When the Philadelphia Eagles decided to make their “all in” statement this offseason through free agency they had one thing in mind: field a championship caliber defense.
Last season, the Eagles defense gave up a franchise record 31 touchdowns through the air. On the other side of the ball, their offense set the franchise record for the third year in a row by tallying a total of 439 points.
Philadelphia is a city that loves its no-mercy defenses. The Eagles may not have always had all the offensive firepower they do now, but they have always fielded a gritty, mean-stricken defense.
In the early 1990’s, the Philadelphia Eagles had one of the most feared defenses in the NFL. That unit affectionately (in Philadelphia at least) received the nickname “Gang Green” due to the great amount of talent it possessed. In 1991, the unit finished ranked first in yards allowed and fifth in points allowed.
“Gang Green” had such names on their roster that included Clyde Simmons, Jerome Brown, Reggie White, Mike Pitts, Byron Evans, Eric Allen, Seth Joyner, and Andre Waters. This was a defensive unit that was stacked on the defensive line and contained play makers in the secondary.
Fast-forward to the early 2000's and the Philadelphia Eagles once again put out a stellar defense that remained the backbone of that team for roughly four to five solid seasons. Similar to the defensive units of the 1990’s, this unit contained play makers in the secondary as well as a defensive line that gave quarterbacks nightmares.
Brian Dawkins, Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Hugh Douglas, Jeremiah Trotter, and Corey Simon all donned the wings on their helmet and wore midnight green during this period.
Unlike the “Gang Green” unit, the Philadelphia Eagles defenses of the early 2000's made deep runs in the playoffs as they led the Eagles to four consecutive NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl appearance.
Once again fast-forward to the current Philadelphia Eagles team. A team that has all the offensive pieces in place — barring a couple of offensive linemen — to put big point totals on the scoreboard and allow the defense to play with a lead.
The Eagles front office essentially improved a defense scattered with youthful inexperience overnight by adding talent and veteran experience to balance out the youthfulness on the field. The Eagles added to their defensive line by signing Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, and Anthony Hargrove during the offseason, which helps bulk up a toothless defensive line that could not get to the passer without blitz support.
Head coach Andy Reid and company also needed to invest heavily in a secondary that desperately needed a face-lift after last season’s debacle. The Eagles traded for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, stealthily signed Nnamdi Asomugha, and brought in veteran experience over the top with the signing of safety Jarrad Page.
This unit showcases a lot of resemblance — on paper — to the defensive units of the early 1990's and 2000's.
There remains two ingredients from both of those defensive units that this current team must still find: a leader on and off the field.
In the 1990's, the Eagles defense had Buddy Ryan as their head coach and Reggie White at defensive end showing their team how to carry themselves.
Coach Ryan shot straight from the hip with no remorse or consideration for what people around the league may have thought about his statements.
Reggie White, aka "The Minister of Defense,” led by example. He may have been a saint off the field, but on the field White sent quarterbacks to their knees praying for mercy.
The best way to summarize both of their influence on the team’s attitude is the infamous “body bag” game.
In the 2000's, the Eagles defense had defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and safety Brian Dawkins. Johnson led the team with his no excuses attitude and aggressive play calling. Dawkins left his heart out on the field every week after he transformed from the somber off-field persona to his “weapon X” alternate ego.
The current Philadelphia Eagles unit has yet to find their on-the-field leader, but I believe their off-the-field leader has come to fruition. Listen to the man talk about defense and how he wants his unit to carry themselves out on the field.
Current defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has a passion about him that seeps out from all his pours when you see him talk about his players.
Castillo made a powerful proclamation yesterday in his press conference on whether his unit’s weak spot will be ready for the season.
“The linebackers will be ready to win the Super Bowl.”
Castillo has relentlessly supported his troops throughout all of training camp despite the doubts and criticism by the media. His proclamation may be filled with an excess of bravado, but the players now know who their fearless leader is off the field: Juan Castillo.
Now we must wait and see who makes the step up to that same role on the field as this team “obsesses” about one goal: winning a Super Bowl.