PHILADELPHIA - Under fire in a city that abhors passivity, Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon showed up for his Tuesday press conference with his typical ebullience.
“Happy Tuesday guys,” the young defensive mentor barked to the assembled reporters on a gray day in Soth Philadelphia, a greeting that has become a Gannon trademark.
Perceived slights from his boss, head coach Nick Sirianni, and best defensive player, Fletcher Cox, haven’t landed for a coach that trusts in his own approach.
After Sunday’s ugly loss in Las Vegas in which Raiders quarterback Derek Carr completed over 90percent of his throws, Cox lamented his role in a scheme that does not allow the veteran star to attack as often as he would like while the head coach admitted the defense needs to “challenge” the opposition more.
While Cox’s words can somewhat be written enough by being traced to the emotion of another disappointing setback, Sirianni’s seemed more targeted, almost a public attempt at kickstarting things on the defensive side of the ball.
Gannon, though, claims the Sirianni comments were direct from the DC.
“That came from me,” Gannon said to SI.com’s EagleMaven when asked about Sirianni’s challenge edict. “We came out of the game, I said, ‘The ball didn’t hit the ground.’ That tells me we’ve got to challenge a little bit more. That’s within, ‘Hey, this is our Rolodex of coverages, how we want to play, what we need to get done.’”
According to Gannon, it’s his job to make things tougher on the opposing QB by ramping up different looks.
“I need to change some coverages up and challenge a little bit more, get a little bit tighter, get closer to people, close windows,” he said. “Pre-snap disguise, post-snap disguise, what are we doing with the coverages? That needs to get corrected. Because it’s hard to play winning football when the ball doesn’t hit the ground.”
After the Eagles fell to 2-5 on the season Sunday, Cox allowed his frustrations to boil over a bit but Gannon wasn’t taking anything personally. In fact, Gannon gave Cox's criticism some weight.
“I understand Fletch’s point,” Gannon admitted before pivoting to the emotion of the setting, minutes after an ugly loss. “… What any player says after a game out of frustration comes from a good place of ‘we want to win.’
“That’s what this game is about, winning and losing. And that’s where I think that comes from, from Fletch. I love that about him.”
When pressed about the substance of Cox’s critique, essentially the absence of the Jim Schwartz-like aggression up front that made the veteran defensive tackle an annual Pro Bowl selection, Gannon did not dismiss the idea but did note that there is a give and take when it comes to the strengths of the players.
“He’s got good points,” Gannon said. “I need to do a better job of that. And the key thing with that is, player and coach, coach and player, how we do that and how we go about that? He’s had some very good ideas as have some other players had some very good ideas. And then it’s up to us as coaches to get that done and execute those things.”
According to Gannon, it’s a delicate blend - the kind that can turn 5-2 into 2-5 without the correct mix.
“There are times where they're probably, no, they're not ideally suited for that spot, but we try to within who's playing, we try to make it to where we're putting those guys in position, for the most part, to get into the skill set that they're most comfortable with,” the DC said. "And that's just like any [defensive lineman], corner or linebacker or safety.
“Sometimes they get a little bit – some safeties want to play D-path all the time. Well, sometimes you've got to get in the box and play cover three. Some corners want to play man-to-man all the time. Well, sometimes with this call, because of what we're trying to get done with that call, you've got to play cloud. So, it's always a blend of taking our guy’s skill set, putting them in that position as much as possible within the scheme of this is who we're defending and how we want to play.”
How Gannon wants to play hasn’t worked for the Eagles just yet and the growing pains could reach a new low Sunday in Detroit if the Philadelphia defense can’t figure out the winless Lions.
-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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.