Davis making case for a weak defense

"We've got the talent," said Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis, witha stretching Chip Kelly
"We've got the talent," said Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis, witha stretching Chip Kelly (at Tuesday's practice. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 04, 2013

Little Big Horn was no picnic for Custer, but at least he didn't have to go to the podium afterward and say that while the cavalry might not have looked good in this one, it just needs to tighten up its assignments and gap discipline a little. Just a matter of time before things get turned around.

Gen. Bill Davis had that pleasure earlier this week as he tried to explain what happened on the high plains of Colorado with a full quiver of Peyton Manning's arrows still sticking out of his back. The defensive coordinator didn't like the game much - "we took a whupping" - but remains convinced the Eagles will start playing better defense any time now.

"I've watched that game probably 10 times now . . . the fundamentals, the techniques, the understanding, the players playing with each other, it is moving forward," Davis said. "The results did not show in that game, obviously, so I'm asking you to trust me even though there are not the results."

Davis is a straight-ahead, square-jawed guy, and he is sincere about all that, so there's no point in beating him up about it. Whether he's a good coordinator - his resumé is inconclusive - isn't even the point, because Davis doesn't have a whole lot of talent to coordinate. A defense that is allowing an average of 446 net yards per game and 28.5 points isn't doing so entirely because of technique. It's because the players on the other teams' offenses are better football players than they are.

"We've got the talent," Davis said. "We've just got to get them playing together within the scheme."

Admittedly, there was going to be some adjustment pain for the defense this year. Any unit that has a new coordinator, a new system, and 14 of 26 new players, including five starters, is going to need time to reach its potential. That's understood. But where Davis sees progress upon his 10th viewing of the Denver game (Maybe it'll come out different this time!), the rest of us see the same huge gaps in the line, the same inability to cover receivers underneath the deep umbrella coverage he prefers.

The Eagles are playing to prevent long completions and hoping that the other team can't put together a 10- or 12-play drive. A takeaway or two would help, too. They are playing that way because Davis knows that if his secondary was more aggressive, there would be a whole lot of deep touchdown passes. What he's doing is acceptable, given the personnel, but only if the Eagles can get consistent quick pressure on the quarterback. That's not happening, either.

Not every quarterback will school them as thoroughly as did Peyton Manning, but every quarterback will sit in Manning's classroom when they watch the film of the game. The formula is there and we'll see Sunday if even Peyton's turnover-prone brother can pick up a few tips.

Going against Eli Manning and the Giants looks like an opportunity for Davis and the defense to show some of that progress. Eli has nine interceptions to go with six touchdowns and he's been sacked 14 times in New York's 0-4 start.

Of course, if the Eagles defense sees this as a golden chance to get things going, so does the Giants offense.

The scary part to consider is that maybe the Eagles have reached their defensive potential and that was it on display in Denver. Davis can claim the talent level is there, but that's not really the case.

Of the 26 guys on defense, only eight (and only five starters) were taken in the first or second rounds of the NFL draft. Nearly half of the defense was taken in the fifth round or lower or went undrafted entirely. The defense was constructed this season using seven free agents not re-signed by their previous teams, two guys off the waiver wire, four undrafted free agents, and their own collection of hit-and-miss draft picks.

Maybe the plan is to work slowly and economically toward having a representative defense. The Eagles are $17.2 million under the salary cap at the moment and that's the way they like to operate. They carried over more than $23 million of unused cap space from 2012, which was their only league-leading category.

Theoretically, they are biding their time until the team is ready to contend, and then will unleash their cap flexibility on an unsuspecting world. Either that, or they'll just keep saving money and general manager Howie Roseman will keep finding these fabulous bargains who, unfortunately, aren't very good.

Chip Kelly will eventually notice this problem and, at some point much farther down the line, the field staff and the front-office staff might have some real issues. That will be interesting to monitor, but there's a whole lot of disinteresting defense to watch between then and now.

Bill Davis says it is improving, though, and wants us to trust him on that. If he comes out of Sunday with another backful of arrows, that's going to be a tough sell.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports


www.inquirer.com/

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