Jonathan Gannon rode into town talking about creating an aggressive, attacking defense that creates turnovers. The Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator cited the HITS Principle for guiding his philosophy, refusing to commit to a specific scheme on that side of the ball.
Well, it hasn’t been going great through the first seven games. The Eagles are only averaging 1.0 takeaway per game – down from 1.2 takeaways in 2020 – while surrendering 26.4 points and 360.7 total yards per contest.
One argument for their failures has been that Gannon simply doesn’t have the correct personnel to run the defense he wants to run. But it’s hard to lean on that crutch when the entire coaching staff preached how they would tailor the scheme to the strengths of their players throughout training camp.
Maybe Gannon needs more time to get players acclimated. Or a bigger say in personnel decisions to grab guys fit for his system. Would those two things fix everything?
“No, our deal is figure it out. That’s what we’re paid to do,” Gannon told reporters. “Figure it out. We need to figure it out better than what we’re doing, flat out.”
Everyone wants answers, including All-Pro Fletcher Cox who has openly challenged Gannon. The first-year defensive coordinator attempted to clear the air while addressing Cox’s complaints. No one is immune to criticism and the lines of communication are open.
“He’s got good points. I need to do a better job of that with him,” Gannon said. “The key thing with that is together, player and coach, coach and player, how we do that and how we go about that. He’s had some very good ideas, as our other players have had good ideas, and then it’s up to us as the coaches to get that done and execute those things.”
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Does Gannon Have Say on Personnel?
The highlight – or lowlight, depending on perspective – from the Eagles’ draft war room showed a disagreement on third-rounder Milton Williams. One scout wanted to take a cornerback there, but general manager Howie Roseman wanted the pass rusher from Louisiana Tech. Gannon was on board with the pick and high-fived Roseman that night. According to Gannon, he had ample input in every draft choice and free agent.
“A lot of input,” Gannon said. “Like what we talked about with the free agency and the draft, that’s a collective thing. Those are longer meetings with Howie [Roseman] and the head coach and with all the scouts, the pro scouts, the college scouts. ‘Hey, here’s what we’re looking for. This is how we would like to play.”
Williams has seen his defensive snaps steadily decrease since reaching a career-high 47 in Week 3. He saw 18 snaps against Las Vegas after 13 versus Tampa Bay. The versatile 290-pounder is on the smaller size for a traditional nose tackle. Ditto for Tarron Jackson (254 pounds) at edge rusher. And Ryan Kerrigan (267 pounds) who the team converted to defensive end after many years as a 3-4 backer.
“There are times where they’re probably, no, they’re not ideally suited for that spot,” Gannon said. “But we try to within who’s playing, we try to make it to where we’re putting those guys in position, for the most part, to get into the skill set that they’re most comfortable with. And that’s just like any corner or linebacker or safety.”
Answering Nick Sirianni’s Challenge
When head coach Nick Sirianni complained about a “lack of possessions” on offense, the finger seemed to be pointed straight out Gannon. His defense couldn’t get off the field. Sirianni back-tracked on what he meant by the comment the day after the game.
And Gannon provided even more context on it by adding his unit needs to “challenge” opposing offenses. It starts with creating turnovers, including getting more pressure on the quarterback.
“That came from me,” Gannon said. “I mean, when we got out of the game, I said, ‘The ball didn’t hit the ground. That tells me we’ve got to challenge a little bit more.’”
Sirianni seemed to call out the defensive play-calling with his original assessment.
“It obviously always starts with us as coaches being able to put them in positions to make plays,” Sirianni said, “so we have to call defenses that are going to allow the defenders to challenge more and then our defenders (have) got to challenge more.”