Like many of you, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Billy Davis hire. He doesn’t have the pedigree. He doesn’t seem to have that "X" factor, or the sexy name. But I was also willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was never in the ideal situation. Maybe Philadelphia is a right fit. Maybe this time it’s different. I even went so far as to write how similar his hire was to Andy Reid’s hire of Jim Johnson. After all, both Davis and Johnson had unimpressive resumes before leading the Eagles’ defense, so maybe it was possible for lightning to strike twice? It’s still early, but I’m beginning to think not. In my opinion, albeit after just four games, there is a primary difference between the Davis and Johnson hires.
Unlike Johnson’s, Davis’ defense has no identity. Talent aside, every successful business or organization starts with a mission statement that helps guide decisions and focus strategy. For example, the mission of the NFL is:
To present the National Football League and its teams at a level that attracts the broadest audience and makes NFL football the best sports entertainment in the world. To achieve our mission, we will constantly challenge ourselves to improve and be guided by these values: Integrity, Performance and Teamwork, Tradition and Innovation, Diversity, and Learning.
We may scoff at some of those values, but they are there for a reason. Within the NFL is the office or department of Player Engagement, which has the following mission statement:
To optimize and revolutionize the personal and professional growth of football players through continuous guidance and support before, during, and beyond their NFL experience.
Clearly there is a purpose behind the NFL values. I’d like to think that NFL teams, organizations in their own right, operate in a similar fashion. Yeah the mission of most NFL franchises is to win championships, but there should be a higher level of intricacy and subtlety than just, "the mission of the Philadelphia Eagles is to win the Super Bowl." Mission statements also tell us the "how" and the "for whom".
I think this is where Andy Reid probably excels. When he came to Philadelphia, he had a clear vision of what he wanted his offense and defense to be. The mission of his offense was to use the pass to set up the run within a West Coast-style system. On defense, he wanted to attack the quarterback.
In contrast, Chip Kelly arrived in Philadelphia with a very clear and well-publicized mission for his offense. Play fast. But other than a need for his defense and defensive coordinator to have "shutoutability", no defensive mission was present. The closest thing to an identity I can infer is a defense driven by the strengths of its personnel, a defense that can be amoebic , capable of morphing from scheme to scheme in order to confuse and attack opposing offenses. Instead what we have is an absence of purpose and intent, a flirtation with "3-4" and "4-3 under" schemes, experiments with defensive ends playing linebacker, and odd personnel decisions (Free Curry!). Through four games, Billy Davis’ product is on pace to be not just bad, but historically bad. And I can’t help but think it’s because the defense lacks an overarching identity.
Chip Kelly and Billy Davis may not have the talent or personnel on defense as, say, the Kansas City Chiefs, but that’s no excuse to be this terrible. There is still time to address issues and improve, especially with the Eagles’ weak schedule. It can be 100% possible that Kelly and Davis simply inherited a defense so in shambles, so destroyed by the Castillo-Bowles-Washburn fiasco, so void of talent thanks to years of poor drafts, that they are the unfortunate ones charged to pick up the pieces, then reassemble from one week to the next and then the next.
My fear, however, is that it won’t be week-to-week, but year-to-year because neither Kelly nor Davis really know what they want their defense to be. When referring to their draft strategy, Howie Roseman often preaches about trusting the process, but with Davis, there seems to be no evidence of process with his defense. That doesn't necessarily mean there isn’t a process in place; I sincerely hope there is. But without process there will be no results. And aside from the game against the Washington Redskins, Davis' results right now are pretty piss-poor.