Next Eagles head coach: Which side of the ball?

RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER After 14 years of Andy Reid, a head coach with an offensive pedigree, Eagles fans might prefer that his successor come from the other side of the ball.
RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER After 14 years of Andy Reid, a head coach with an offensive pedigree, Eagles fans might prefer that his successor come from the other side of the ball.
Posted: November 27, 2012

WITH THE Eagles at 3-7 heading into Monday night's game against Carolina, the Sixers deep-sixed by the indefinite loss of their franchise big man, and the Flyers' season nonexistent, the closest thing we have to a pro sport these days is the discussion about who the next Eagles head coach should be.

Should he be an up-and-comer or a retread?

Should he come from college or the pros?

And the one that gets the most play: Should he be from the defensive side of the ball or the offensive side?

The consensus opinion seems to be that the next Eagles coach should be a defensive guru. This is not surprising, given what we have watched over the last three seasons. The constant themes of day-after postmortems have been sloppy tackling, big plays, missed assignments and a lack of turnovers created.

There is also that gut feeling that an intimidating defensive team is more likely to win a Super Bowl than a high-octane offensive team, even if the statistical research does not bolster that axiom.

Of the 46 Super Bowls played, a team with a top-10 defense has won 38 times. But the same number of top-10 offensive teams have won it, too. The good folks at Freakometrics, among other places, have further pointed out that a team with a top-10 offense has won the big prize about the same amount of time as one with a top-10 defense has, and when one goes up against the other, the results are pretty much even, too.

Of the 46 Super Bowls played, the better defensive team has won 30 times and the better offensive team 25 times. (The total is higher than the number of Super Bowls played because some teams entered the game with a statistical advantage in both.)

But this is Philadelphia, and the stands each week are filled with people who have spent way too much of their disposable income to attend these games. The devotion to this team was not born out of love for the 60-yard touchdown throw, but rather the intimidating Sundays of Bednarik, Bergey, White and Brown.

Maybe it's a stretch to say that most would prefer a 14-10 victory in the mud or snow to a 42-37 affair in 70-degree weather. But probably not. There's a reason Buddy Ryan is still revered around here while many are fervently counting down the final seconds of the Andy Reid era.

I also believe NFL statistics on the whole are the most misleading of all the major sports and the easiest to manipulate. Throughout the preseason, Juan Castillo became defensive when it was suggested his defense was a disaster last season. We finished in the top 10, he would say. And thanks to that late run against other struggling teams, he was right.

The flip side of this is the Super Bowl champions themselves, the New York Giants. The Giants finished last season with the 27th-ranked defense and New England the 31st, and both finished among the top 10 in offense. But those statistics do not account for improving or diminishing health on either side of the ball as the season wore on, which factored into both the Giants' late-season run, the Patriots' offensive vulnerability, and the game's outcome. The Giants' defense gained health down the stretch, and played the postseason as the top-tiered defense it was expected to be. The result was a 21-17 game dominated by big defensive plays and decided in the last minute.

I also believe that a good defense creates good offense in a way that good offense does not create good defense. In fact, it may work opposite. One of the flaws of Reid's big-play system, in my view, is that when it really works well, the Eagles strike so quickly that the defense's time off the field is not proportionate to its success. I believe that time of possession is continually underestimated by even football's highest scholars because they often measure only that day's impact as compared to the long-range impact - i.e., wear and tear and injuries. If you believe the risk of injury increases with fatigue, then it seems to make sense that injuries are more likely to accumulate for a defense that plays more minutes than one that plays less.

So should the next guy in here be Buddy II? Not necessarily. Brian Billick was an offensive coordinator before he became the Ravens' head coach, but he won a Super Bowl with a nasty defense and very little offense. Jon Gruden was a creative offensive mind while here, but the Tampa Bay team that stunned Eagles fans in the 2002 season's NFC Championship Game did it with the defense Tony Dungy left behind.

I'd like to see a guy in here like that, who can adjust to his personnel. Someone who will start by fixing a defense that reminds no one of Bednarik, Bergey, White and Brown.

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