While it’s easy to talk about what the Philadelphia Eagles and head coach Chip Kelly are doing on offense this offseason, their moves on the defensive side of the ball are worth focusing on. Everyone knows about the Seattle Seahawks and their “Legion of Boom”, but the Eagles may now have their very own physical, lengthy secondary…dare I say, the “Legion of Pop”?
It was clear the past two seasons that the Eagles had a terrible pass defense. They finished the 2013 season last in the league allowing 289.8 passing yards per game and then finished the 2014 season 31st in the league allowing 264.9 passing yards per game. Chip Kelly now has full control of the roster and wasted no time addressing the team’s secondary.
The first move Kelly made was releasing former starting cornerback Cary Williams, which was a “no brainer.” Williams was mediocre at best in Philadelphia and certainly wasn’t good enough to be a #1 cornerback. That move saved the team approximately $6.5 million in cap space which Kelly then put right to use. Philadelphia went hard after the top cornerback on the market, former Seahawk Byron Maxwell, and landed him for a lucrative but necessary 6-year, $63 million contract.
Following that up, Kelly signed another former player of his at Oregon (#DuckBias), cornerback Walter Thurmond III to a very reasonable deal for 1-year, $3.25 million contract. While Thurmond has battled injuries throughout most of his career, when he’s been on the field, he has played at a high level. With his two former teams, the Seahawks and New York Giants, Thurmond was stuck in the slot. But he is certainly capable of playing on the outside and will apparently compete for the starting job opposite of Maxwell with other Eagles’ cornerbacks Brandon Boykin and Nolan Carroll II.
Everyone likely knows that Maxwell and Thurmond played together on the Seahawks Super Bowl XLVIII winning team. Maxwell was a starting cornerback on that team and Thurmond was the slot cornerback. But will they really be an upgrade over what the Eagles had last year once they’re no longer surrounded by three Pro Bowlers in the secondary? That remains to be seen.
Former starting cornerback duo of Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher allowed a total of 14 touchdowns last season. Dating back to the 2013 season, they allowed 21 total touchdowns in just two seasons. For comparison’s sake, in that same time period, Maxwell and Thurmond combined to allow just 4 touchdowns. Although it may seem like an unfair comparison since the new potential starting duo played 2,210 total snaps in that span compared to 4,555 by the former starting duo for the Eagles, per Pro Football Focus. But that also has a ton to do with the tempo that their former offenses used.
To dig a little deeper into the stats for the new and old starting duos, let’s take a look at their interception numbers. From 2013 to 2014, the former duo of Williams and Fletcher had a combined 9 interceptions. The potential new starting duo of Maxwell and Thurmond had 8 interceptions in nearly half the amount of snaps. That’s worth taking note of because there were plenty of times where the Eagles cornerbacks could have made a play on the ball, but didn’t have the skills to do so. Luckily, that will not be a problem with the new guys in town.
Every Eagles defender is on the field for a ton of snaps because the offense plays at a faster rate than every other team in the league. But that doesn’t excuse just how bad their former starting cornerbacks played. Maxwell and Thurmond are both very physical players with great size and long arms that the Eagles covet. They have also performed at a very high level in the league’s toughest games, especially in 2013 during the Seahawks run for a championship.
Let’s not forget about the “other guys” that are still on the Eagles roster. Brandon Boykin is obviously a very talented player but has been limited to just the slot in his career so far. Luckily it sounds like he’ll get a shot to compete for the starting job on the outside, as mentioned earlier. Nolan Carroll II and Jaylen Watkins both played a bit in 2014 but are promising players that could be solid depth options.
On the back end of the defense, at safety, the team has a Pro Bowl caliber safety in Malcolm Jenkins but they still need to figure out who will be starting next to him. That spot is still open and it’s unlikely that any of the players currently on the roster will start there in 2015. Look for the Eagles to address that spot with a reasonable option in free agency or targeting a safety early in the draft.
All in all, for all the flak Chip Kelly gets for being an offensive minded coach, he has focused a ton on the defensive side of the ball. They also brought in linebacker Kiko Alonso, which will be a huge boost for the defense and what they’ll be able to do with their scheme. Adding Alonso on top of Maxwell and Thurmond already makes the Eagles defense much better than it was in 2014. Now it’s just up to the players and coaches to put it all together next season.
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