Considering his history as a ball boy for the Eagles in the late 1970s, when his father was a coach for the team, it's fair to say that Bill Davis is familiar with Philadelphia and the city's passion for its football team. Now charged with coordinating the Eagles defense, Davis is champing at the bit to begin his third opportunity as a defensive coordinator in the NFL. It's an opportunity he hopes will be more successful and last longer than his previous stints in San Francisco and Arizona.
"I learned from all of it," he said. "I worked with a lot of great guys in both spots, and hopefully I can take those lessons I learned there and apply it to Philadelphia and make it a very strong defense."
Head Coach Mike Nolan called the defensive plays in San Francisco, so Davis' time in Arizona with the Cardinals for the 2009 and 2010 seasons was the first time he piloted a defense all on his own.
"I took over a defense after the Super Bowl (in 2009), and it really was more of a 4-3 Under, and we just took the talents of the players we had and really had a lot of success the first year."
That Cardinals team ranked 15th in offensive points allowed, went 10-6, won the NFC West and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Davis is hoping to do the same with this Eagles defense in terms of incorporating the talents of the incumbent players, molding the scheme accordingly and having an immediate impact.
While the Arizona Cardinals as a whole struggled in 2010, Davis took away certain positives from the defense.
"We were number one in red-zone defense (in 2010)," said Davis. "We had a lot of turnovers, I think we set a record for points allowed for the franchise on the road, so we really rose to the occasion on the road with points allowed, and that was one of the bigger stats. Defensive touchdowns, I think that year we almost set a club record for defensive touchdowns and we were still losing a lot of games. So there are a lot of stats that go with it, but at the end of the day you fall back on points allowed and that's the one that has to be right."
Unfortunately, that Cardinals defense plummeted to 29th in the league in offensive points allowed in 2010. However, it was first in red-zone scoring and scored a ton of touchdowns, recording a league-high 10, including a whopping, NFL-record seven on fumble returns. Every other defense in the NFL had one or fewer. In fact, more than half of the Cardinals defense's total fumble recoveries (13) resulted in a touchdown. The defense also tied for 11th in interceptions with 17, three of which were returned for touchdowns. Davis doesn't care about yards allowed and thinks it's "irrelevant to evaluating a defense." Instead, he focuses on turnovers forced, red-zone defense and points allowed.
Davis has a clear vision for the defense and wants to revive it into a fearsome unit that harkens back to the days of Jim Johnson. Though his hiring may not have raised eyebrows at first, the intrigue has slowly built up with each nugget revealed about what Davis plans to do with the defense. The long-term plan, according to Davis, is to eventually run a "two-gap 3-4 base defense." But, as Davis describes, that future stands on one extreme while the team's previous defense, with a wide-nine front, sits on the polar opposite side of the spectrum. The goal, then, is to find the ideal midpoint that best fits the talents of the players on the roster.
Davis also intends to send pressure from all over the alignment, though he knows that the best quarterbacks in the league will burn you consistently if you blitz too much. He intimated the "illusion of blitz" is just as effective as actually blitzing, if not more so, and that's what made Jim Johnson so masterful. Some of the players for whom Davis has high expectations and thinks the new defense will benefit the most are Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Mychal Kendricks.
Another point of emphasis for Davis is that the safeties will be tasked with different responsibilities than in the wide-nine 4-3 defense, in which they were forced to "come down and be primary run fit defenders in the box, and when you do that… some of those bigger pass plays happen off play action (and such)."
In the new defense, Davis intends to "take some of the responsibility of the internal run game away from (the) secondary (so) they can play a little deeper in the alignment; their eyes can be more focused on the pass and hopefully that'll make a difference here."
That should make a world of difference for a player like Nate Allen, who has excelled in the past when able to focus mainly on playing centerfield and defending the pass.
While so much attention has been paid to the future of the Eagles offense under Chip Kelly, it's the defense that faces the larger uphill climb. Armed with a collection of players eager to prove themselves, Davis has his own set of ideas to improve a unit that finished 29th in points allowed last season. Here's hoping his third time as an NFL defensive coordinator will be the charm.
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