Eagles Head Coaching Answer Can Be Found in the Arizona Desert

Vince QuinnCorrespondent IDecember 22, 2012

FLAGSTAFF, AZ - AUGUST 04:  Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton of the Arizona Cardinals watches practice during the team training camp at Northern Arizona University on August 4, 2011 in Flagstaff, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With Andy Reid likely less than two weeks away from being fired, it's time to look ahead to some future candidates for the Philadelphia Eagles' head coaching job. So far Pete Carmichael, Jr.Jay GrudenRick Dennison and Vic Fangio have gone under the microscope.

This week we keep the search focused on the NFC and another aggressive coordinator.


Ray Horton—defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals

On offense the Cards are a despicable bunch. Overall, the offense is the worst in the league this year (fourth worst last season) and has managed to hold down future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald to 674 yards and four TDs on the season. It's miserable in the desert, which certainly helps boost the already impressive resume of Horton.

After a ten-year career as a defensive back (six years in Cincinnati), Ray Horton entered the coaching ranks in 1994 as a defensive assistant and then defensive backs coach for the Washington Redskins. He also coached defensive backs for the Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions before moving on to coach a familiar enemy: the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Under the guidance of long-time defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, Horton helped construct an annual defensive juggernaut. Horton developed defensive backs such as Ike Taylor and 2010 Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu.  After that 2010 season, Arizona swooped in and handed Horton the job as defensive coordinator.

Let's take a look at the numbers from his two campaigns so far:

Year Pts/G Yds/G 3rd Pct Opp Comp. % FF Sacks Safeties Int
2012.0 21.6 335.8 34.0 54.5 14.0 36.0 1.0 22.0
2011.0 21.8 355.1 31.0 58.8 18.0 42.0 3.0 23.0
Average 21.7 345.5 32.5 56.7 16.0 39.0 2.0 22.5


As you can see, Horton's defense has done a great job of generating pressure the last two seasons. This season, the Cardinals have allowed a third-down conversion rate of 32.5 percent and fewer than 22 points a game. After finishing 11th in the league in completion percentage against in 2011, the Cardinals defense ranks third in that category this year. So Arizona may be in the NFL gutter, but it certainly isn't because of the D.

Just as Vic Fangio is a hearkening back to the Buddy Ryan era, Horton's approach is reminiscent of that of former Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, in that relies on a blitz-heavy 3-4 scheme to generate pressure. So, while this hiring would demand a bit of a transition period, Horton is the perfect fit for remaking  the Eagles secondary and bringing back some swagger.

One of the reasons that secondary players benefit from Horton's system has to do with the concept of using defensive backs to rush the passer. Just think of Kerry Rhodes. Remember that huge play he made during the Battle of the Birds in September?

It was 3rd-and-1 at the Arizona 1-yard line near the end of the first half, Philadelphia QB Michael Vick dropped back and fumbled due to a hit by Rhodes, which then turned into a 93-yard game-changing touchdown. Plays such as this have him listed as the fourth best safety in the league this season, according to ProFootballFocus.

Signing Horton would also help determine the fates of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha. DRC will be a free agent this spring, and Asomugha could either take a pay cut or be released by the franchise.

Regardless of the personnel that might be available to him, Horton specializes in aggressive secondary play and has the potential to give the Eagles everything they wanted from Todd Bowles.

So for the next few weeks keep an eye on Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton, he might just be the new head honcho.