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Defense's Problems Run Much Deeper Than Just Jonathan Gannon

The Eagles DC tried blitzing more than he has all season and disguising coverages, but Justin Herbert still stayed upright and had a field day on Sunday
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This isn’t just a Jonathan Gannon problem.

The Eagles’ defense has a personnel problem that goes beyond whatever scheme the defensive coordinator is trying.

Every level on that side of the ball needs help, actual help on the field.

None of the coaches will admit it because they won’t want to be viewed as throwing the front office under the proverbial bus, but it’s true.

For years, the Eagles have devalued defense, an attitude that trickles down from the very top with owner Jeffrey Lurie.

The last defensive player the Eagles took in the first round was Derek Barnett in 2017. Before that, it was Marcus Smith, who washed out, in 2014 and Fletcher Cox in 2012.

That's three defensive players in the last 10 drafts.

2012 was also the year they drafted a linebacker in the second round, Mychal Kendricks, who was a valuable member of the 2017 Super Bowl team. They haven’t taken a linebacker that high since Arkansas’ Quinton Caver in 2001.

They did spend third-round picks on linebackers Jordan Hicks in 2015 and Davion Taylor, who was very raw, in 2015.

Otherwise, it’s been a position they have tried to piecemeal in free agency without much luck, other than Nigel Bradham, who had a nice four-year run beginning in 2016.

Meanwhile, they chase receivers like a dog chases its tail, spending first-round picks on that position in 2015 (Nelson Agholor), 2020 (Jalen Reagor), and 2021 (DeVonta Smith) as well as second-round selections in 2014 (Jordan Matthews) and 2019 (J.J. Arcega-Whiteside).

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But this is about the defense.

Los Angeles’ Justin Herbert became the fifth quarterback this season to complete better than 80 percent of his throws in the Eagles’ 27-24 loss to the Chargers on Sunday, a defeat that left them reeling at 3-6 and 0-4 at home.

In the previous 70 years of Eagles football, just six quarterbacks in total have completed better than 80 percent of their throws (25 attempts minimum), per ESPN Stats & Info.

So, yeah, there’s a problem here.

Gannon knows it.

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He tried to do something different on Sunday, actually blitzing Herbert on 12 of his 41 dropbacks, per Pro Football Focus, which was the highest rate of the season for the Eagles at 29.3 percent.

He also tried to disguise coverages, dropping Barnett back once while blitzing a linebacker.

Nothing worked. The Eagles still couldn’t get close enough to even breath on Herbert.

That is telling.

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Head coach Nick Sirianni knows it, too.

He was asked by SI.com Eagle Maven on Monday how he, as an offensive coach, can help figure out ways to stop that from happening.

“That can be a couple different ways,” he said. “You can throw off the timing by getting a little pressure. You can throw off the timing by disguising the coverage and confusing the quarterback on where to go. You can throw off the timing with some reroutes and some press coverage as well.”

The excuse that the QB is getting the ball out quick is tiring. Herbert likely got the ball out quick in every game this season and yet other teams found ways to sack him, knock him down at the least. He had been sacked 14 times in seven games coming into Lincoln Financial Field.

Asked how to combat it, Sirianni said: “To get the quarterback to hold it in this quick game when it really comes down to that quick game and two seconds out before the ball – with him having the ball and getting out in two seconds, it's the disruption from the secondary.

“It's hard because if they're getting it out in two seconds, the pass rush isn't going to get there, right? So, it's the disruption in the secondary, whether it's cover two with some reroutes, whether it's a different type of zone with reroutes or the press man to man out there that deters that thing from getting out that quick.”

All good ideas from both the head coach and his DC.

It’s the personnel that needs to make it work, and it doesn’t seem capable of doing that on a consistent basis.

The Eagles’ front office needs to keep the defense in mind when the 2022 NFL Draft rolls around again in April and spend at least one, if not two or all three, of their expected three first-round picks on that side of the ball.

Otherwise, nothing is going to magically improve no matter who the defensive coordinator is.

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.