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
“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
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
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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