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.