Eagles overreactions: Jonathan Gannon wasn't defense's only problem

Eagles overreactions: Gannon isn't alone in defensive blame originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles finally lost a game on Monday night, a weird and wonky outing that felt off-kilter from the first drive and never really found a rhythm.

It was an ugly showing for a number of reasons, and after eight games that were almost entirely fun Birds fans will have some legitimate question marks and concerns heading into Week 11.

This was a game the Eagles easily could've and should've won, but they didn't, so let's overreact to the first L of the season:

1. Gannon isn't the only reason the defense stunk

Many Eagles fans' first instinct Monday night, as the Commanders ran all over the Birds' defense, seemed clear: blame defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon for a defensive game plan that seemed ill-equipped to get anything done against the Washington offense.

And I'll certainly agree that Gannon, who inexplicably had Darius Slay and Jonathan Gannon giving Commanders wideouts huge cushions and just generally couldn't have looked less prepared, deserves scorn. I don't care for his defensive ethos, and I haven't seen him do much actual coaching that inspires me.

But guess what: there were also players out on the field getting paid millions to make plays, and outside of Josh Sweat's strip sack on the first drive of the game and C.J. Gardner-Johnson's clutch INT there were basically no plays to be found until late in the fourth quarter.

(I'll give the defense a little credit for big stops in big spots in the fourth. That was huge stuff that went unused. But they were the ones who dug the grave.)

For much of the evening it was an absolutely pride-less showing from the defense, a rinse-and-repeat formula that included giving up easy chunks on first and second down, both on the ground and through the air, before conceding a third-and-short conversion. Washington converted 11 of their first 14 third downs, a pathetic performance that has no sufficient excuse.

If this is what happens when you take Jordan Davis out of a defense, either he's the second coming of Aaron Donald and a legit DPOY candidate... or the Eagles have some very real problems that need fixing.

Fletcher Cox looked increasingly invisible Monday night. Haason Reddick lost all the steam from his hot streak. Slay probably had his worst game of the season. It was a failure at all three levels.

And again, I know part of this falls on Gannon. He's the guy in charge of scheming things up, and when he has to figure out a way to plug a Jordan Davis-sized hole is ideally when he'll prove his worth instead of reminding us why he was such a headache last season. The Eagles managed to assuage some of his shortcomings by simply adding a ton of talent in the offseason, but if pieces get hurt along the way the responsibility falls back on the coordinator and Gannon doesn't seem to have anything in the way of answers.

But there's a reason you call players over plays, and there's a reason the coordinator isn't lined up on the field. When things are spiraling, someone needs to step up and impose their will on the game.

The Eagles' next two opponents have two of the best running backs in the NFL and this defense needs to show some dang pride if they want to avoid getting run over again and again.

2. The Eagles' play calling needs recalibration

Miles Sanders, who by all measurements is having the best and most consistent season of his career, had one rush attempt in the first half.

One rush attempt.

The Eagles struggled to hold much possession in the first half, a problem born of an early turnover, a short field, and a swiss cheese defense. But it was also born of the Eagles' seeming refusal to just run the dang ball in the first half.

They entered the game second in rush attempts, sixth in rush yards, and first in rush touchdowns.

So why do Nick Sirianni and Shane Steichen seem so reticent, every single week, to run the ball in the first half?

And why does it come as a surprise to absolutely no one that the offense begins to hum when they remember how good this team is at running?

I get that Jalen Hurts' growth as a passer this season, and A.J. Brown's general existence, makes it very tempting to throw all over the field. I also get that most modern offenses are indeed pass-first.

But the whole reason that Hurts is such a dangerous weapon at quarterback is the fact that he's a dual-threat weapon, and he also drives the running game. Sirianni and Steichen like to generate a bulk of the offense through RPOs which means the Eagles could technically be running it more, but there's nothing wrong a straight run call. Those work, too.

Overall, the offense has a bevy of talent and I like what Steichen and Sirianni have been scheming this season. But the weird aversion to running in the first half is confusing, and needs to change.

3. I like Jalen Hurts throwing into double coverage

There probably aren't many quarterback gurus or offensive coordinators out there teaching young QBs to intentionally throw into double coverage with regularity.

But here's a bit of a hot take: I don't mind that Jalen Hurts decided to throw into double coverage in the second quarter, and I don't mind that the ball was intercepted. In fact, I like it.

Here's the dangerous deep ball he threw in the second quarter, targeting A.J. Brown in double coverage:

At first blush it's an easy pass attempt to dislike. It's first down, the Eagles have the lead, and they get the ball after halftime. There's no real reason to try and score quickly, there's no reason to force something, and the result certainly doesn't help.

But on second glance, the ball was perfectly placed:

It was a gutsy decision from Hurts, but it was an unbelievable throw and it should've worked. Brown just didn't come down with the ball.

Coming off Hurts' ability to squeeze a touchdown into a similarly tight window to Brown against the Steelers, it's no surprise he was willing to try it again - and I like the combination of aggression and confidence. It's the hallmark of a good offense.

Is there a chance that kind of decision eventually comes back to bite him? Yes, but that's football. Sometimes you need to take risks. I trust Hurts to know which throws make sense and which throws don't make sense - and I also trust Brown to win more 50-50 balls than he loses, because those kinds of plays are often won by the better player(s) and Brown is almost always the better player.

Hurts has become a truly dangerous passer this season, and the Eagles are better for it.