A Defensive End Preview

Sheil Kapadia:

Jenkins has been getting some reps at defensive end with Jason Babin out. We didn’t see him outside much last year, although Jenkins played defensive end while in a 3-4 with the Packers.

“I just gotta get back used to it,” he said. “My hand work is a little off, especially on the left side. When I did play D-End in the past, I was used to being on the right side, so when I’m on the left side, I gotta get used to the hands, vertical steps and all that stuff.”

I’m a fan of whatever looks Jim Washburn wants to throw at offenses, but with Trent Cole also out with swelling in his shoulder, now seems like the perfect time to get lots of looks at the quartet of Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Darryl Tapp, and Philip Hunt. You’re not going to be able to keep all four of those guys.

Seeing Cole and Babin both dealing with injuries is also a worthy reminder that they’re not youngsters anymore. They were tremendous pass rushers last year, but a decline could be coming.

UPDATE: Graham is running with the ones, and Jenkins and Tapp are rotating on the other side.

No Excuses

I meant to write about this a couple weeks ago, but it got lost in the shuffle of next week’s big news (teaser). From Dave Spadaro:

"There should be no excuses at all," said Jenkins… "With as many veterans as we have on this team, if there any grey areas, they have to be resolved. It can’t be something that carries over into the season. We have the pieces here.

"It was good to get back out here with the team. It’s good energy out there coming off the season last year. There’s a lot of determination this year. You can just see it in everybody, where it’s a different feel from last year. We weren’t out here this year because of the lockout, but you can just see the difference in everybody.

"I know the second I got here and I heard the phrase ‘Dream Team’ going around, that was just something like, ‘No, no, no.’ Hopefully, we don’t have anything like going around this year," said Jenkins. "We can just work for it and know we have to work for it."

I think last year’s team came into the season with the expectation that they were going to be good. Based on comments by Cullen Jenkins and others, this year’s team seems to know that they better be good, or else. That should be positive.

Furthermore, a veteran like Jenkins really couldn’t have a significant impact, leadership-wise, last season — both because of the lockout and the simple fact that he was new to the locker room. I expect that to change this year.

Post-Draft Position Breakdown: Defensive Tackle

Mike Patterson

What the Eagles did: Around the end of January, I started to get the feeling that, other than linebacker, defensive line made the most sense for the Eagles in the first round. Then, as Derek Landri lingered in free agency longer than we expected and the team held a private workout with Fletcher Cox (in tandem with the Dontari Poe parade), the hints were getting stronger and stronger.

Still, I’m not sure any Eagles fan, even the most optimistic Cox supporter, necessarily expected the Eagles to snag a player who was instantly hailed as a perfect fit in Jim Washburn’s system. There aren’t many defensive tackles with Cox’s combination of size, speed, and production. With any luck Washburn can make him into a dominating force like Albert Haynesworth was. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

As to the rest of the group, let me once again put up the pass rushing stats from last year:

2011 Eagles Defensive Tackles

Unsurprisingly, Trevor Laws was let go. Although he had his moments last year, overall the former second round pick was a major disappointment. I suppose he has the excuse of having played for three different defensive coordinators and three other defensive line coaches during his four year tenure, if you want to throw him that bone.

Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins will be the starters. Both are solid veteran players, even if no one is likely to gameplan specifically for them. Jenkins’s 17 sacks over the least three seasons are near the top for all defensive tackles and while Patterson has generally been more of a run stuffer, you see above that Washburn made him the 17th most effective pass rusher in the league from that spot last year. Again, Cox’s ceiling is much higher, but until he’s ready these two are fine in the middle.

Just like with the defensive ends, the other backup spots at tackle are up in the air. Antonio Dixon probably has the inside track to the nose tackle job. He missed nearly all of last year, but signed a restricted free agent tender at the second round level. Derek Landri will certainly continue to make the most of his talents. He was tremendously productive in 2011, but got little interest in free agency. Then there’s Cedric Thornton, who spent most of last season on the team’s practice squad.

What I would have done: Howie Roseman on a roll. This position looks great.

Way-too-early prediction: Is it too optimistic to predict that Cox will start at least six games? Some combination of injury and ridiculous physical potential seem likely to make that happen. If not, he should at least make an immediate contribution in the rotation. As to the fourth spot, it must be Dixon’s to lose, given his youth and talent. Will be interesting to see if he can (a) show the spark he had in 2010, (b) adjust to Washburn’s scheme, and (c) be consistent — but I bet he’ll get every opportunity to do so. Landri’s probably fighting for the Eagles to keep five tackles as much as any specific other player.

Photo from Getty.

What We Learned from the Fletcher Cox Selection

Fletcher Cox

I can’t remember the last time the Eagles picked somebody in the first round that both draftniks and fans loved. Look at Bleeding Green Nation’s fan poll on the pick: Cox’s approval rating sits at 94 percent. A year ago, Danny Watkins eked out majority approval by a margin of just 21 votes out of about 1,600.

The fact that Cox is popular doesn’t, on it’s own, make the selection a good one. But it fits in so many ways. Let’s break down what we learned last night:

  1. The Eagles have become remarkably clumsy at deploying smokescreens for their first round pick. Was anyone other than a few reactionary mock drafters buying a Dontari Poe selection? The way the Eagles led him on a pointless parade past reporters a few weeks back on raised major red flags. What Reid said last night about Kansas City and Poe confirmed that they never had any real interest.

  2. Scheme matters. On a related note, it is important to keep in mind the scheme prospects look most suited for. There were plenty of DT options in the middle of the first round, but the Eagles made sure to grab the one who fit best with Jm Washburn’s penetrating style.

  3. Despite the trades, the first eight picks played out almost exactly as planned. The elite eight ended up being a game of musical chairs (propelled by more reasonable contracts), but that didn’t matter much to the Eagles. Other than Mark Barron, who reportedly was never a NovaCare target, all the players you expected to go early did. That allowed the Eagles to sit back and wait for either Luke Kuechly or Fletcher Cox to drop. Note: I would wager that had the Panthers taken Cox instead, we would probably be having the same conversations we’re having now, except it would be Kuechly coming to Philly today.

  4. Don’t draft an immediate starter. The Cox selection continues a general trend in which the Eagles rarely draft anyone with the expectation that they will start right away. The defensive line is aging and Cox can step right in a contribute, without having to be a starter until year two, when the writing is on the wall for Cullen Jenkins.

  5. Valuing the second round picks more? Andy Reid talked about having a limit on what they were willing to pay for a trade up. He said they didn’t want to give up a second round pick, as Dallas did, to jump up into the top 10. I wonder if this is actually a change in policy dating back to the disastrous trade up for Jerome McDougle in 2003. Since then, the most the team has paid in a trade was a third round pick to move up for Brandon Graham. That hasn’t been a resounding success either. The fourth and sixth round picks the Eagles gave up this time amounted to an exceedingly reasonable price. (The draft value chart says the difference between pick 12 and pick 15 is properly a late third round selection.)

What to watch for tonight: If the Eagles make all three of their next selections, I would guess they’re looking to come away with a linebacker, defensive end, and some sort of offensive weapon at either wide receiver or tight end. But given their recent history, a trade back to accrue more picks (and starting linebackers) is likely in the cards.

Photo from Getty.

What Derek Landri Tells Us About DT Draft Plans

There’s no denying that Derek Landri was a great surprise find for the Eagles last season. While he looked good in training camp, the team couldn’t find a roster spot for him, but after Antonio Dixon was lost for the year, they got a pass rushing boost picking up Landri after week four.

Here’s a chart I posted before, showing Landri as the top pass rusher per snap among Eagles defensive tackles last year:

2011 Eagles Defensive Tackles

Tommy Lawlor spent some time yesterday talking about his favorite player of all time. He speculated as to why Landri hasn’t re-signed with the Eagles yet:

I imagine the Eagles are offering him a cheap deal and also aren’t guaranteeing any playing time. [Mike Patterson, Cullen Jenkins, and Dixon] are locks to play. The rookie and Ced Thornton should be battling for snaps. And there sits Derek Landri on the outside.

I think Tommy’s observation is astute, and it gives us a window into the Eagles plans regarding the defensive tackle position. Barring injury, Jenkins and Patterson will be the starters, and Dixon’s back-up spot is secure since he signed his second round tender.

The Eagles only kept four defensive tackles last season, and they are likely to do the same in 2012. Knowing that, Landri should be happy to sign on as the fourth guy, right? And the Eagles should be happy to have him, right?

Well, unless the Eagles are thinking about drafting another defensive tackle early in the draft. I’m sure Howie Roseman would like to have Landri back, but he won’t be handing out any kind of guarantee if Landri has no chance (outside of injuries) to make the roster. On the flipside, Landri won’t be eager to re-sign if he knows what’s going on.

At the end of the day, Landri may decide he doesn’t have any better options than to fight an uphill battle in Philly. But the length of time he’s taken to make his decision suggests that neither side is eager to have him back. And that, in turn, points to the imminent arrival of another, more important defensive tackle prospect.

Photo from Getty.

Looking at 2013 and the Eagles Draft Options

Andy Reid Philadelphia Eagles

One if the most common mistakes that fans make is assuming that the Eagles will draft a player because of immediate need. That rarely happens. Most of the time, the team papers over current roster flaws with free agent signings and trades, acquiring DeMeco Ryans being a prime example.

You should never expect even a first round pick to contribute much in their rookie year. If you end up with a quick starter, great. But relying on guys like Danny Watkins right away will disappoint you early and often.

The question of what position is ripe to be drafted early has more to do, in my opinion, with looking a year or two down the road. Where are the aging veterans? Where are the likely holes in the team a year from now? Let’s take a look at the 2013 roster as it looks right now:

QB: Michael Vick, Mike Kafka
RB: Dion Lewis, Stanley Havili
WR: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper
TE: Brent Celek, Clay Harbor
OT: Jason Peters, Todd Herremans
OG/C: Danny Watkins, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, J. Vandervelde, M. Gibson
DE: Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Brandon Graham, Philip Hunt
DT: Mike Patterson, Cullen Jenkins
LB: DeMeco Ryans, Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney, Keenan Clayton, Brian Rolle
CB: Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel, Curtis Marsh
S: Nate Allen, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Kurt Coleman

With the notable exception of LeSean McCoy, every Eagles offensive starter and most of the backups are signed through the next two seasons. That’s great for the team, since the offensive unit has been much more consistently good than the defense over the last few years. There’s no reason to sit on that and not draft anyone, perhaps more OL and WR depth, but there’s no major need at any of these positions.

Defense is a different story entirely; there you are more likely to need guys than not. Defensive end is probably in the best spot going forward, with two Pro Bowl starters and two players with potential already lined up. The rest is a real crap shoot.

There are only two defensive tackles signed through 2013 (although Tommy’s presumably camped out on Derek Landri’s lawn right now). Both Jenkins and Patterson are starters, but they are getting up in age, too. At linebacker there are five players but it’s tough to trust any of them, with the possible exception of Ryans. Cornerback really only has Asomugha and Marsh, with Samuel packing his bags. And safety brings us three youngsters, none of whom have proven they can be above average starters.

With all that said, I think it would be justifiable to draft any defensive position, outside of DE, in the first round. There are a couple more factors to keep your eye on as we get closer to the draft. First, will Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie get a contract extension? I already discussed this at length, but some movement there could allow the Eagles to delay drafting another corner in the first round. Second, what do the Eagles do at outside linebacker? If they obtain another starter there, they could pass on Luke Kuechly and take a flier on a second or third round LB instead.

If the Eagles take action on both of those counts, odds are that the team will be picking among the deep class of defensive tackles with pick #15.

Photo from Getty.

Despite Jenkins' Return, DT is a Top Draft Priority

Les Bowen:

Even though Jenkins is 31 and might not be a long-term starter, his return, along with the return from injury of Antonio Dixon, might mean the Eagles don’t target a defensive tackle with the 15th overall selection in the April entry draft. If they re-sign pending free agent Derek Landri, that will become even less likely.

Disagree. As I briefly mentioned a few weeks ago, the defensive line is in need of young talent. This Cullen Jenkins contract restructuring is nice, but he’s not a long term solution at tackle. Nor is Mike Patterson, Derek Landri, or Trevor Laws. Plus, as Sheil Kapadia noted today, there’s already a robust rotation that would easily integrate a new addition.

All in all, if the Eagles address middle linebacker in free agency and Luke Kuechly remains the only consensus first round 4-3 linebacker, defensive tackle immediately jumps to the front of the line in terms of most likely early pick.

'We Can Just Let Him Walk'

Jason Wilde, for ESPN Milwaukee:

“You look at it now, even though they’re saying that stuff, before the season and throughout the whole offseason, everybody had that attitude that they could just replace me, that I was just another player. ‘We can just let him walk,’” Jenkins said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. “Certain players spoke out publicly about guys they hoped they’d bring back, but back then you didn’t hear anybody say too much about me. So I don’t pay it too much attention.”

The Packers’ loss was the Eagles’ gain. I’ll be surprised if the Eagles choose to cut Jenkins just so they don’t have to pay him the $5 million roster bonus in March.

Is the Wide Nine to Blame for Poor Run Defense?

Since I’m worried that these may be some of the Eagles final days with Jim Washburn as defensive line coach, now is as good a time as any to analyze his impact on the defensive line. A few days ago I showed how Washburn formed an elite pass rush.

Today, let’s look at the run defense.

During the season the Wide Nine technique was often scapegoated for poor run defense. While no one doubted that the Eagles linebackers were awful, many also alleged that Washburn’s scheming put too much pressure on those overmatched LBs.

To that end, it’s worth examining the defensive line to see how much it contributed to the problem, if at all.

Football Outsiders numbers suggest that, if anything, the line was the only thing working correctly against the run. While they place the Eagles squarely in the middle of the league on adjusted line yards, the defensive line was third-best in the NFL at both power success (denying short yardage runs) and stuffed percentage (runs stopped behind the line of scrimmage). The bigger problems appeared in second level and open field yards, which are generally the responsibility of the linebackers and safeties.

But let’s look more specifically, player by player. Pro Football Focus has the numbers there:

Eagles Defensive Ends Run Defense

At defensive end, I don’t see much cause for blaming Washburn. Both Trent Cole and Darryl Tapp improved on their tackle and stop percentages in 2011. Juqua Parker dropped off, but there’s little reason to think that was because of the Wide Nine.

Jason Babin does come out looking pretty bad here. Among defensive ends with at least 25 percent of their team’s run snaps, Babin ranked near the bottom — 51st — in stop rate. Unlike Cole, Babin isn’t a complete player. But if he can continue to put up big sack numbers, it won’t really matter.

Eagles Defensive Tackle Run Defense

The two main holdovers from 2010, Mike Patterson and Trevor Laws, both improved against the run last year. Broderick Bunkley helped Denver reach the second round of the playoffs, but the additions of Derek Landri and Cullen Jenkins more than made up for that loss.

Overall, I just don’t see any merit to the arguments that blame poor run defense in Jim Washburn and the front four. All signs point to the putrid tacklers playing behind them, not the line itself.

An Eagles Pass Rush Worth Keeping

Trent Cole Philadelphia Eagles

With the bottle still spinning in the Eagles presumed search for a new defensive coordinator, the fate of defensive line coach Jim Washburn is up in the air. Will Steve Spagnuolo, the free agent front runner, see working with Washburn, or are the tactical and personality differences too great to overcome?

All I know is, it would be an absolute shame if Spagnuolo or any other new coordinator failed to incorporate Washburn into his scheme. The numbers bear out what an amazing job Washburn did with the Eagles defensive line, turning it into the best pass rushing front four in the whole NFL.

Pro Football Focus has a great statistic on this, Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP). The stat measures the percentage of pass rushes in which players record a sack, hit, or hurry (weighted 75 percent for the latter two).

Here’s what PRP had for the Eagles defensive ends in 2010, with Jason Babin’s year in Tennessee included for reference. “25% Rank” is the player’s standing next to all other pass rushers with at least 25 percent of their team’s defensive snaps.

2010 Eagles Defensive Ends

As you can see, the Eagles defensive line was very effective under Sean McDermott. Darryl Tapp was the worst regular contributor, and he ranked 29th among all defensive ends. Trent Cole led the league in hurries and Brandon Graham showed promise before his knee injury.

But what about 2011:

2011 Eagles Defensive Ends

There were a number of changes. For starters, even without Graham, substitutions were up. Cole was in on over 100 fewer passing plays. Also, the zone coverage attempts by defensive ends that marked 5-10 percent of plays in 2010 were largely eliminated.

The result of these changes and the new Wide Nine technique was an across the board jump in pressure from the ends. Cole moved up to number one in the NFL, Babin improved on his Titans production, and Darryl Tapp — still the laggard — brought up the rear at 10th best in the league. Moreover, even the back ups scored highly in limited snaps.

That is a remarkable improvement. To be complete, let’s also check the defensive tackles’ pass rushing:

2010 Eagles Defensive Tackles

2011 Eagles Defensive Tackles

Broderick Bunkley had the highest PRP among Eagles defensive tackles in 2010. In 2011, the Eagles had three (almost four) who scored higher than Bunkley. That says pretty much everything that needs to be said there.

All the numbers above are interesting, and you can pull out other nuggets in the comments (such as Hunt’s efficiency or Laws’s ineffectiveness), but overall this tells a clear story about the positive impact Jim Washburn has had on this defensive line.

I’m optimistic that a good coordinator can adapt to Washburn’s strengths, but I fear that whoever the Eagles bring in will be too stubborn to do so. Cross your fingers.

Photo from Getty.

'Not an Old Football Team'

LeSean McCoy Jeremy Maclin

On Monday, Andy Reid pushed back against the gloom patrol, reminding everyone that the Eagles window is still wide open:

"People perceive us to be an old football team, but we’re really not an old football team." he said on his radio show. “We’re one of the youngest teams in the [NFL]. That takes time.”

Unfortunately, that’s just not as true as it sounds. The Eagles are young, but the core of the team is actually reaching the end of their prime, with few replacements on the way.

The Eagles have 14 players on the roster who are currently 29 or older. Some of them may still have two or three more years left in them, but there are no guarantees in the NFL. Tell me how comfortable you are losing these guys in the near future:

  • Brown, Ronnie (29)
  • Cole, Trent (29)
  • Herremans, Todd (29)
  • Peters, Jason (29)
  • Asomugha, Nnamdi (30)
  • Hanson, Joselio (30)
  • Jenkins, Cullen (30)
  • Mathis, Evan (30)
  • Samuel, Asante (30)
  • Babin, Jason (31)
  • Dorenbos, Jon (31)
  • Jackson, Jamaal (31)
  • Vick, Michael (31)
  • Parker, Juqua (33)

Let’s see… That’s three starting offensive linemen, including both tackles. Three starting defensive linemen. Three of the top four cornerbacks. Oh, and a $100 million quarterback.

Even scarier, can you pick out any of these players and tell me who his replacement is going to be? The Eagles have no quarterback of the future. With Brandon Graham’s return from injury still an open question, they don’t have a single promising young linemen on the team ready to take over at offensive tackle or defensive end. Do you trust Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback? What about Brandon Hughes or Curtis Marsh?

And it’s not like many other positions are bursting with young talent. With the possible exception of Brian Rolle, not a single linebacker looks like more than a backup. There are three young safeties, but none have them have shown they can play at higher than replacement level. Jason Kelce looks like a keeper, but his fellow rookie Danny Watkins isn’t exactly a spring chicken.

The only place where the Eagles have proven youngsters is at the offensive skill positions. Unfortunately, it’s not clear how long that group will stay together. The DeSean Jackson departure appears imminent and Jeremy Maclin has never proven he can be a top wide receiver. Why the Eagles haven’t already thrown gobs of money at LeSean McCoy is beyond me.

It’s discouraging to glance up and down the Eagles roster. The short term outlook is bleak, with this season likely to go down as the worst in Reid’s tenure. And as to the future… there just isn’t much to look forward to.

Almost two seasons have passed since I wrote about Reid’s third 5-year plan. So far, that plan has failed.

Photo from Getty.

Eagles-Giants Rewind: Observations All Around

DeSean Jackson Eagles Giants

I rewatched the Eagles-Giants game last night. Here are a few more brief observations.

  • Other than the interception, which he lucked into, Jamar Chaney did not have a good game. First of all he’s (become?) a very poor tackler. There were at least three or four completely missed tackles on his part. But his bigger problem is play recognition and reaction. Both Brian Rolle and Akeem Jordan are relatively quick to diagnose and attack run plays. Chaney tends to move slowly in both run and pass defense. The long pass to Victor Cruz on the Giants final drive was his fault.

  • Another player who needs to step up his game is Clay Harbor. He didn’t get beaten as a run blocker, but rather failed to sustain the blocks. His man eventually tackled LeSean McCoy on multiple occasions. Not good enough effort. Also, Vince Young’s first interception came when the ball hit Harbor in the helmet (although pass interference should also have been called).

  • Danny Watkins could also work on sustaining blocks and looking for guys at the next level, but overall he’s holding his own at this point. He’s a legitimate starter. So far Watkins has only improved, and we can hope that continues.

  • I liked referee Mike Carey yelling at the Eagles and Giants players, getting in their faces after an early skirmish. You don’t see that often.

  • One of the things that worked really well was switching Cullen Jenkins out to defensive end. Juqua Parker often slid inside on those plays, and they each got a lot of pressure.

  • Both Parker and Darryl Tapp played really well as the second-string defensive ends. Jim Washburn’s revival of the second defensive line unit (even with street free agents like Derek Landri) might be a more impressive feat than turning Jason Babin into a Pro Bowler.

  • The Giants deployed a 3-4 base or 3-3 nickel look more than a handful of times. I’m not sure it was the best decision, given the state of their linebacker corps and the way the Eagles have played against 3-4 teams thus far in the season.

  • The biggest way the Giants kept McCoy under control was by maintaining containment. He wasn’t able to bounce inside runs outside nearly as often as he had through the first 10 weeks.

  • The Eagles tried Ronnie Brown as a fullback a few times and it predictably failed. They must see Owen Schmitt as a big liability. However, it did help to set up an inside trap run to Brown that converted a 3rd and 3 in the fourth quarter.

  • Not sure the goal on QB sneaks should be to run behind Kelce/Watkins. They both have a tendency to lose leverage and get pushed, if not backwards, at least not forward. If you watch Jason Peters and Evan Mathis on the same play, they start slowly but end up pushing their linemen back two yards or so. Might be time to try that side.

Photo from Getty.

Eagles Front Office Outsmarted Everyone Else

image It’s not easy to explain the free agent binge the Eagles have embarked on over the last week. People have tried, of course, but I can’t help but find most of their explanations lacking.

Donovan McNabb’s resentful commentary, as told to Clark Judge, certainly isn’t right. He whined, “You’re seeing Andy taking that chance. It’s not just taking that chance on one guy. They’re taking a chance on a bunch of guys. And they’re spending money. That’s amazing.”

It’s not as easy as saying that Reid and company have changed up, become more aggressive, more willing to spend, or more risky overall. The Eagles front office has never hesitated to go after the best free agents, signing guys like Jevon Kearse, Jon Runyan, and Asante Samuel. While they’ve been prudent with their money, that’s never been a big restraint. And, considering all but the Nnamdi Asomugha deal can be opted out of after a year, they’ve certainly hedged against risk.

imageI look at the list of free agents additions at right and I don’t see a big shift in philosophy. Some of the guys are older, but they’re top players still in their prime, not fading former stars. And, to reiterate, they haven’t let themselves get too risky with the deals.

Plus, the veteran acquisitions hide the fact that the rest of the Eagles lineup is still very young. A month back I pointed out that the team was poised to have Michael Vick potentially be the oldest Eagle in 2011. That’s unlikely now, but the overall point remains. This team is still young — even after adding a few 30-year-old veterans — and the bounty of 2012 draft picks beckons.

So what has changed? It’s not a willingness to spend or accept risk. It wasn’t aggressiveness that won the free agency period for the Eagles. Nor was it some fateful passing text messages in the night.

It was brains.

Read Jonathan Tamari’s Inquirer story about the Eagles preparation for the end of the lockout and free agency and tell me that the front office’s “blueprint” didn’t run circles around the rest of the league.

Carolina, for example, jumped into free agency like a chicken with its head cut off, throwing huge signing bonuses at every player who threatened to leave. Washington signed so many washed up veteran wide receivers that one backed out of his commitment. The Jets and Cowboys spent days pursuing Asomugha and came up empty.

Meanwhile, during the same window, the Eagles front office signed all their draft picks, picked a bunch of undrafted rookies, traded Kevin Kolb at high market value to the only team who was really interested, signed two Pro Bowl defensive linemen, snatched up the single best free agent with a surprisingly low deal before anyone knew they were even bidding, and then plugged cheap, proven contributors into the remaining holes with cap room to spare.

It makes sense. During the Andy Reid era, the Eagles have always been best at pregame preparation rather than live adjustments. And what was the lockout, ultimately, but an extra long chance to do nothing but plan, prepare, and scheme for the first days back?

Essentially, the Eagles just ran the best first 15 scripted plays they’ve ever called. The outcome of the whole game remains far from decided, but they now have a tremendous head start.

Photo from Getty.

What We Learned: Eagles Hated the 2010 Defense

Nnamdi Asomugha Philadelphia Eagles Free Agency Defense

The Eagles defense in 2010 wasn’t awful.

Let me just throw that out there. Football Outsiders ranked the Eagles D 14th in the NFL. That’s better than the median, if only slightly. Similarly, Cold Hard Football Facts placed the Eagles 9th in Defensive Hog Index and 11th in Defensive Passer Rating. Not bad.

Plus, it’s easy to lay the blame for the problems the Eagles did have on a couple specific spots, starting with Sean McDermott’s overcomplicated and ineffective schemes. When he was fired back in January, it was widely perceived to be the biggest change the Eagles would make. McDermott didn’t work out, he was the problem, etc.

But it wasn’t just McDermott who was let go. Andy Reid, for the first time, purged almost the entire defensive coaching staff. He fired defensive line coach Rory Segrest next. He declined to renew linebackers coach Bill Shuey’s contract. He didn’t push to keep secondary coach Dick Jauron around after just one year.

In promoting two assistant positional coaches, picking up Jim Washburn and Johnnie Lynn, and moving Juan Castillo to lead the operation, Reid couldn’t have made a more drastic coaching change. The focus, the scheme, the technique, the personalities — new faces all around.

During the lockout lull, you would have been forgiven for having thought such a major overhaul (on a scale we’d never seen before) was the end. You might have hoped for a new cornerback in free agency to fix that revolving door of ineptitude, but what else did you expect? The change already happened. McDermott wasn’t solely to blame, but coaching was.

Then free agency rolled around, and suddenly the Eagles front office was executing a similarly radical shift in player personnel. The offense went largely untouched, but the defense was gutted and rebuilt. Bye bye to defensive stalwarts like Quintin Mikell and Stewart Bradley. Replace them with rookies and other unproven youngsters. Grab a new RCB in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Sign a new starting LDE in Jason Babin. Another new cornerback: the esteemed Nnamdi Asomugha. A new starting defensive tackle, Cullen Jenkins. Ship Brodrick Bunkley off. Asante Samuel is probably next. Overall, in addition to a brand new coaching staff, the Eagles will likely have at least six new starters on defense.

It’s clear to me now that Andy Reid and the rest of the front office thought the defense, despite anecdotal and statistical evidence to the contrary, was awful in 2010. You don’t replace almost everything about the defense if you think the unit was above average, unlucky, or close to a rebound. Nor do you take this path if you can lay the blame just on or two aspects. In fact, there isn’t a team in the NFL right now that has so dramatically overhauled their defense - even the ones that, on paper, were significantly worse.

Note that I don’t yet call it an improvement. Making that judgment will take time, as new layers assimilate, younger players step up, and new coaching doctrines sink in. There are still question marks, especially at linebacker and safety. The change was extreme, but it’s not yet complete. Plenty of time to see if the revamped Eagles defense is really what was needed.