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Defense-minded coach a good fit for Eagles

Watch an NFL game with Malcolm Jenkins, and he believes he can immediately tell you something about the two teams playing.

Watch an NFL game with Malcolm Jenkins, and he believes he can immediately tell you something about the two teams playing.

"You look at every team in the league, and you can tell which teams have a defensive-minded coach and which teams have an offensive-minded coach," the Eagles safety said Monday as his teammates cleared out their belongings from the NovaCare Complex locker room. "I don't think there is a right or wrong. I think you need to have complementary football. Those are the teams that are successful."

The Eagles never had that harmonizing formula under Chip Kelly. He was a head coach in charge of the offensive operation, and he left defensive coordinator Bill Davis to deal with the defense, which was a boatload to handle for a long list of reasons.

An offensive scheme that was unfriendly to its own defense and coordinator topped the list of problems. That's OK if the offense is a scoring machine, which it clearly was not this season.

Davis did not do a great job of handling the problems he was presented, but he was sort of like a guy trying to win the World Series of Poker even though he never had a better hand than a pair of nines. Dick Jauron would have had problems playing with Davis' hand, and it probably did not help that the guys playing for Davis felt as if they had worked for better.

Jenkins, for instance, said Gregg Williams was the best defensive coordinator he ever worked under, with Rob Ryan coming in a close second.

"I think Gregg was probably the best one," Jenkins said. "I think his defense is obviously an aggressive one. He always had an aggressive, intimidating, violent defense, and his ability to motivate is probably his greatest asset. Regardless of what the score is and regardless of what the team looks like, his defense always plays hard.

"Rob Ryan . . . his versatility made it a lot of fun to play for him. There was a lot of stuff that was installed and every week was a new defense."

And Davis?

"Obviously when you're a coordinator and your defense doesn't do well, you're going to take the brunt of it," Jenkins said. "But I think a lot of it was the players. The other part was he wants to keep the defense the same. He doesn't want it to get too crazy and become one of those defenses where guys are thinking more than they are playing.

"I think sometimes we were a little predictable and a little vanilla. That subjected us to matchup problems, especially in base personnel. When we got to our sub [packages], we could hang with anybody. But when we got to our base, we did get exposed sometimes, and that's usually when we didn't stop the run. That has nothing to do with Billy. That's really where our defense fell apart. If you watch the tape, it doesn't have anything to do with play calling. Billy doesn't make the tackles."

Neither did his players, and I believe it had as much to do with the excessive amount of time they spent on the field not just in individual games, but also throughout the course of the season.

Linebacker DeMeco Ryans refused to say that was the case, and he also said Davis "did a good job." But when asked to name the best coordinator he ever played for, he offered Wade Phillips.

Regardless of why it went so wrong for the defense, the Eagles have earned the reputation for being soft against the run, awful at tackling, and worse at defending against the pass. Other than that, everything is fine.

A new scheme, better coaching, and a different attitude is needed on defense, and that's why the idea of hiring a defensive-minded head coach is not a bad one.

Nine of the last 15 coaches to win Super Bowls had defensive backgrounds. The majority of defensive-minded coaches prefer offenses that believe in running the football and controlling the clock. Seven of the top 10 teams in rushing attempts this season had coaches with defensive backgrounds and four of the top seven - Carolina, Seattle, Minnesota, and Cincinnati - are in the playoffs. All four teams held the ball an average of more than 30 minutes per game. The Eagles were the worst in the league in time of possession for the third straight season, and somewhere inside Sloppy Joe's down in Key West, Fla., Chip Kelly is insisting it does not matter.

The Eagles also finished the year with a defense that ranked 28th in the league in points allowed and 30th in yards allowed. Owner Jeffrey Lurie must be aching for the days when Jim Johnson coached the defense. From 2000 through 2008, the Eagles ranked in top 10 in points allowed seven times and yards allowed six times. In the seven seasons since then, they have ranked in the bottom half of the league in points allowed six times and yards allowed four times.

So maybe it's time for a defensive guy to take charge in Philadelphia. So far, the Eagles have only talked to coaching candidates with offensive backgrounds. If that's the direction they are headed, the new coach had better have a friendlier offensive plan for the defense and a defensive coordinator who can teach tackling and implement a better scheme. It has been far too long since this franchise has had a proud and ferocious defense.

bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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