Brian Dawkins, the best Safety to grace an Eagles jersey, one of the best Safeties in the NFL and surely has a place waiting for him in the Hall of Fame.
Dawkins was a beast in Philadelphia, his hits would make you wince, his forced fumbles would have you cheering and his INT's would leave you awe-inspired. Simply put he was one hell of a player.
Now whilst there is no denying the player, just how much of an impact did his loss to the Broncos have on the Eagles? Some would have said he was in decline (age), his 2007 season can and should be written of (on compassionate grounds) but otherwise his stats somewhat speak otherwise. Ultimately it came down to money. The Eagles offered him $4.5 million, Broncos offered $7 million, Dawkins gave the Eagles the chance to match that, it wasn't to be and he went to Denver.
His final game was the NFC Championship game losing to the Cardinals, he at least went out on a plausible high (A Superbowl appearance would have been nice). His number was eventually retired as he signed a one day contract and retired an Eagle.
His accolades and achievements are endless, suffice to say he deserves a place in Canton.
Back on topic then, he was a great player for the Eagles, but we've been without him for four years so looking at the numbers just how much of an effect has that had on the team, on the D and on the FS position in the four years he was in Denver, and his final four years as an Eagle?<strong> Just a note I have expunged the 2007 season, family is a massive thing and when your wife goes down like Dawkins wife did you can excuse his performances (though he only started ten games) and so the years in question will be 2004, 05, 06 and 08.</strong>
Record wise we were a fair bit better when he was still around. The Eagles compiled a 38-27 record in Dawkins last four years, whilst in Denver (and his one year of retirement) the Eagles managed a 33-31 record. We had a much better playoff record as the Eagles went to the Superbowl, Division and Conference games winning 5 and losing 2. Without Dawkins we have yet to win a single playoff game despite making two appearances.
I haven't included his playoff stats in any of my sample data but generally he was actually pretty quiet when it came to big plays. Against three teams he managed two sacks, one INT and a Forced Fumble, apart from that he didn't do much else.
It's quite obviously unfair to say a team on the whole getting better or worse is due to the loss of any single player so I'm naturally going to now have a look at more specific areas, firstly the defense. Again a defense if bad will be bad with or without a playmaker, then again one player can help boost a team's performance by bringing them together, or increasing their morale, or by simply setting the tone by forcing fumbles or INT's. Did the D labour without Dawkins? Looking at the D's position in terms of point's per game given up we are a fair bit worse.
Running from 2004-2012 (no '07) our defensive rankings based on PPG are as follows, 2nd, 27th, 15th, 4th, 19th, 21st, 10th and 29th. 2005 was quite a blip for the Eagles, that year we ended up being shut-out 0-42 against the Seahawks and we're blown away by the Broncos and Cowboys. Apart from that the Eagles have faired quite well on D. They tied for second in 2004 with the one team that beat us on our playoff run... the Patriots.
Let's have a look at the general trend of Eagles points per game allowed in this eight year sample period.
Ignoring the lack of a dot in 2007 the trend shows a quite noticeable rise in the amount of points that our D has given up. Since we released Dawkins we have yet to allow less than 20 points per game. In 2004 we only allowed 16.2 pts per game and in 2008 18.1. Even with the massive blip that is 24.2 pts in 2005 it doesn't change the fact that we were a fair bit better while Dawkins still commanded us on D.
As ever my favourite port of call is turnovers. One of the most exciting aspects of the game and one of the most important. Despite some irregularities generally the higher the turnover rate the more wins you're going to get. It's not really hard to see why, it's the D's job to get the ball back to their offense, how successful and quick a D is at doing this will generally dictate whether a team wins or loses.
Takeaway totals first, 2004-2008 we forced 121 takeaways this was split down into 54 forced fumbles and 67 interceptions. Of those totals Dawkins managed 17 forced fumbles (32% of all Eagles FF's) and 12 interceptions (18% of all Eagles INT's). Between 2009-2012 we managed less, 109 takeaways split down to 71 FF's and 38 INT's. Shall we see how the general trend looks for total takeaways in each year?
The downward trend indicates that again we're getting worse. Amazingly in 2009 and 2010 our figures were pretty respectable at 38 (highest total in the eight years) and 34 (3rd). The issue is quite obviously 2011 and more-so 2012. The Eagles turnover production has fallen off massively in the past two years resulting in the Eagles being progressively worse despite 2009 & '10 being good years.
As stated earlier even on D the whole unit is not always affected by the loss of one single player (though looking at those charts you're beginning to see that in the Eagles case we were quite obviously affected by Dawkins departure). So again I’ll reduce my sample data and focus on the Free Safety position, looking at Dawkins in his last four years and then whoever the relevant starter was between 2009 & 2012 and seeing how their stats match-up.
This is why this chart was saved for last as it shows the true impact of Dawkins in Philadelphia. Stripping back the stats and focusing solely on FS starters you begin to realise just how much of a void was left by Weapon X.
Where to start, well straight away the worst year came in 2009, Sean Jones started at FS (think he's in Cleveland now). Bearing in mind Dawkins managed SIX FF's in 2008... Jones couldn't even muster up the power to force one. Dawkins out-did him on Sacks and whilst Jones did manage double the amount of INT's (an other-worldy 2) the immediate hole that was left in Dawkins wake, the same hole that fans were so scared of when he signed for Denver, came to fruition and Jones was quickly taken out of the team.
In fairness Allen despite still not filling Dawkins shoes had a good year especially considering he was a rookie. 1 FF, 3INT's and 2 Sacks whilst not setting the world alight are respectable figures for a rookie FS. He had a number of good games most notably against Detroit and Jacksonvlle (hmmmm...) but naturally had a few mares Atlanta springs to mind.
I had to take an average in 2011 due to both Coleman and Allen starting at FS, the average is pretty dire. Well no sacks, in 2012 that didn't change as Coleman took over the reigns at FS. We did manage 3 INT's, but just 1 FF between the two of them. In 2012 as we all know a dire season on so many levels including Coleman's play at FS, 2 INT's and 1 FF is all he managed.
Asking myself three questions based on all this we get the following.
1. Did Dawkins loss affect the team as a whole?
Yes, we went from a plus 11 overall team record to a plus 2 record and in the playoffs with Dawkins on side we managed 5 wins from 8 and without him we have yet to put a single W in the playoff win column.
2. Did Dawkins loss affect the team Defense?
Yes, we have allowed more points per game without him. This is down to numerous reasons but I’d say that in part it's down to simply the loss of his presence. He was a dominating figure in our secondary that not only scared the opposing O, it increased the confidence of every other Eagles defensive player on the field. He was the defensive Field General who truly led that D, without him who have we got...?
3. Did Dawkins loss affect the FS position in Philadelphia?
A categorical yes, the FS void left by Dawkins hasn't even come close to being filled. Allen showed glimpses of being a possible successor in 2010, but in subsequent years he hasn't lived up to his second round pick. Dawkins was a playmaker, stats don't show you the whole story but just look at how much our INT's, FF's and Sack's deteriorated when Dawkins went to Denver. Even on the eyeball test you knew where Dawkins was the moment the D took the field, I struggle to notice Allen or Coleman, as for Jones barely knew he existed. He was a ferocious player, running backs, WR's and QB's did their best to avoid him and for good reason, he was the Eagles Weapon X and if you were within reach of his claws, you'd be lucky to get away still clutching the pigskin.