Shane Steichen was officially hired by the Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday. And now Jonathan Gannon is reportedly following him out the door by taking the Arizona Cardinals’ head coaching job.
It’s interesting to reconcile this fan sentiment with how the 2022 Eagles fared in a number of key categories. Philadelphia’s defense ranked 3rd in DVOA, 4th in EPA per play, and 6th in opponent offensive points per game. The Eagles came 2.5 sacks shy of breaking the NFL record for the most generated in a season. They also ranked tied for fourth in takeaways.
Despite this relative success, Gannon drew ire in part due to a passive approach that was aimed at eliminating big plays. The strategy typically worked against lesser quarterbacks but it did not hold up against better passers who had no problem sustaining long drives with mistake-free football.
Case in point: Patrick Mahomes completed 77.8% of his attempts against Gannon’s defense in the Eagles’ Super Bowl loss. It’s not like anyone realistically expected Gannon to totally shut Mahomes down; he is perhaps the greatest player at his position in NFL history, after all. That being said, Gannon’s defense ultimately came up with zero sacks and zero takeaways during the Birds’ most crucial game. In the second half, his unit allowed three straight touchdown drives before the Kansas City Chiefs intentionally avoided scoring a TD to instead kill clock and settle for a FG to essentially seal the game.
Entering the Super Bowl, Gannon was one of the biggest reasons to believe the Birds might lose. This is not hindsight analysis. He was literally the No. 1 concern we listed in a post titled “An Eagles writer gives 3 reasons the Chiefs will win the Super Bowl” for Arrowhead Pride. From that post:
But it’s only fair to point out the level of competition that Gannon has gone up against. Here are the quarterbacks the Eagles have faced this season:
Daniel Jones (x3)
Brock Purdy/Josh Johnson/no quarterback
Not exactly a murderer’s row.
Most would say the best two quarterbacks from that list are Rodgers and Prescott.
Rodgers, while playing through an injured thumb before leaving the game with another injury — and his backup Jordan Love — were able to put 33 points on Philadelphia’s defense.
Prescott completed 77% of his attempts for 347 yards (9.9 average), three touchdowns, one interception and a 124.3 passer rating — in addition to rushing six times for 41 yards.
And so there’s fear that Mahomes will thrive against Gannon’s preferred method of defense, which is to sit back, take away the big play and force the opponent to sustain long drives. The Chiefs, who generated the most yards-after-catch in the last 15 years (h/t Sheil Kapadia) could be in a position to really take advantage of an Eagles’ defense that’s struggled with tackling at times. Look no further than Christian McCaffrey breaking through contact to find his way to the end zone in the NFC Championship game.
When the goal is winning championships, there needs to come a time where you’re able to slow down a top-level quarterback. And for all of the positive things he did do, Gannon never really did that.
It’ll be interesting to see how Gannon fares in Arizona. He might make for a better CEO-type head coach than a defensive coordinator.
Regardless, he’s gone, and now it’s up to Nick Sirianni to replace not just one but TWO coordinators this offseason. This is after the team had virtually no coaching turnover whatsoever last year. This is a historical challenge.
Not unlike how Eagles quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson seems like a prime candidate to replace Steichen, Eagles defensive passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson might be the obvious choice to replace Gannon. Wilson previously interviewed for the Cleveland Browns’ defensive coordinator vacancy earlier this offseason but that job instead went to old friend Jim Schwartz.
Jonathan Gannon says newly promoted Eagles defensive passing game passing coordinator/DBs coach Dennard Wilson is his “right hand man.”— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) July 29, 2022
Wilson probably the favorite to be DC if/when Gannon isn’t back next year.
Nick Sirianni was asked about the Eagles’ success in the secondary and gave a lot of credit to Dennard Wilson. (Strong candidate to be Jonathan Gannon’s replacement IMO.)— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) January 23, 2023
It would behoove the Eagles to not merely automatically promote from within. They mistakenly took that approach after winning Super Bowl LII. The team should really focus on interviewing some quality candidates — both inside and outside of the organization — before making final decisions.
Ultimately, it would not be very surprising to see Johnson and Wilson as Sirianni’s top two coordinators next year. But we’ll see.
(PS: So much for “Philly is keeping me.”)