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Eagles Film Room: Previewing the 2023 defense

NFL: AUG 24 Preseason - Colts at Eagles Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every year, I sit down with a friend of mine Ryan Sasaki (behind one of the best Eagles X’s and O’s websites ever - the Chip Wagon) and we just talk about the Eagles. I like to see this chat as the start of the new season. As part of the conversation, I ask Ryan a few schematic questions based on what I currently thinking about the Eagles and we discuss these questions. If you are interested in the X’s and O’s or current schematic trends, you would love the conversation we had. With that in mind, I thought I would write up the discussion that we had and add a few video clips to make it easier to understand,

These are the kind of questions that I hoped the Eagles coaching staff asked themselves this off-season, and they are things I will be looking out for and tracking this year.

In case you missed it, the offense version is available by clicking here.

1. What are your thoughts on Sean Desai replacing Jonathan Gannon?

Ryan: I am just happy to see something different. They both have that Vic Fangio influence so there will be similar concepts and a focus on zone match, but I just want them to mix it up a bit more and they can’t just rely on the front four winning their matchups to win a football game. I’ve been particularly impressed with the safeties in preseason which tells me they are being coached well. I think the Eagles’ defense won’t be as good as they were last year because it’s pretty much impossible to get 70 sacks again, but that doesn’t mean the coordinator won't be better.

My take: I think the aggressiveness and ability to mix it up, especially on late downs, is something we have seen a lot more of in preseason. I also think if you look at the cornerbacks the Eagles have targeted this off-season, that it suggests a much more press-heavy scheme on the outside. Whilst I expect a lot of similarity in terms of the schematics and the play calls, I think the willingness to be aggressive and force an error should be the biggest change.

2. What are your thoughts on Jordan Davis? And what does this team do if he’s a problem?

Ryan: I’m a skeptic. However, I’m just not used to someone like Davis, and neither are most Eagles fans. I don’t think we need him to rush the quarterback to be successful, and he’s probably not going to be out there on 3rd down so that isn’t too important. Jordan Davis is responsible for stopping constant 10-yard rushes and allowing the Eagles' defense to make sure they can play light boxes on early downs. If he is not good, we will have to go to more 4-down even fronts, which will likely mean teams have more success running on early downs. Before we count him out though, we have to remember that the interior defensive line is a very difficult position to play as a rookie and he was hurt last year, so he should take a step forward.

My take: As many of you know, I am concerned about Davis as he got moved way too much last year and plays too high. I’ve got the point where I don’t care this year about rushing the quarterback, I just want to see solid run defense and the ability to anchor against double teams. I wrote about Jordan Davis here, if you want more thoughts. I do have to keep reminding myself though, that Davis was a much better player before he was hurt last year.

3. What will the rookies bring to the defense?

Ryan: I am incredibly excited to see the Eagles rookies. We know Jalen Carter will play 3-tech or 4i-tech and will have some splash plays against the run and the pass. He can’t replace Hargrave as a rookie but he will help to replace that type of player. The Eagles haven’t given away much in preseason about how Nolan Smith will be used, but I’m excited to see him in some different roles.

My take: I’m so optimistic about the impact Jalen Carter will have on this defense. I am less sure about Nolan Smith, but I want to see him in a variety of different roles. I went into a lot of detail here on Nolan Smith.

4. What did you see around the league last year in terms of defensive changes?

Ryan: It’s very cliche, but in the NFL it’s always a cycle. In recent years we have seen defenses play more light boxes and zone running games struggle (just look at Sean McVay’s offense last year). So now we are seeing a lot of 5-man odd fronts where offensive linemen can’t get double teams at the point of attack, which makes it hard to run inside and outside zone.

Example: Look at the lack of double teams on this play:

This means teams are now running a lot more gap scheme runs and defenses are going to have to adapt to stop power/counter runs which are going to become more frequent because you don’t need the double teams at the line of scrimmage that you need with zone runs.

My take: I couldn’t agree with Ryan more here, and if you want to learn a lot more about run schemes then I wrote a whole series about the Eagles run game recently. If you want to see the difference between zone and gap, read the ones on inside zone and counter.

I hope you enjoyed the discussion and if you have thoughts on any of the questions above, let me know in the comments!

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