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January 21, 2022

Eagles stay or go: Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon

Now that the Philadelphia Eagles' 2021 season is over, we'll be taking a position-by-position look at which players will likely be back with the team in 2022, and which ones won't. But first, let's start with a few key coaching and front office positions, beginning with defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, since he has been interviewing for head coaching jobs with other teams around the league.

The Eagles' defense in 2021 was fine against bad quarterbacks, but they barely made the good ones break a sweat. A visual:

Opposing QB QB rating vs. Eagles 
Dak Prescott, Cowboys (Week 3) 143.3 
Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs 131.1 
Justin Herbert, Chargers 123.2 
 Tom Brady, Buccaneers (Playoffs)115.2 
Derek Carr, Raiders 113.6 
Tom Brady, Buccaneers (Week 6) 102.1 
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers 100.6 
Daniel Jones, Giants 94.0 
Jared Goff, Lions 90.6 
Zach Wilson, Jets 83.9 
Garrett Gilbert, WFT 81.9 
Taylor Heinicke, WFT 81.6 
Teddy Bridgewater, Broncos 79.2 
Trevor Siemian, Saints 74.4 
Matt Ryan, Falcons 71.6 
Jake Fromm / Mike Glennon, Giants 46.8 
Sam Darnold, Panthers 44.5 
*Week 18 practice squad game omitted.

The good/great quarterbacks performed better against the Eagles than the bad ones, which obviously isn't surprising. However, the Eagles made life far too easy on the good quarterbacks, who picked apart the Eagles' soft coverage defense with ease. The super basic way of putting it is that they took what Gannon's defense gave them until the ball was in the end zone. It often looked like this:


The following is a table put together by Deniz Selman, showing advanced defensive stats/rankings for every team in the NFL.

In case you can't read that, we'll separate the Eagles' rankings from the rest of the league:

Eagles defense NFL rank 
DVOA (explanation here)25 
DVOA - pass 25 
DVOA - run 19 
EPA/play (explained here)17 
EPA/play - pass 19 
EPA/play - run 16 
Success % (explanation here)22 
Success % - pass 24 
Success % - run 25 
Yards per drive 15 
Points per drive 20 
Turnovers per drive 25 
INTs per drive 19 
Fumbles per drive 30 
Plays per drive 20 
Time of possession per drive 19 
Drive success rate 24 
TDs per drive 24 
FGs per drive 
Punts per drive 19 
Three-and-outs per drive 
TD:FG ratio 31 
Points per red zone trip 23 
TDs per red zone trip 29 

On the one hand, the Eagles' practice squad players gave up 475 yards and 51 points to Dallas in a meaningless Week 18 game that skews the above rankings some. On the other hand, the Eagles' defense was gifted a who's who of craptastic opposing quarterbacks in 10 of their 18 games. So we'll call that a wash, and consider the above advanced stats a fair representation of what the Eagles' defense was in 2021. And it's not really pretty.

Was it the players or the scheme? Certainly, the Eagles' defensive personnel isn't great. But it's also not bad. 

They had a Pro Bowl cornerback in Darius Slay, and a Pro Bowl snub in Javon Hargrave. Surrounding Slay in the secondary were a trio of solid veteran players in Steven Nelson, Rodney McLeod, and Anthony Harris, plus Avonte Maddox, who had a bounce-back season playing in the slot where he belongs. The pass rush isn't what the Eagles want it to be, but they at least had legitimate pro players in Fletcher Cox, Josh Sweat, and Derek Barnett. Meanwhile, the linebackers weren't out there wrecking games like Nate Gerry a season ago.

They also had incredible injury luck. Brandon Graham was lost for the season early on, but that was about it in terms of players missing long stretches of time. Compare that to previous seasons, with Jim Schwartz playing guys like Josh Hawkins in the playoffs against Drew Brees, and Gannon barely had to do any scrambling at all, personnel-wise.

There's pretty good reason to conclude that the Eagles' defense underperformed in 2021. And yet, Gannon is somehow a hot name on the head coaching hiring circuit, having scored interview opportunities in Minnesota, Denver, and Houston.

MORE: Previewing the Eagles' next calendar year, in stick figure form | The biggest winners and losers from the 2021 Eagles season | Eagles year-end Howie Roseman press conference takeaways, and analysis

The common talking points from national media types — and reporters in the cities that Gannon has interviewed in — is that Gannon is "smart" and "connects well with players." OK, that's nice. But don't the actual results kinda matter?

During Nick Sirianni's season-ending press conference, he was asked the following question:

"Will you retain Jonathan Gannon, assuming he isn't hired as a head coach, Shane Steichen and Michael Clay as your coordinators? And will the rest of the staff remain as is? And then, just to be clear, have you met with Jeffrey Lurie yet for the season-ending interview?"

Sirianni answered:

"Really, really like this staff and everything that we have in this staff right here. I think that it's a great group of guys that work well together. I think that's really important that guys work well together within the building, and that starts by having a good group of guys and a good group of people that are talented at what they do.

"As of right now, again, I'm evaluating everything like I would at the end of the year. I'm evaluating every player. I'm meeting with every player. I'm evaluating every coach. I'm meeting with every coach. I'm really happy with the people we have in this building. I'm really happy with the staff that we have, and I look forward to continuing to work with them.

"I have not had my end-of-year meeting with Mr. Lurie. I look forward to doing that as well, to be able to talk through all of the things of this season – after a long season, being able to talk through all those things.

"Yeah, look forward to all those meetings that we're having. I started some of our coaches meetings today, probably through about five of my end-of-year meetings with the coaches, with the guys upstairs, and look forward to talking to all of them here today and tomorrow."

So, for what it's worth, while Sirianni emphatically backed Jalen Hurts as his starting quarterback in 2022, he did not definitively say that Gannon, Steichen, and Clay would be back.

During the 2022 firing/hiring cycle, defensive-minded head coaches like Brian Flores (Dolphins), Mike Zimmer (Vikings), and Vic Fangio (Broncos) were fired, and are now looking for new jobs. I can't help but wonder if the Eagles wouldn't mind if Gannon landed a head coaching job elsewhere, so they could look to upgrade on him in earnest.

#JimmyVerdict: Gannon feels like a real threat to land a head coaching job. He is indeed smart, and I have no doubt that he'll interview well with interested suitors. We'll see. If not, I would highly doubt that the Eagles would fire him, but I also wouldn't completely rule it out. This is a bit of a toss-up, but we'll guess that Gannon does indeed get hired elsewhere, either as a head coach, or in a less likely scenario, mayyybe even if the Eagles allow him to make as a lateral move to a defensive coordinator job elsewhere. Go.

Your vote: 

Eagles stay or go: Jonathan Gannon

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