The Philadelphia Eagles honored the late Jim Johnson, their longtime defensive coordinator, at halftime of Sunday night's victory over the Cowboys. But the way the Eagles play defense now is dramatically different from the way they played it under Johnson and the last two years for his successor, Sean McDermott. Jeff McLane writes of the conscious decision by Andy Reid and his defensive staff to move away from the blitz-heavy defenses of Eagles past and into a mode where their front four is responsible for pressuring quarterbacks:
All 22 of the Eagles' sacks this season -- they are fourth in the NFL in sacks per pass play -- have come from defensive linemen. Jason Babin has nine, Cullen Jenkins five, Trent Cole four, Darryl Tapp two, Trevor Laws one, and Mike Patterson one.
This was by design.
After firing McDermott in January, the first coaching move Andy Reid made was to lure defensive line coach Jim Washburn away from Tennessee. Washburn had said before that if a team has to blitz more than necessary, then its front four isn't doing its job.
A few weeks after Washburn was hired, Castillo was named coordinator. At an introductory news conference in February, it became clear that Castillo would adopt a more conservative approach than his predecessors.
Simplification was the buzz word.
"If you blitz all the time," Washburn said then, "you'll get killed."
There was a lot of talk in the Eagles' locker room late Sunday night about how they all expected it to take time for all of the new players and all of the new coaches to get together on the same page in the new defensive system. There was a lot of change in the offseason and a lot asked of a lot of people in a short period of time. But in Sunday night's game, everything the Eagles wanted to do on defense (and on offense, for that matter) seemed to work. One of the keys has been the ability of the coaching staff to get the players to continue buying into the new ideas even when they weren't working and the team was losing four games in a row.
The Eagles beefed up on the defensive line in the offseason because, if you're going to rely on your front four to create pressure, you need to have a great front four. The talent and depth they acquired with guys like Jenkins and Babin allow them to put Washburn's theories into practice. You may still see the Eagles blitz every now and then, but when they do it's going to be to throw a changeup. It's no longer the basis of their defensive philosophy. This would seem a far more efficient way of doing things. Time will tell if the Eagles can make it an effective one long-term.