Why Is Billy Davis a Good Choice for Eagles Defensive Coordinator? In a Word: Versatility

Why Is Billy Davis a Good Choice for Eagles Defensive Coordinator? In a Word: Versatility

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Will the Eagles utilize a 4-3 or a 3-4 defensive alignment
going forward? The answer is maybe.

The Eagles have had a 4-3 base defense since forever
basically, but it’s no secret new head coach Chip Kelly prefers the 3-4. The
problem with Kelly’s partiality is his roster currently appears to lack some of
the key elements required to operate a 3-4 effectively, namely a big presence
at nose tackle, and probably one if not two outside linebackers who have the
ability to rush the passer and drop
into coverage. We could even quibble over the inside backers.

Maybe some of those players are in the locker room already,
and we just don’t know it. The front office can harvest additional talent through
free agency and the draft as well.

Point being all signs point to the Eagles moving away from the
4-3, but clearly they could go through a transition period to get there. While remaining
coy over his specific plans for the unit, Kelly more or less admitted it will
be a balancing act, preaching his familiar sermon on “coaching to the
personnel.”

“One of the things about Billy's background is Billy's
versatility,” Kelly said at his Monday press conference. “I like the 3-4 better
when I first started at Oregon. Just philosophically, if you carry more
linebackers than you do defensive linemen, you help your team from a special
teams standpoint. But you can't just do that in a day. So it's a situation
where we're evaluating all of the personnel on our team, and we'll see where we
are.”

If the defense doesn’t have the pieces to run an effective
3-4 as their base, nor the means to immediately acquire them, we’ll probably
still see plenty of 4-3 is some form.

That’s where Billy Davis comes in.

Forget, if you can, that he was the linebackers coach on the
Browns the past two seasons – a more irrelevant critique I haven’t heard. Davis
has been coaching all over the NFL since 1992. He’s been in Pittsburgh,
Carolina, Green Bay, Atlanta, New York, San Francisco, and Arizona, too, and in
all those stops, he’s learned defense under many masters.

Davis has seen it all, and thus is equipped to coach whatever
the Eagles have for personnel. Head coach wants a 3-4? Davis can do that. Personnel
isn’t ready for a 3-4, is better suited for a 4-3? Davis can do that. Want to employ
a hybrid defense like the “4-3 under” that is all the rage? Davis can do that.

There is something to be said for this kind of versatility.

Sure, there were more well-known names such as Rob Ryan available
to coach the Eagles’ defense. Those high-profile coaches are often known for
having one set way of doing things though.

After the Dallas Cowboys canned Ryan, he was initially
thought to have found a home in St. Louis. The Rams quickly ended that marriage
however due to Ryan’s relentless affinity for a 3-4. The difference is Kelly actually
wants a 3-4 (the Rams apparently do not), but clearly some coaches are not the
type to be flexible with their schemes. (Ryan eventually landed with the
Saints.)

Which does nothing to change the fact that Davis is largely
an unknown with two unimpressive stints as a defensive coordinator already for
the 49ers and Cardinals – unimpressive perhaps being kind. Still, at least it’s
pro-level coordinator experience, which is more than could be said for Sean
McDermott, Juan Castillo, or Todd Bowles – the last three Eagles’ hires.

Basing an entire opinion around his previous jobs doesn’t
really do Davis justice, anyway. He took the San Francisco position when the
franchise was coming off of a 2-14 season and was depleted of talent, while
Arizona’s defense was in good shape under Davis until Kurt Warner retired and
the Cards’ 31st-ranked offense started putting his unit in impossible
situations on a weekly basis.

Any coordinator’s or coach’s success is dependent on how
much talent is on the field – if not entirely, certainly to some extent.

Jim Johnson was one of the all-time greats, but let’s not
forget he enjoyed luxuries such as the opportunity to coach multiple Pro-Bowl
players, and the Eagles always having stability at the quarterback position. He
didn’t exactly have the resume of a guru upon his arrival in Philly, either.

Which is not to say Billy Davis is the next Jim Johnson, or even
that everything will all work out in the end. Ultimately the onus is on the
Eagles’ front office to build a contender, and Chip Kelly believes the best
defense to do accomplish that is a 3-4. Since that might not happen overnight,
hiring a coordinator whose experience extends far beyond any one defensive
alignment actually comes off as wise.

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Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers began the season looking lost without Joel Embiid. Now they are finding ways to win when he is not on the court. 

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion in the second half of Friday’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see story). He was sidelined for the decisive 8:50 of the game (see Instant Replay).

The Sixers trailed, 81-78, when he subbed out for the second time because of the injury, and outscored the Trail Blazers, 15-11, from that point on.

So how was this team that battled with inconsistency and reliance on Embiid able to pull out a comeback win punctuated in the final seconds? Ask the Sixers and they’ll give varying answers, a sign they are getting the job done in multiple ways and aren’t relying on just one key to success.

The most glaring difference was the hero of the game. Robert Covington drained two three-pointers in the final 40 seconds. His trey from Dario Saric with 38.2 remaining cut the Trail Blazers' lead to just one, 91-90. With 4.5 to go, he nailed the game-winning three from T.J. McConnell to give the Sixers their eighth victory in 10 games (see feature highlight).

“That’s resilient Cov,” Nerlens Noel said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a good shot or a bad shot; he’ll pull it in your face. That’s the confidence he has and that’s the confidence we need him to have. He steps up and makes two big shots like that, that’s enough said. He won us that game.”

Critics have called out Covington’s up-and-down performance from three all season. (They’ve made their feelings known with loud boos at home games.) Covington shot 5 for 12 behind the arc on the night but his 2 for 3 performance in the fourth was what mattered most. 

“I am a fighter, that’s what I have been my whole life,” he said. “Just because fans are booing me at one point doesn't mean anything. I just keep working. I am not going to let that deteriorate my game. It goes in one ear and out the other.”

Without Embiid in the game, the Sixers had to rely on a total team effort. After he went to the bench, the final points were scored by a combination of Covington, Gerald Henderson, Noel, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and McConnell.

“Ball movement,” head coach Brett Brown said. “We had 25 assists out of 36 made baskets. It’s not like we’re going to give the ball to Damian Lillard (guard for the Blazers). That’s not who we are. Whatever we do, it has to be done by committee, by a group, by a team. It’s even more exposed when Joel isn’t in the game. They did that. Unlikely people ended up with the ball sometimes in unlikely spots. … You have to move the ball. That’s what the team has learned without Joel.” 

Several of the players on the court in critical moments were from the second unit. Since Brown locked in on his rotation, the reserves don’t have a drop-off in confidence from the starters. 

“It’s the mentality,” Covington said. “Everybody has that swagger about us right now because once Joel comes out, the next person steps in and fills that void. It’s a matter of that contagious feeling that trickles into the second unit that’s making us that much more valuable.”

Then there's always defense, the foundation of any solid NBA team and a focal point for the Sixers. Noel saw that as the difference-maker when subbing in and out. The Trail Blazers scored just two points in the final 1:56. 

"The second unit goes there and does a great job guarding the yard, not letting up easy baskets," Noel said. "The offensive side is fluid motion. Guys get shots, pick-and-roll, it opens up open threes for guys, driving lines, pump fakes, it’s a great unity."

Embiid liked what he saw from a distance. He will not travel with the team to their game on Saturday against the Hawks in Atlanta. 

"I’m just happy we’ve been closing out games, and the main thing I’m really happy [about] is they’ve been able to do it without me," he said. "That’s going to give us a lot of confidence when I’m missing back-to-backs. My teammates are going to have more confidence to come in and play the same way."

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Of the nearly 20,000 people in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, Joel Embiid was seemingly the least concerned when he came down and injured his left knee. 

Fans held their breath and the Sixers looked on anxiously as the standout big man got up in visible discomfort and limped off the court (see highlights). Embiid, however, wasn’t worried. 

“I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way,” he said after the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see Instant Replay). “I’m great. The knee’s fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good.”

Embiid ran off the court on his own, was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and was cleared to return to the game. He aggravated his knee again driving to the basket and this time, the team held him out to be careful.

“The review is that he hyperextended his left knee,” head coach Brett Brown said. “There was a minor tweak again, and for precautionary reasons only, the doctors did not allow him to return. There will be more information given as we know it. But quickly, that's what we know.”

Embiid understood the team’s decision to sideline him for the final 8:50 while the Sixers went on a comeback run (see feature highlight). He still finished the game with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, five assists and four blocks in only 22 minutes.

“Obviously those guys, the front office, they care about my future, so they just shut it down,” Embiid said. “But I was fine.”

Embiid will not travel to Atlanta for Saturday’s game against the Hawks (pre-scheduled rest). He expects to be available for Tuesday’s home matchup against the Clippers. 

"You know how tough he is," Nerlens Noel said. "If it isn’t anything serious, he’ll be right back. At the end of the game, he was telling me was he was feeling great and there was no pain. He wanted to come back in the game … he’s a trooper. He always gives it his all and always plays hard."

Injuries to any player are worrisome, especially a franchise centerpiece with two years of rehab (foot) behind him. The Sixers have been methodical and cautious with his playing time. Embiid is on a 28-minute restriction and can play in only one game of a back-to-back series. 

The same player who is so closely watched, though, also plays with sky-high energy that doesn’t have a brake pedal. 

“You're concerned,” Brown said of seeing Embiid get injured. “It's clear to all of us that he plays with such reckless abandon. I think that we're all going to be seeing this and feeling this regularly. From flying into stands to stalking somebody in the open court to block a shot to the collision he often is in trying to draw fouls. That's just who he is. 

“I think that as he just plays more basketball and continues to grow, to not necessarily avoid those situations, just to perhaps manage them a little bit more. Right now, he's just a young guy that's just playing that doesn't know what he doesn't know and has a fearless approach underneath all that attitude.”

Fearless is an accurate description considering Embiid's trouble-free reaction to the awkward way his leg bent (he hadn’t seen a replay). 

“I kind of had that in college, too,” he said. “I think I’m flexible, so it’s supposed to happen.”