Chris McCoy, Eddie Whitley, Brandon Boykin and Jake Knott gang tackle Tim Tebow in the second half vs. the Patriots. (USA Today Images)
At least Billy Davis has a sense of humor about it.
When he emerged into the locker room after his debut as Eagles defensive coordinator, a debut that included a 62-yard run on the Patriots’ first play, he walked over to a group of writers and said:
“You like that first play? How’m I doing so far?”
It certainly wasn’t the debut Davis wanted. It wasn’t the debut anybody wanted.
The Eagles, trying to transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 despite not having a roster full of 3-4 players, allowed a pair of 80-yard touchdown drives while the first defense was on the field in a 31-22 loss to the Patriots at the Linc in Chip Kelly’s first preseason game as head coach of the Eagles.
The starting unit played two series and gave up 160 yards and 14 points.
Only the first preseason game. And Tom Brady was on the other side of the line of scrimmage. But after last year’s nightmarish defensive performance, it was a discouraging start.
“We were going to do our basic stuff to let our guys play fast and see where we are, and it didn’t start the way we wanted to,” said Davis, the Eagles’ fourth defensive coordinator since Jim Johnson.
“We were hoping we were farther along, but we are where we are, but we’ll put our heads down and go back to work and work our tails off.”
The Patriots finished with 442 yards and 248 rushing yards, even though Tim Tebow played the last two series of the second quarter and the entire second half.
Brady played only two drives, and the Patriots marched 80 yards for touchdowns on both.
After the game, Davis spoke of the transition from 4-3 to 3-4, and the struggle to make the switch with a heavy dose of personnel that was brought in to play in a 4-3. For guys like Brandon Graham, Trent Cole, Vinny Curry, Mychal Kendricks, Fletcher Cox and several others, this was uncharted waters.
“We’ve got to get the guys more comfortable in the scheme, and the more times we play together and get the communication and techniques and how you fit off each other, you continue to grow,” he said.
“There was a lot of good out there tonight, too. A lot of times where the scheme really did look like it fit, and then there were some bad plays, and we’ve got to eliminate those.”
Most notable among the big plays was Stevan Ridley’s 62-yard run on the first play of the season to set up the Patriots’ first touchdown. LeGarrette Blount added a 51-yard touchdown against the Eagles’ second team on a reverse-field scramble in the second quarter.
Those two plays accounted for more than a quarter of the Patriots’ yards.
The Pats managed only 108 yards in the second half against the Eagles’ third unit, so that’s one positive. That’s mainly young guys, and they looked pretty good, although it’s tough to judge when Tebow is throwing the ball. Or trying to.
Davis said he liked the effort he saw Friday night. It’s just that the tackling has to be better.
Other than the two long runs, the Patriots didn’t have a play over 23 yards.
“We’ve got to eliminate those big plays,” Davis said. “The effort to the ball and the tackling are two things we wanted to come in here and make sure we got right, and we got the effort to the ball, but we didn’t have the tackling tonight, and we’ve got to continue to improve that part of it.
“That’s how you play good defense, you run to the ball and tackle well, and we only had one of those two components.”
Davis was asked whether the poor tackling had anything to do with Chip Kelly’s philosophy not to tackle during team drills at practice.
The Eagles did do one day of 1-on-1 tackling drills in camp but that’s it.
“You love that until somebody gets hurt and you lose them,” he said. “It’s a fine line how much you do it. I think the drills that we do are very injury-friendly, but you need that kind of tackling to get it right, and we’ll continue to work on it and do those drills.
“We will continue to tackle until we get it right. That’s the fundamentals that we have to get done. We have to get that part of it right.”
It was clear Friday night that the Eagles weren’t holding back anything schematically. Davis showed a lot of different looks, a lot of different lineups, a lot of different fronts.
He said the coaches talked about holding back and hiding things but ultimately decided not to.
“Here’s the dilemma – how much do you show and how much do you get the guys good at it,” he said. “So we collectively said, ‘You know what? Let’s start getting the guys comfortable in our scheme or the scheme we think we can run.'
“We’ve got a bunch of different talents, and we have to find the right group to make the team and then do what they do best. That’s what the preseason’s about. Seeing who we are and where we are and how far we have to go, and we have a ways to go right now."