. He might have blind spots, such as overrating the abilities of his cornerbacks, but he understands defenses and he ably relates his understanding to rambunctious young men.
Davis also is honest after a game, win or lose. If a guy has blown a coverage or if a guy has bitten on a play fake, Davis doesn't hide behind the "I'll have to look at the film" smoke screen. Frankly, any coach who needs to look at the film needs to look at another career.
That's why Davis hated those weekly, instant evaluations. He wouldn't lie.
That's why, when he heard a reporter say, "I thought you had inside linebackers who could cover," Davis replied:
"Yeah. I thought so, too."
This is as damning a statement as Davis has ever made. Fiercely loyal, Davis indulged in a moment of candid anger. He could not run a defense with an interior composed of Mychal Kendricks, Kiko Alonso and Ryans, with no true nickel corner, with no frontline safety in passing downs.
Davis was told by Kelly, head coach and general manager, that Alonso could lock up opposing tight ends and running backs. Kelly had traded franchise running back LeSean McCoy, a prima donna in his prime, to the Bills. He got back Alonso, a spacey, athletic linebacker whom Kelly coached at Oregon, and a player who suffered a serious knee injury in 2014. Kelly, in his first year as GM, needed Alonso to play a lot, and to play well.
Kelly needed the same from Ryans, who had ruptured his Achilles' tendon in the middle of the 2014 season. Kelly even gave Ryans a contract extension while injured.
Kelly also extended Kendricks . . . after trying to trade him. Kendricks missed four games in 2014 with a hamstring injury.
Kendricks missed 3 1/2 more games this season with another hamstring injury. It was suffered covering a deep pass.
Alsonso missed five games because of complications around his reconstructed knee. He made one memorable play all season: an interception in the end zone against the Falcons in the season opener. It should be noted that he had been beaten on the play.
Ryans missed 2 1/2 games with a hamstring injury, which occurred in Game 6. That was nearly a calendar year from his Achilles' rupture, the normal time in which that sort of injury no longer hinders its victim. Ryans was playing wonderfully when he hurt his hamstring. He was a liability the rest of the season.
It did not help that, through the first 15 games, Kelly's hyper-tempo offense had the defense on pace to play about 60 minutes more than an average NFL defense - or, two extra games.
The Eagles' linebacker load was eased considerably by third-round rookie Jordan Hicks, who jumped into the lineup and shined as the veterans fell. Hicks was then lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle at Dallas.
Ryans had eased into the season, but he had to play more than 55 percent of the defensive snaps after his return from the hamstring injury. Alsonso played a whopping 66 percent of the snaps at Atlanta, then, predictably, had to leave the next game; his knee didn't hold up.
Both were forced to return to maximum duty the week after Hicks' injury.
Washington gutted the Eagles' soft, exhausted underbelly in Game 15. Tight end Jordan Reed and running back Pierre Thomas - signed off the street two weeks before - combined for 16 catches, 196 yards and two touchdowns. Lions running backs Theo Riddick and Joique Bell combined for seven catches, 119 yards and a touchdown in a Thanksgiving Day upset.
Those were two games that might have saved Kelly's job; and, by association, Davis'. Was it was too much, too soon after the hamstring for Ryans? Too much, too soon all season for Alonso?
"You hit the nail right on the head," Ryans said.
Ryans spoke on the day the Eagles cleaned out their lockers, a week removed from Kelly's firing. The Eagles played their finale at the Giants without Kelly, and Davis, for the first time in his three seasons, did not speak afterward.
There was little left to say.
Kelly's dismissal seemingly all but sealed Davis' fate . . . but should it?
Ryans acknowledged that he never returned to full speed; the it usually takes two seasons for a player to fully come back from an Achilles' injury or a blown-out knee. He should know. Ryans was a Pro Bowl player when he ruptured his left Achilles' in 2010. He didn't return to form until 2012.
"Not all the way, anyway," Ryans said.
That could mean Ryans and Alonso are a few months removed from returning to an elite level. It probably will be for someone besides Davis. Such are the fates of football.
There were other issues Davis could not control.
During training camp, Kelly traded solid nickel corner Brandon Boykin to the Steelers for a paltry fifth-round pick. It appeared that JaCorey Shepherd would replace him; but, really, to what level would a sixth-round rookie play?
It fell to starting safety Malcolm Jenkins to play nickel, where he repeatedly showed why he plays safety; he's an excellent tackler but an unremarkable coverage back. Jenkins' move to nickel meant that special-teamer Chris Maragos had to play safety in nickel situations. Maragos was not good enough, and special teams were weakened by Maragos' absence. Kelly then inserted practice-squad call-up Ed Reynolds. Reynolds and Maragos combined for one interception.
The subtraction of Boykin weakened two positions on a defense already hamstrung by exhaustion and erosion at inside linebacker.
Davis might not be a defensive genius, but circumstance and Chippah dealt him an impossible hand.
On Twitter: @inkstainedretch