Welcome to The Big Question. Every Monday during the offseason, Dave Spadaro, Chris McPherson and Bo Wulf will debate one of the hot topics surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles. We invite fans to continue the discussion in the comments section. Enjoy ...
CM: The NFL Scouting Combine takes place this week in Indianapolis offering the coaches a chance to work out this year's draft prospects and get to know them a little more during the private interviews. Less than a month from now, free agency gets underway. With the player-acquisition phase of the offseason about to start, let's try this question – which side of the ball needs to improve more: the offense or the defense?
DS: I wholeheartedly go by the theory that a good offseason addresses every corner of the roster. I'm starting there. And while the offense must improve in some key areas - ball security and red-zone efficiency are the two main categories - the defense has a lot of areas to address. From a pure personnel standpoint, the inside linebacker position jumps out to me with DeMeco Ryans recovering from his Achilles tendon injury and a general concern for the depth there. This is a really critical area to consider in free agency and in the draft. Is there a "sure thing" there besides Mychal Kendricks at this point when you look at the group as a whole?
From a performance standpoint, the Eagles clearly need to improve the secondary. They've addressed the coaching situation by hiring Cory Undlin as the secondary coach and moving Matthew Harper from special teams to assistant secondary coach, and we'll see how they look to improve the performance against the passing game in general. Do they aggressively try to upgrade the personnel? Are there scheme changes coming? How do they limit all of those "X" plays that hurt so much in 2014?
The defense had some really fine moments in '14 and I love the depth and young talent at the line of scrimmage. I'm not sure there are many givens beyond that group, though.
CM: Inside linebacker is the one position that probably isn't being talked about enough this offseason. Fans want to focus on the secondary and understandably so. I hope that's addressed in free agency so the team can focus on getting the best players regardless of position in the draft.
Najee Goode would have been a critical piece of the defense if he did not get hurt last season. He was locked in as the No. 3 inside linebacker behind Ryans and Kendricks and from all accounts had a good Training Camp and preseason before suffering the pectoral injury in the second quarter of the season opener.
I agree with Spuds that the defense is the side of the ball that needs to improve the most, but I'm not ignoring the offense. Looking back through the 2014 schedule, I look at three games in particular where the offense could have bailed out the team – three road games in San Fran, Arizona and Washington. Especially the San Francisco game where the offense didn't score a single point.
BW: I will stick to my role of contrarian and say that the offense actually needs to improve more than the defense. In 2013, the Eagles defense ranked 23rd in the league in defense according to Football Outsiders. The unit jumped to 10th in defensive DVOA in 2014. Meanwhile, the offense regressed from third in offensive DVOA to 13th in 2014.
I agree that the defense probably faces more personnel questions this offseason, as you guys have highlighted. With inside linebacker and the secondary, not to mention the mix of advancing age and free agents at outside linebacker, there are plenty of questions as to who will play for the Eagles defense in 2014. On offense, we've talked about not expecting a change at quarterback, which really only leaves wide receiver and perhaps offensive line as areas of personnel change. But in terms of improving the overall play of each unit, I think the Eagles' 2015 fate depends much more on the offense climbing back to join the league's elite offenses.
But as Dave hinted at earlier, so much of that simply comes down to not turning the ball over. It's well-worn territory at this point, but I think protecting the ball will continue to be the biggest key to the team in 2015.
DS: Defense wins championships, right? I think the Eagles' defense needs to improve more to win a championship than does the Eagles' offense. That's how I'm basing my answer. I don't need analytics to explain to me that the defense has a steeper step to climb than does the offense.
BW: Who invited Charles Barkley?
DS: Snarky response, and anticipated. Still doesn't change my thinking. The role of contrarian is one you wear well, but you haven't convinced me that the offense needs to improve more than the defense.
BW: In 2014, the Eagles ranked 14th in yards per drive (31.4) and 13th in points per drive (1.98). Meanwhile, the defense ranked seventh in yards allowed per drive (29.3) and 15th in points allowed per drive (1.85). The offense, to no surprise, ranked last in turnovers per drive while the defense ranked 15th in turnovers forced per drive.
If you want to close your mind to numbers and play the anecdotal game, let's look at the losses from 2014. As Chris said before, I think if you're playing the blame game, the offense gets the "credit" for the losses in San Fran, Arizona and Washington. I'd give the defense the blame for the Cowboys loss and maybe Seattle, even though the offense managed just nine first downs all game. Green Bay is on everyone. If I told you after 2013 that the Eagles offense would get the benefit of the most non-offensive touchdowns in NFL history, there's no way you would have expected to miss the playoffs.
Again, the defense jumped from 23rd to 10th while the offense went from third to 13th. Does the defense need to get better? Obviously. But the team is built for the offense to be the premier unit and they need to perform like it.
DS: So the team isn't built for the defense to be premier? I don't understand the thinking. And you're giving "credit" to one side of the ball or the other for losses in what is, I'm sure we all agree, the ultimate team game? Every loss is on every phase of the team. That "logic"' is ridiculous.
BW: Well in that case let's just say that, ultimately, the team needs to improve. Now we don't have to worry about answering the question at hand.
This is easy, I could definitely get used to it.
CM: I walk away to film something and look at what happens. Anyway, no you can't assign blame to one aspect of the team for a loss, but there's no question that on some weeks one unit doesn't perform as well as the other. I recall a press conference late in the season. Les Bowen got into a tit-for-tat with Jeremy Maclin over whether there was enough talent on the offense. Bowen wasn't stating that talent was the offense's issue last season, but he was simply trying to come up with reasons as to why there were so many turnovers. Maclin was insulted by the premise of the argument. There are a lot of talented pieces on this offense, and I'm hopeful Maclin re-signs and continues to be one of those pieces, but the coaches have to figure out how to make it a more efficient unit in 2014.
And if defense wins championships, why isn't Seattle holding up a second-straight Lombardi?
DS: Because the DEFENSE of the Patriots made a play at the goal line to win the Super Bowl. Boom!