After getting away from what made the Philadelphia Eagles franchise one of the best when it comes to size and strength in the middle, it’s time for a franchise once known for driving quarterbacks downright crazy to get back to its roots.
Over the last decade, the Philadelphia Eagles have gained a reputation for being one of the most disruptive and feared defenses in the league. Much like teams such as the Indianapolis Colts or the New England Patriots, that have nearly perfected the offensive attack, the Eagles used to exert similar domination on the other side of the ball.
The Eagles are a team known for their exotic blitzing schemes, designed to confuse and disrupt the opposing quarterback’s rhythm. The focal point behind this defense was to not let the quarterback dictate where the defense goes. Instead, however, have it be the other way around, all while making him as uncomfortable and confused as possible.
Former Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson was one of the founders of this philosophy.
Johnson’s belief in stopping quarterbacks stemmed from his days with the Indianapolis Colts, when he witnessed accurate quarterbacks like Steve Young swallow defenses whole with short, quick, and precise passes.
Johnson would later bring his expertise to Philadelphia, where his defenses were a smashing success.
In the seasons from 2000 to 2007, his squads tallied 342 total sacks, tied for first in the NFL. As most know, he has since passed on due to cancer, but with protégé Sean McDermott at the helm, the same rule should apply.
But over the past few years, the Eagles have gotten away from that notion, opting to draft receivers like DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, or running back LeSean McCoy in the earlier rounds. These picks have paid dividends both on the scoreboard and in the highlight reels, but not for quarterbacks waking up with cold sweats in the middle of the night screaming “who’s got that guy!”
It was just one year ago, in the 2010 NFL draft, when it looked like the Eagles would address these concerns. They took two defensive studs in the early rounds, a defensive end and a safety.
As an Eagles fan, you started to get excited; thinking maybe these guys could bring back the same fire and intensity players like Brian Dawkins, Hugh Douglas and Jeremiah Trotter did in the 2000’s. But bad luck struck and struck early, starting with their first round pick, defensive end Brandon Graham out of Michigan.
Graham showed some promise early in the season. He ranked eighth among all rookies for sacks before he tore his ACL in week 14 against the Cowboys, resulting in surgery and a small concern that he might not be the same afterwards.
Their second round selection, South Florida safety Nate Allen, suffered a similar fate. He won Rookie of the Month Award for September after a solid performance against Detroit, but would later tear his patellar tendon, ending his season.
The bug didn’t just strike the rookies either. Linebacker Stewart Bradley, who had been heralded by some as the next Brian Urlacher, suffered a scary concussion in week one and struggled to stay in the lineup for the rest of the season.
Even without the injuries, there were already glaring weaknesses to begin with. They never had a worthy cornerback to play alongside Asante Samuel, and the production at the outside linebacker spot was non-existent.
If the Eagles want to be successful in a league where the quarterbacks are dominating, they have to start with the big guys in the trenches. The Eagles have to get guys who can get off the ball with an explosive first step and get to the quarterback.
As of right now, there are rumors circulating that the Eagles may be switching to a 3-4 defense in 2011. If that is the case, then I would opt for a defensive end/linebacker hybrid-type player who has proven he can thrive as a pass-rusher in that scheme.
As for the man who can be that player, I’d look very closely at linebacker Justin Houston out of Georgia for the Eagles' first round pick. He may be just what they need.
Hopefully in 2011, the defense will be healthier and we can be bring back the days of not so long ago when opposing quarterbacks being planted on grass was the staple of football.