Will the Eagles change their defensive scheme next season?
For the last several years, the Eagles have stuck with the same traditional defensive scheme. Under Jim Schwartz, Philly ran a standard 4-3 defense, with four defensive linemen, and three linebackers. Before the days of Doug Pederson, former head coach Chip Kelly tried to run the Eagles in a 3-4 defense, but it never seemed to work out. From 2013 to 2015, the Eagles were ranked in the bottom five in yards allowed, and it was one of the main components that led to Kelly’s firing.
Since 2015, a lot has changed for the Eagles on defense, and it could be possible new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon might want to switch things up. Personally, I think a 4-3 defense is better for the Eagles right now for a variety of reasons. The Eagles’ defensive line is the most vital part of their defense, and their linebackers are especially weak. With that in mind, in a rebuilding year, it wouldn’t hurt to try things out for the future or maybe run a hybrid scheme.
In a 3-4 defense usually, it’s just three linemen with both Sam and Will backers lined up wide with a Mike and backer roughly five yards off the ball. Sam is a strong-side outside linebacker, and Will is a weak side. The backer is just the backside middle linebacker. This defense is possible, but a hybrid 3-4 seems far more likely. A fourth player is near the line in a hybrid 3-4, usually, a linebacker who will drop into coverage and is still a yard off the ball standing up. There are scenarios where the linebacker could be in a three-point stance, but it’s not likely. Sometimes you might even see both outside linebackers lined up near the line of scrimmage and look almost like a bear front, which is five linemen.
The main benefit of a 3-4 defense is it gives you another linebacker to combat the passing game but relies on three linemen to provide enough pressure in the passing game and stuff the run. In a hybrid scheme having an on-ball linebacker helps combat those run-game issues.
Another plus is there’s a lot more ability to disguise your schemes and bait the offense into bad plays. When one of those linebackers is near the line of scrimmage, it’s very simple to mask any blitzes off the edge. There is no ability to predict what they will be doing because their zone schemes will often stay the same. So even if a QB tries to move a WR to figure out what’s going on, it can’t be detected unless the defense is in man coverage.
There is some reason to believe the Eagles are debating the change this upcoming season because of the many moves made. Two defensive ends have already moved out to linebacker this season, and draft pick JaCoby Stevens thrived as a linebacker at LSU. Both Marlon Tuipuluto and Milton Williams are cross-trained at both defensive end and tackle. Alongside that, Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox are getting up there in age, and the Eagles need to plan for the future. Javon Hargrave would also flourish in his natural position as a pure nose tackle compared to a one or three tech.
If the Eagles want to do their best to succeed in 2021, it is in their best interest to remain in that 4-3 defense and let the defensive line dominate. On the contrary, adding more linebackers allows Philadelphia to cover up some of their current flaws at the position in the passing game. In a cover two defense, when in a 3-4, linebackers would have minimal responsibilities and would mainly have to rely on their athleticism to make plays over reading their keys. With OTA’s remaining virtual in 2021, we likely won’t know the Eagles’ plans on defense until right before the start of the 2021 season.
Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports