In Roob's Observations: The move that doomed the Eagles

In Roob's Observations: The move that doomed the Eagles originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Ten Random Eagles Observations while we wait for minor details like … who will the Eagles’ head coach be in 2024?

1. Changing defensive coordinators after the Cowboys game will go down in history as one of the greatest mistakes in franchise history. Think about this: Going into the Bills game, the Eagles had held four playoff teams to 17 or fewer points – they beat the Bucs 25-11, the Rams 23-14, the Dolphins 31-17 and the Chiefs 21-17. All were top-10 offenses except Tampa. Through Week 11, no other NFL team had won four games holding playoff teams to 17 or fewer points. The defense wasn’t perfect, but there was a lot to like. The Eagles were 12th in the NFL in overall defense, allowing a respectable 21 points per game. The Bills game was a shootout against a very good team, and the defense got the stops they needed late to win. So really the change from Sean Desai to Matt Patricia was the result of the games against the 49ers and Cowboys. And the 49ers game was an awful performance by the defense, but the Eagles did hold the Cowboys without a touchdown in the second half and thanks to the Eagles’ terrible offense the Cowboys needed a bunch of short fields and 59- and 60-yard field goals to get to 33 points. In retrospect, changing coordinators after one disastrous game and one poor game was an astonishing over-reaction. The defense had done some good things throughout the season, but the change made things so much worse in two ways: 1) First of all, just changing from one system and one philosophy and one set of terminology to another in midstream is virtually impossible even if the new coach is a genius. Especially on a defense with so many new guys still trying to learn Desai’s system. As Haason Reddick said after the Arizona loss, “It’s hard. It’s extremely hard.” 2) Compounding the change was just the simple fact that Patricia had no answers. So not only were guys trying to learn a new scheme, they were trying to learn a new scheme that was horribly ineffective. What happens when players who aren't that talented to begin with have two sets of terminology, two philosophies, two approaches to the game floating around their head? We all saw the results against the Seahawks, Giants, Cards and Buccaneers. Guys who didn't know where to go, guys who didn't know their assignments, guys who didn't know what they were doing. Maybe things would have gone south if Desai had stayed in charge, but once the change was made the defense had no chance. And looking back it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone.

2. Jason Kelce had 381 teammates during his Eagles career.

3. James Bradberry isn’t the first veteran cornerback we’ve all seen lose it almost overnight, and he won’t be the last. The difference between an elite cornerback – which Bradberry was last year – and an ineffective one – which Bradberry was this year – is half a step. You lose half a step, you’re done. Bradberry was never a speedy corner, but he was fast enough and that combination of physicality, intelligence and decent speed is what made him a 2nd-team all-pro just last year. The analytics bear out what we all saw: Last year, opposing quarterbacks had a 50.7 passer rating when targeting Bradberry, lowest among 73 cornerbacks with at least 50 targets. QBs were 46-for-98 for 464 yards with two TDs and four INTs when throwing to receivers Bradberry was covering. This year, QBs had a 118.7 passer rating vs. Bradberry – 8th-highest among 75 corners targeted at least 50 times (and it’s hard to believe seven corners were worse). Quarterbacks were 64-for-106 for 826 yards and an astounding 12 touchdowns and one INT when going after Bradberry. Those 12 touchdowns are the most allowed by any cornerback since Stathead began tracking cornerback analytics in 2018. He should have been benched for Kelee Ringo weeks ago.

4. You can make a case that the Eagles’ offensive and defensive coordinator hires are more important than who the head coach is. Why? Look at 2022. The Eagles were the best team in the NFL with Nick Sirianni as head coach, and one of the big reasons they were 14-3 and made it to the Super Bowl was the tremendous work that coordinators Shane Steichen and Jonathan Gannon did. When they were replaced by less effective coaches, you saw the result. Whatever Sirianni’s strengths and weaknesses, he was able to take a team to a Super Bowl with two outstanding coordinators. When they were gone, so was the magic. We saw something similar with Doug Pederson when Frank Reich left after 2017 and was replaced by Mike Groh. A head coach is only as good as his coordinators, and obviously, both sides of the ball took a major hit with new coordinators this year – but the same head coach. The takeaway is that the Eagles can be an elite team with Sirianni as head coach as long as he has the right coordinators. But they can’t be an elite team under any head coach with Matt Patricia and Brian Johnson as the coordinators. (And I still think Johnson has gotten blamed for a lot of things that weren't his fault. He wasn't a terrible offensive coordinator but he was the wrong offensive coordinator.)

5. A year ago Michael Clay was the only coach I wanted to get rid of. Now he’s one of the few I want to keep.

6. I count eight linebackers or defensive backs who started at least one game this year who shouldn’t be anywhere near the NovaCare Complex in 2024: James Bradberry, Nicholas Morrow, Kevin Byard, Zach Cunningham, Justin Evans, Shaq Leonard, Bradley Roby and Mario Goodrich. Those eight guys started a combined 58 games this year and played a combined 4,107 snaps. If you factor in guys who are already gone – Terrell Edmunds, Kentavius Street, Derek Barnett, Justin Evans and Christian Ellis, that’s another nine starts and 798 snaps and now you’re up to 67 starts and 4,905 snaps for defensive players the Eagles have already gotten rid of or cannot bring back. That’s like 300 snaps per game. It wasn’t just the defensive coaching staff. The Eagles had some truly lousy players this year. The whole batch has gotta go.

7. It’s now been 10 years since an Eagles cornerback had more than four interceptions in a season. That was Brandon Boykin, who had six in 2013.

8. Jalen Hurts went from six interceptions to 15 this year, only the third quarterback in NFL history to throw six or fewer INTs one year and 15 or more the next year (minimum 450 pass attempts the first year). Brad Johnson did it in 2002 and 2003, throwing six in 2002 on 451 pass attempts and 21 a year later on 570 attempts. And Jason Campbell of Washington did it in 2008 (six INTs in 506 attempts) and 2009 (15 interceptions in 507 attempts).

9. I feel like as good as D’Andre Swift was this year, he could be so much more in the right offense. It seemed like the offensive coaches either didn’t know how to use Swift or were just unable to craft an offense that really allowed him to flourish the way he’s capable of. He had some big games, but there just wasn’t any creativity in how he was used, and not surprisingly that led to a late-season decline in production. First 11 games – through Buffalo, when the Eagles were 10-1 – he averaged 18 touches per game and was third in the league with 88 scrimmage yards per game. The last six games, he was 30th among RBs with 58 scrimmage yards per game and averaged 14 ½ touches per game. He just wasn’t the same guy. Swift is too talented to drop off like that.

10A. The Eagles had 60 missed tackles in their first 15 games and 31 in their last three games. More than a third of their missed tackles came against the Cards, Giants and Bucs.

10B. Broken down between the two defensive coordinators, the Eagles had 63 missed tackles in 13 games under Sean Desai (4.8 per game) and 38 missed tackles in five games under Matt Patricia (7.6 per game). The Eagles didn’t have anybody among the top 50 in missed tackles

10C. Eagles missed tackle leaders: Reed Blankenship (11), Zach Cunningham (9), James Bradberry (8), Darius Slay (8), Nicholas Morrow (6), Bradley Roby (6), Haason Reddick (5), Kevin Byard (4), Eli Ricks (4), Josh Sweat (4).

10D. On a percentage basis based on attempted tackles, the highest were Derek Barnett (40.0%), Mario Goodrich (28.6%), Kentavius Street (20%), Roby (19.4%), Ricks (16.7%), Patrick Johnson (12.5%), Bradberry (12.3%), Shaquille Leonard (11.5%), Reddick (11.4%), Slay (11.3%), Blankenship (8.9%) and Cunningham (8.7%).

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