Eagles intend on using 'dime' package more on defense

Posted: September 04, 2014

DeMECO RYANS played 1,189 snaps last season, which was the most by any Eagles defensive player, and also the most of any linebacker in the NFL.

If you're expecting him to complain about being overworked, if you're expecting him to request some relief, fuhgeddaboudit.

Ryans wears those 1,189 snaps like a badge of honor; they are a testament to his relentlessness and warrior mentality. He'd rather play 200 more snaps this season than one fewer.

Which is why he got this sour look on his face yesterday after practice when I asked him for his feelings on the six-defensive-back "dime" package that the Eagles will use this season against certain multiple-receiver personnel looks.

"We'll see," the 30-year-old inside linebacker said. "Coach [Bill] Davis and his staff will prepare us for whatever we have to do to line up against these offenses. We'll line up and attack them however we see fit."

As most of you already know too well, the Eagles' defense had great difficulty getting off the field on third down last season. They finished 24th in overall third-down efficiency, allowing opponents to convert 40.3 percent of their third-down opportunities. The Patriots were the only 2013 playoff team that was more inept on third down (42.2).

Even more disconcerting, opponents converted 35.7 percent of their third downs of 5 yards or more against the Eagles. Only four teams were more feeble - Dallas (36.2), Atlanta (36.9), Cleveland (37.2) and Oakland (39.1). Only one of those teams won more than four games (the 8-8 Cowboys).

Because of their lack of depth in the secondary, the Eagles played dime only a handful of times last season. When teams would trot out four wide receivers or three wide receivers and a pass-catching tight end, the Eagles' only viable option was to counter with five DBs - their four starters and nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin - and keep both of their inside linebackers - Ryans and Mychal Kendricks - on the field.

Kendricks is a three-down linebacker with Pro Bowl potential. But Ryans, particularly at this stage of his career, is not a guy you really want on the field anymore in obvious passing situations against three- and four-wide receiver sets. I'm sure he doesn't like hearing that, but it's the truth.

The offseason arrivals of safety Malcolm Jenkins and 6-1, 205-pound cornerback Nolan Carroll have dramatically improved the Eagles' ability to defend the pass and given them some personnel flexibility. In the case of Carroll, it has afforded Davis the ability to send out six defensive backs against teams that swarm the field with receivers.

"Last year, when teams came out in some multiple-receiver looks, we could've done some dime, but didn't really have the personnel," cornerback Bradley Fletcher said. "Now, we have the personnel where we can line up and put four corners out there on the field and make some plays.

"When we can match up like that, that's going to put our team in a good situation. We're going to be able to get off the field on third down."

Said safety Nate Allen: "Being able to play dime a lot more is going to help us a lot when we go up against those teams that do throw a lot of receivers at us and throw a lot of different packages at us. We have something to combat that now."

Both Davis and head coach Chip Kelly measure their words carefully when they talk about using six-DB packages this season, because they don't want to give anything away to the teams they're going to face, but also because they don't want to make it sound as if they are in any way eager to reduce Ryans' snaps. He is the team's highly respected defensive leader.

"It's really another tool that the coaching staff has to defend multiple-receiver personnel groups," Davis said. "If you have a tight end who's always releasing, you can go to that package.

"A lot of teams have a tight end that is still intact [next to the tackle] and still can run the ball. So you move in and out of nickel and dime. You see who they are, who you are, what your matchups are like.

"But it's great to have that other tool in place to activate and help us get off the field on third down."

Only time will tell how much the Eagles will use their dime package, but it certainly will be a lot more than last season, when playing dime meant putting Roc Carmichael or Curtis Marsh on the field.

Carroll, who started 22 games the last two seasons for the Dolphins, will replace Ryans as the second dime linebacker. He is fast enough to cover wide receivers, big enough to cover tight ends and solid in run support.

"When teams go to three wide receivers and a Jimmy Graham-type tight end or four wide receivers, they'll be able to get DeMeco off the field and rest him a little bit," said NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, who did the Eagles' preseason broadcasts.

"I think that's going to help them. I think they'll be better in coverage. If they take on a really good tight end, they can bracket him with Carroll and Jenkins. The hope is that it frees up Kendricks, so that, if a back stays in to block, then he's free to go and blitz. Or free to use his speed to clean up inside. It's going to give them a lot of flexibility inside."

Carroll had hoped to compete for one of the starting corner spots, but was hurt a good portion of training camp with a groin injury. His main role will be in the dime package and on special teams, including returning kickoffs.

He is looking forward to playing in dime.

"It's different," he said. "It's exciting and new. I've embraced it, because it's another way for me to get on the field. I'm looking forward to it.

"When you start showing those exotic looks, it messes up the offense. It's an extra person they have to be aware of and set their protection to. It's not a linebacker. It's not a safety. You've got a corner there. But you don't know, is he going to cover? Is he going to blitz?

"You've got a lot of possibilities, and you can disguise certain things. You can free up certain people from the responsibilities they might have in a different package. So then they have to be aware, well, he did this in nickel, what's he doing in dime? What's he doing in regular? Those are the things that you have to be aware of from an offensive perspective when you're looking at the package we present to an offense."

If all goes well, third-and-long won't be a crapshoot for the Eagles this season.

"Anytime you can put more DBs out there on third down, it means you can play tighter coverage, and hopefully, that'll lead to getting off the field more on third down," Allen said.

Email: pdomo@aol.com

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