An Early Hint on Eagles' First-Round Philosophy? – Sports Illustrated
It became a bit of a go-to for Jonathan Gannon in his first season as the Eagles defensive coordinator: "Rush and cover, cover and rush," the young defensive mentor would often say when discussing the marriage of the pass rush and the secondary. Gannon will be back for Year 2 in Philadelphia after a bit of overachieving propelled him into becoming a finalist for head-coaching jobs in Denver and Houston and the No. 1 goal of the Eagles' organization when it comes to planning for 2022 should be an offshoot of Gannon's oft-recited philosophy. Like the marriage of rush and coverage, the Eagles' personnel department has to be on the same wavelength with Gannon and the coaching staff. Meanwhile, when it comes to the biggest issues from 2021, the one that stands out most is Philadelphia's inability to stop top-tier quarterbacks. To be fair, everyone is going to have more trouble with Tom Brady than Jake Fromm so some of the Eagles' defensive deficiencies can be boiled down to common sense but it's also not out of line to point to star signal-callers completing more than 80% of their passes five times, and in the case of Las Vegas' Derek Carr, over 90%, is unacceptable, something Gannon himself has admitted. As far as the pass rush, the Eagles had a bit of a strange season in that they were near the top of the league in advanced statistics like pressure percentage and pass-rush win rate but near the bottom when it came to actual sacks, perhaps an anomaly best identified by two realities: Gannon's insistence of more pass-rushing discipline when compared against Jim Schwartz's pin-your-ears-back approach along with the sentiment that finishing on the pass rush is a trait. MORE:Free Agent Shopping List Should Include Veteran WR and … To the latter point, some of Philadelphia's defensive linemen aren't going to be mistaken for the home-run hitters who consistently put up double-digit sacks. As far as the coverage aspect, Gannon actually offered a ton of autonomy to his veteran cornerbacks Darius Slay and Steve Nelson when it came to cushion and perhaps that's an aspect of the scheme that needs to be tightened up by a young coordinator still evolving. After all, a CB getting a feel for the receiver he is lined up against isn't taking into account the planned pass rush on a particular play and that could have contributed to the oppositions' high completion percentages. The Eagles have a unique opportunity to clean up both areas in April as they begin the draft process with three first-round picks in the teens (Nos. 15, 16, and 19) and while everything is dependent on how the board falls most around the league realize that edge rusher and defensive back will be atop the list of Philadelphia's priorities. At edge rusher, the Eagles are likely going to lose Derek Barnett in free agency and Brandon Graham will be 34 and returning from a torn Achilles' while three players from the 2021 starting secondary are set to be free agents: Nelson and veteran safeties Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris. "I think I was very fortunate to start my career working with a Hall of Fame coach, and he always talked about the fact that we have to be extensions of the coaching staff," general manager Howie Roseman told SI.com's Eagle Maven back in January. "If there is not a fit, if there is not a vision, if we're drafting players who don't fit the particular schemes of our coaching staffs, these players are not going to develop into the players that we want them to be." Like every NFL team, Philadelphia is still in the due diligence phase of the draft process but the unique chance to make immediate strides with three first-round assets creates some sense of urgency. If Roseman and personnel chief Andy Weidl are listening to their coaching staff, they will get the hint to pair a pair rusher like Georgia's Trevon Walker or Purdue's George Karlaftis with a defensive back like Clemson's Andrew Booth Jr. or Cincinnati's Ahmad Gardner, a result that would be intoxicating for the fan base. "I think everything is about communication," said Roseman. "Everything is about vision from the coaching staff." MORE:Quez Watkins has Etched a Role in Eagles' Future – Sports … -John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonaldevery morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.