Jim Johnson was not a fan of the 3-4 scheme, despite his love of fast (light), athletic (small), defensive linemen.
And with his untimely passing last year, McDermott, as he should have, kept to the traditions of his mentor and friend running the same scheme as Jim Johnson had for so many years.
The results were a mixed bag.
Turnovers were up, but so were points allowed.
Sacks were up, but so were amount of big plays allowed.
After being run over by the hated Dallas Cowboys in successive weeks drastic changes are expected as it's become painfully obvious the defense is not what it once was.
Why not change the defense to a scheme that fits better with the Eagles personnel?
Currently on their roster the Eagles' heaviest defensive end is Victor Abiamiri, tipping the scales at 275 lbs. To put that in some perspective; at last weigh-in Stewart Bradley, the starting middle linebacker was 263.
Sav Rocca? The punter? 265!
The Eagles' best defensive end, Trent Cole (12.5 Sacks) plays under 260.
Omar Gaither (who may or may not be back), Akeem Jordan, Moise Fokou, Will Witherspoon, and Joe Mays are all fast, athletic linebackers under 240 pounds.
Both starting defensive tackles are less than 300 pounds. To be fair Bunkley began the season at 302, but I'd wager he's lost weight during the season, not gained.
When your head coach is heavier than every member of your defensive line, you've got a small lineup. One that has very quietly cost the Eagles some big games.
Of course if McNabb leaves, the primary scapegoat for every Eagles loss will be gone and the media will have to look elsewhere...
How many times do the Eagles have to be pushed out of the playoffs by their run defense before they get the point?
Whether it was Marshall Faulk's 159 yards, Deuce McAllister running wild for 143 yards, or more recently Tashard Choice and Felix Jones combining for 190 yards, run defense has always been the Achilles heel of this defense in the playoffs.
The times when the run defense has been successful?
When the Eagles take a large lead and make the other team pass more, or when the other team has a lousy running game to begin with.
With Jim Johnson and Andy Reid’s penchant for aggressive, attacking defense, it makes sense to switch to a scheme that allows for more deception.
In a 3-4, the blitz can come from a multitude of gaps. Run defense is better with more linebackers on the field, pass coverage is better with more men clogging up the intermediate routes...
The Eagles defense has become predictable. Where they blitz from, when they blitz...it's all been seen before. And the loss of the genius of JJ is not the only reason, although he was incredibly adept at disguising players' weaknesses. Some of it's the talent level of the players on the field. Some of it is players trying to excel at positions they are unfamiliar with or not suited for.
This issue could be resolved by a change in scheme.
More and more teams are moving to the 3-4 because of its versatility, because of the fact it allows you to be more creative with your alignments, because of the complexity of today’s offensive schemes...the list of viable reasons goes on and on.
Still the Eagles would need to do a number of things to make this really work:
1. Sheldon Brown Needs to Move to Free Safety
It's not a demotion in my eyes but an upgrade at a position that currently lacks heart and leadership. Brown brings both. He's the best tackler in the secondary, maybe on the team, he still has solid speed, and he's the most seasoned player in the Eagles system. If Sheldon can buy in, this is a no-brainer.
2. The Eagles Need Another Pure Cover Corner
This can be had in free agency. Despite the dim prospect of an uncapped year putting a limit on the amount of unrestricted free agents, there are still some options here.
3. Stewart Bradley and Chris Gocong Need New Roles
The Chris Gocong experiment at the SAM was a failure. Stewart Bradley at the MLB was average at best despite the hype. Making Gocong a 3-4 rush end (a position that lends itself better to Gocong's skills) and moving Bradley to back to the outside linebacker spot (his position in college and the more natural fit) gives you a strong combination on the strong side.
This will also help the development of players like Abiamiri and Clemons since they can focus on what they do best: rush the QB.
4. Find a Good NT
The lynchpin of the 3-4 scheme may be the hardest position to fill for the Eagles, since they have two very good defensive tackles in Patterson and Bunkley already.
These two, however, are more suited to a 4-3 defense, it's possible they could make the adjustment, but not likely. Realistically they could part with one (Patterson would be my choice, just based on Bunkley's age) and acquire a clogger for the middle. Bunkley has enough raw strength to rotate in if he can accept the reduced role.
5. Get DeMeco Ryans!!
You need an intelligent, aggressive player in the middle of the 3-4 who can play fast and has good instincts. Since Bradley moves to the outside the logical choice here is Ryans.
The philosophy of "bend, but don't break" has become unrecognizable with the current lineup. In fact, in recent years it's been more break and then hope your offense bails you out.
Which hasn't worked very well recently...
Time for a change.