‘It's extremely hard:' The challenge of changing defenses in midstream

‘It's extremely hard:' The challenge of changing defenses in midstream originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles’ defense has been so bad the last few weeks it almost looks like guys are out there trying to play a defense they don’t know.

And maybe that’s because they don’t.

Changing defensive coordinators in midstream seemed like a good idea at the time. The Eagles had allowed 109 points vs. the Bills, 49ers and Cowboys – the 7th-most points they’d allowed in a three-game span in the last 50 years. Out went Sean Desai and in came Matt Patricia.

Since then? The defensive collapse has continued, and if anything it’s gotten worse.

And on Thursday, a day after he was named to his second straight Pro Bowl team, Haason Reddick spoke about the challenge of changing defensive coordinators in the middle of a season.

“It's hard, man,” he said. “It's a hard thing to do. But it's our job. So there's no complaints about it. But, yeah, it's definitely a hard thing. You spend so much time with one DC – and a new DC at that. At the beginning of the year and trying to learn everything that he wants us to do, his terminology, the way that he calls things.

“And then, toward the end of the season, we switch. But it must get done, that's what the higher-ups here felt was needed to get done in order to try to make a change and get some things corrected so as players we’ve got to go out there and do our best to perform.”

But things have only gotten worse under Patricia.

In 13 games under Desai, the Eagles allowed 24.7 points per game. In three games under Patricia, they’ve allowed 26.7 points per game and blown halftime leads of 17, 9 and 15 points.

And if it looks like guys are running around without understanding their assignment, without knowing where they’re supposed to be, without good communication with their teammates, maybe some of that comes with changing schemes and play callers in Week 15.

“I think a lot of it,” Reddick said. “They’ve got a different style (and) different way they want things done and that's pretty much what it is. …

“We changed DCs not too long ago. We've been implementing some things, getting more of what Patricia wants in the defenses, the things that he wants done, and, you know, we're trying our best to hurry up, get everybody caught up to full speed, understanding what he wants and like I said, going out there and trying to execute.

“Patricia's in there now. He has a certain way that he would like the things to be done and we're doing our best to adapt to that in this time period that we have and trying to get everybody on the same page moving forward. That way we can be great in the playoffs.”

The odd thing about all this is that the defense has gotten off to fast starts in each of the last three games, limiting the Seahawks, Giants and Cards to a total of 12 points – and no touchdowns – before halftime.

But the second halves have been a catastrophe. The Eagles have allowed 68 points after halftime in three games under Patricia, the 3rd-most 2nd-half points they’ve allowed in a three-game span since 1952.

And Reddick is convinced the breakdowns are related not so much to Patricia’s scheme and philosophy, but just the fact that a team with a bunch of young players and new players has had to learn a new scheme and get used to a new play caller in midstream.

“I'm not going to say or act like it's not a hard thing to do,” he said. “It is hard. It's extremely hard. You know, just going from one set of terminology to another set of terminology is hard in itself. But you know, this is our job and it's required of us and no matter what it's up to us to try to get it done.”

The Eagles finish the regular season Sunday against the Giants at the Meadowlands before opening up postseason play, most likely on the road. If the Cowboys lose in Washington and the Eagles beat the Giants, they’ll be home wild card weekend with the No. 2 seed no matter what the Lions do, thanks to a strength-of-victory edge over Detroit.

And as bad as things have been for this defense, Reddick is convinced it can change.

Darius Slay and Zach Cunningham will be back most likely Sunday but certainly for the playoffs, the rookies will be a little more experienced and the whole group will be another week familiar with Patricia’s way of doing things.

“Everything is able to be turned around,” he said. “It’s the willingness, the want-to, putting time on task, diving into your craft and really focusing and honing in, so that’s what we have to do.

“We’ve got two more definite games, we play this next one against the Giants, we got playoffs after that, and hopefully everybody understands the importance of postseason football and just dive into football for these next couple weeks or how long our journey continues.”