The Philadelphia Eagles need to address their safety issue. Long before the NFL rules changed, before the role of safety became so much more, the Philadelphia Eagles enjoyed superior safety play. Ask any Birds fan, and you will immediately be listening to a story of a man whose name became synonymous with the heart and soul of the Philadelphia Eagles – Brian Dawkins. But this is not the time to relish the past, nor the moment to recall stories of auld lang syne. It’s an opportunity to fix a nagging ache in the Philadelphia Eagles safety role. The problem is simple: it needs the Hammer and the Anvil.
The reason the Eagles, or any team for that matter, fail to resolve a problem is not due to a lack of effort. It’s not due to random chance, bad luck, or the whammy of some disgruntled opposing team fan-base. The reason the Eagles have failed to FIX the safety position from what appears to be a misunderstanding what exactly IS the problem.
No where in the NFL are two positions co-dependent upon the complimentary skills of one another than that of the defensive safety. In fact, the position safety is actually very different and are known by the common terminology: Free Safety and Strong Safety. Just to clarify, a strong safety is the safety that lines up opposite the offense’s tight end. His responsibility is to defend the pass against that tight end, as well as play closer to the line of scrimmage, support the run defense, and tackle as hard as any player on the team. His skill sets are akin to a smaller and faster linebacker. The Free Safety, on the other hand, is a player who is the last line of pass defense, and thereby plays deep with the focus of pass defense and not letting any pass get behind him. He also must be able to tackle and defend a run, but his background is more likely a converted cornerback who has lost a step. His role is the route jumper, the guy who plays cat and mouse with a quarterback. As offenses have evolved to two tight end sets, the distinction between the safety roles has blurred. And that has caused defenses problems in their attempt to fill a starting role with the new hybrid safety.
The NFL is filled with names who have played their safety role to the utmost of their ability, but the error of that “one player recognition” is the failure of fans, sports writers, and management to recognize the fact that it was the pairing of near perfectly complimenting skill-sets which enabled one player to succeed so remarkably. To some fans, the names of safety tandems is second nature, but for the monday morning quarterback, the name recognition stops at one safety. For every Troy Polamalu, there is a Ryan Clark. For every Brian Dawkins, there is a Michael Lewis. For every Ed Reed, there is a Bernard Pollard. For every Jairus Byrd there is an Aaron Williams. For every safety who commits to pass defense and ball hawking, there is a counterpart who hits like a ton of bricks and tackles anything near him within a country mile. In short, for every hammer, there is an anvil.