Billy Davis’ Defense

So we hired Billy Davis. What does it mean? What should you expect?

Well for starters, lets start by explaining Billy Davis. Billy Davis has been in the NFL for 21 years and he’s coached in an array of defensive schemes. He’s coached with Bill Cowher, Dick LeBeau, Dick Jauron, Mike Nolan, Tim Lewis, Wade Phillips, Dennis Allen, Vic Fangio, Dom Capers and Keith Butler. It’s quite the list of peers and it’s sort of interesting how inter-connected they all are.

Kendricks is primed for a break-out in the new scheme.

Up to this point, Davis hasn’t been anything special as a coordinator. In four years of coordinating defenses, Davis’ units have been in the bottom three in points allowed 75% of the time. He’s only coordinated one top 20 defense and one top 15 scoring defense, both in 2009. On the upside, in both years’ of Davis’ tenure in Arizona the Cardinals won playoff games. So he’s got that going for him. Not all experience is good experience, sometimes you learn the hard way. Hopefully Davis can learn from his previous failures and put together a strong unit here for the Eagles.

Now, despite a bad track record I must preach patience. Defensive coaches ebb and flow, much of their results are circumstantial. Often times, their success is dictated by the circumstances that they’re stuck with. As my example, I’m going to use Vic Fangio. Despite coaching a defense that has been top five in both scoring and yardage the past two seasons, he is still in the 45th percentile in yards allowed and 51st percentile for points allowed on his career. Prior to joining San Francisco, Fangio had coached one top ten defense and five bottom ten defenses.

But enough about who the expect as our coordinator, what scheme are we going to run? Well, if Billy Davis actually does end up getting hired we’re likely going to see a 3-4 defense brought to Philadelphia. Most of Davis’ NFL experience has come in a 3-4 defense, in both previous stints as a coordinator he ran a 3-4 and signs have indicated that’s the direction we’re headed in. Just on the most obvious of levels, Chip Kelly is seemingly a guy who prefers the flexibility of a 3-4 defense, he did run that at Oregon. And when talking with prospects at the senior bowl players said that the Eagles expressed interest in their ability to move to a 3-4 (source).

But why are more and more teams moving towards a 3-4 defense? Why Chip Kelly? North Carolina associate head coach for defense / inside linebackers coach Vic Koenning makes his case for the 3-4. Link.

Koenning said in regards to the spread, pistol and option offenses being shown off in the playoffs, “Look at the NFL scores from last week’s playoff games, that will wake everybody up to what us college defensive coaches have been facing for the last few years now.”

“If (offensive coordinators) know what you are in, they have answers to stuff,” Koenning said. “The old days of lining up in the I formation and saying our Jimmys are better than your Joeys, and we want to beat you into submission, nobody wants to do that anymore. Everything is about space. If you have guys that can’t compete in space then you’re going to be struggling.”

As defensive coordinators adjust to keep up, Koenning thinks we’ll see more 3-4 defensive alignments.

“I am not saying that teams that play a traditional 4-3 can’t be successful, but I will tell you that it puts stresses on a lot of different positions with what today’s college football offensively has become,” he said. “I kind of think it forces you to look at what you have personnel-wise and scheme-wise.”

Essentially, it allows you to disguise what you’re doing more. The 3-4 alignment allows you to get one more athlete out on the field and match-up in space a little bit easier. And it allows to our defense to get more creative with the pressure and blitz angles that we bring. Chip, as a connoisseur of the spread offense knows this and he knows what gave him trouble. It’s why he chose to run a similar 3-4 defense at Oregon.

Under Front:

The next logical questions circulate around the schematics of a 3-4 defense. What type of 3-4 defense are we going to run? Well, if Billy Davis’ history as a coordinator is any indication we’re going to run what is called an under front defense and it looks like this:

Davis called his weakside pass-rusher “predator” which I think is pretty sick so I’m rolling with it.

All an under front is, is a defensive front alignment. This may seem insignificant, I mean, after all it’s only a shift of a few inches or feet so what’s the big fuss? It may seem silly and trivial but those few inches make a big difference in how a defender must approach his job.

Here’s what’s different about the under front 3-4 defense:

-The nose is shifted a few inches so they’re playing over the shoulder of the center (shading) instead of lining up directly over them as a 0-technique. In this scheme the defender is lined up as a 1-technique defender as opposed to a 0-technique defender. It affords them a little bit more “aggressive-ability” because now they’re less subject to what the center does and able to press their gap more directly. They’re now more than just an enormous speed bump. Brandon Mebane at 6’3″ and 311 pounds is a notable 1 technique defender. These guys are typically barrel-shaped, squatty types.

-The RE, typically a 5-technique, is shifted inside over the outside shoulder of the guard, making them a 3-technique defender. A 3-technique lines up between the guard and tackle, is usually lighter and quicker at the point of attack. They are asked to shoot their gap and pierce the middle of the offensive line. You’ll notice that both the center and tackle next to the opposing guard are occupied. This makes it much harder for the offense to double the 3 technique, thus facilitating more one-on-one match-ups. If players have the athleticism to take advantage of the 1-on-1 match-ups they can ride this spot to pro-bowls. Hell, Warren Sapp rode it to a hall of fame career. Calais Campbell, Justin Smith, Muhammad Wilkerson and Haloti Ngata (he moves around) are guys who play this spot today.

Eagles Related Note: Fletcher Cox should have no problems filling this role. As a defensive tackle in the SEC the only player to get the best of him was Chance Warmack and in his rookie year he was giving offensive guards all they could handle. He absolutely obliterated a good Ravens’ offensive line and the Bengals’ line as well. Fletcher Cox is an elite athlete at the DT spot whose change of direction skills are rarely matched. 

-The “Predator” also shifts over and he plays over the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle, a 5-technique or 6-technique spot. This essentially makes it so that the weakside pass-rusher (the Predator) is  just stand-up 4-3 defensive end who rushes the passer a majority of the time. In Arizona Davis rushed Bertrand Berry over 80% of the time. In San Francisco the 49ers rushed Aldon Smith 85.8% of the time. In Dallas the Cowboys rushed DeMarcus Ware 87.1% of the time. In Baltimore the Ravens rushed Terrell Suggs 87.8%.

-The 5-technique on the left remains a 5 technique. Ideally your 5 technique is going to have enough athleticism to threaten the offensive line when rushing the passer but they’re going to have the core strength to hold up in the running game because they’re ability to hold the POA is critical in defending the run. You’re looking for a player with the length to “bench-press” and lock out blockers. Richard Seymour was the proto-type 5-technique.

-The strong-side linebacker is lining up in a nine-technique pre-snap position most of the time. This player is going to rush the passer plenty, in Arizona Davis rushed the SLB upwards of 65% of the time. Other similar schemes often rush their SLB upwards of 80% of the time. But even with that being said this players is going to be more coverage oriented and will man-up with the tight end more often than the “predator” opposite them. How many people remember when Jim Johnson was around? The SLB in Davis’ scheme will be playing in the same alignment, they’ll just be blitzing more often. So we’ll be headed back towards the Chris Gocong and Carlos Emmons variety of strong-side linebackers.

-If you look at the diagram of the under front again you’ll notice that there is no player shading the offensive RG, the MLB is left uncovered. That being so, the MLB is going to take on the offensive guard more often that the WLB next to him. This player is going to be a thumper. Jeremiah Trotter and Stewart Bradley played similar roles in Jim Johnson’s under-front defense. Brandon Spikes is a modern example of a player who fills this sort of role really well.

-This scheme is a weakside linebackers paradise. It’s designed to keep them clean and allow them to run around and make plays. Notice that the WLB has the NT and DE in front of them and the thumping MLB beside them to eat up blocks. Mychal Kendricks is going to blow up in this scheme, he’s a perfect fit. He’ll be the next in the line of beasts in this scheme, guys like Ray Lewis, Lawrence Timmons, Sean Lee, Navarro Bowman and Daryl Washington have thrived in this scheme at this spot. Hell, Derrick Brooks became a hall of famer in the 4-3 alignment and Lance Briggs has become a star in it as well. Mychal Kendricks played in this scheme in college and he was the Pac-12 DPOY.

1. The ‘under’ front protects the WLB well.
If the nose tackle engages the center at all, the weak side backer is free to flow to the ball after ensuring that his gap (the weak side center-guard gap, or A gap) isn’t threatened. With the SLB and MLB dealing with potential blocks from the TE, FB and an OL, the WLB will be in position to make a lot of plays.

2. Ballcarriers are “spilled” toward the WLB.
Dungy and Kiffin’s philosophy preaches a turn back or spilling concept in run support. That is, a defender taking on a block knows where his most likely help will be and turns or spills the ballcarrier in that direction. Since the WLB is often free in an under front, he’s frequently the teammate to whom the running back gets sent.

3. The WLB has more coverage opportunity.
Traditional 4-3 schemes leave most of the man coverage responsibilities to the strong side linebacker or strong safety. The WLB needs to watch certain routes on early downs and will frequently defend a screen pass, but doesn’t usually make bunches of tackles or on-ball plays in coverage. With the underneath zone responsibility, including some of the area vacated by the MLB that drops toward the deep middle, the WLB in a Tampa-2 4-3 gets more coverage opportunities.

The list of weak side backers who have parlayed their time in Tampa-2 schemes to great success is growing longer with each passing season. Derrick Brooks, David Thornton, Mike Peterson, Cato June and Lance Briggs have all had big impacts on their respective defenses in Tampa, Indianapolis and Chicago.

So that’s that… That’s the defense we appear to be heading towards. I’m particularly excited about Mychal Kendricks and Fletcher Cox in this new defense if you couldn’t tell. I think the new scheme suits them both incredibly well and I think both are primed to take off if everything goes right.

I like the scheme. I think we’ve got some exciting fits. But at the same time it all depends on Bill Davis and despite people already writing him off, I’ll give him a chance. Remember that Jim Johnson wasn’t exactly the most well regarded guy when Andy Reid hired him and remember that he wasn’t Andy’s first choice, Andy tried to hire Marvin Lewis. I can’t wait to watch it play out.

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