A defense is like a puzzle and it takes every piece to fit just right to make it work. As the Eagles prepare for Sunday's game at FedEx Field against Washington, Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon took a moment on Thursday to remind everyone of the "one for 11, 11 for one" idea in the wake of Monday night's dominating performance versus Minnesota.
"It's not just the corners, the nickels, the safeties, the linebackers, all those guys fit in together and what you see is typically what sometimes people don't realize is, really good cornerback play probably starts with the front. That's what you saw in this game," Gannon said of a performance that included the Eagles intercepting three Kirk Cousins passes and limiting Minnesota to 264 total net yards and seven points. "When the front's rushing and winning at a high level like they were, it just makes the quarterback uncomfortable and sometimes he's got to throw it before he wants to throw it, or the timing might be knocked off a little bit.
"But all 11 are tied together. Our guys understand that and understand that here's how these calls need to be played so we can win the down. But I thought all our coverage players in the back end had a pretty good game."
Of course, it's on to Washington now and the challenge that the Commanders, quarterback Carson Wentz, and a very talented set of skill-position players present. Gannon knows the Eagles are going to have a lot of weapons to try to limit on Sunday.
In other words, this is a Washington offense that provides defenses with a lot of problems.
"I mean their three skill guys, (wide receiver Curtis) Samuel, (wide receiver Jahan) Dotson, and (wide receiver) Terry (McLaurin). They're good players," Gannon said. "Their tight end's (Logan Thomas) a good player. They got two good backs. We talked about the quarterback. So, we just got to be on it when certain coverages are strong in some aspects, and they're weaker in other aspects. That's what we always say, make them find the weak spots of those coverages.
"Our guys know the weaknesses and the strengths of calls. Then you just got to kind of go through it and see what's working, what we need to adjust, how they're trying to attack us. That's some of the in-game adjustments that we make. It's cool for me because we have a really smart room and they can get to different things in-game and that's what we do a lot of the time."
A key is the play of the newly constructed secondary, and that includes safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who is now digging in deep learning the scheme and making tangible improvement. Gannon is impressed by what he's seen.
"He's learning. He's doing a good job in the box. In the pass game, he's doing a good job. I know he wants a couple plays back. But what I'm very pleased with Chauncey is the first thing of a safety is reliability," he said. "You have to be in the right spot. I thought he took a big jump from Week 1 to Week 2. He understands he's going to keep growing in that role as far as this is where you have to be, these are the calls you have to make. Then from there just go play, play free. You don't want him thinking a lot. He's very intelligent and very smart, but what I mean by that is it comes natural, and he doesn't have to think about things and he can just unleash his talent and just go make a bunch of plays for us. So excited where Chauncey is, and I think he's going to continue to get better."
There is a lot of noise about the Eagles and about this matchup and the story that is Wentz playing against his former teammates. Gannon isn't getting caught up in the commotion. The "outside noise" as the team calls it is staying just there – on the outside.
The Eagles open the NFC East schedule and what is important is emerging with a victory at a tough place to play, no matter how many Eagles fans are in attendance. To be effective, the defense, as always, has to impact the quarterback, in this case, Carson Wentz.
"He's lighting it up right now. It's a big-time challenge. He has a big arm, he can make off-schedule plays. He has really good skill guys. Their O-line does a good job of when they need to protect him, they protect him so we have a big-time challenge," Gannon said. "I would think that we always try to affect the quarterback pre- and post-snap. Then it comes down to us being in the right positions and playing the coverages the right way and executing. When we deploy different things to be able to be in the right spots and win our one-on-one matchups."