Following a three-year stint known as the Chip Kelly/Billy Davis era, the dawn of the Jim Schwartz’s run as the Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator re-introduced us to the 4-3 base defensive alignment. Most expect to see more of that during the 2022-2023 NFL season, but recent moves and acquisitions suggest that a move back to a 3-4 defensive base set isn’t too far off in the near future.
When Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni brought Jonathan Gannon to the City of Brotherly Love with him, the belief was he was adding one of the brightest young defensive minds in football. Well, Gannon wasn’t great last year, but he is now starting to get the pieces that fit what he wants to do schematically.
During the Eagles’ last two off-seasons, they acquired players who are more prototypical 3-4 outside linebackers and pass rushers instead of guys who are 4-3 edge rushers. The signing of Haason Reddick is one clear example.
Reddick is a great pass rusher. He figures to play standing rather than with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end in the 4-3. Initial theories are he can be the ‘SAM’ or strong-side linebacker in Gannon’s defense.
So, are the Eagles converting to a 3-4 defense in the near future or not?
In 2021, the Eagles drafted Patrick Johnson from Tulane. In 2022, they added Kyron Johnson from Kansas. That can’t be ignored. Both players were 3-4 OLB EDGE rushers in college and have the speed and skillsets to thrive in the 3-4.
In a 3-4 defense, something else is necessary… a nose tackle that can fill gaps and allow the linebackers and defensive ends to attack. Well, the Eagles couldn’t get anyone bigger than Jordan Davis in this draft. He’s the type of player that can cause issues and/or create opportunities for teammates.
Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave are both set to be free agents after the upcoming season. If they move on, Davis figures to be the every-down starter after that which adds to theories of the Birds shifting to a full-time base 3-4 defense moving forward.
Nick Sirianni was tight-lipped about whether or not this was the plan during his May 6th press conference. The Eagles have also addressed the inside linebacker position more than they have in years prior, drafting Nakobe Dean and signing Kyzir White during the 2022 offseason.
Adding both to a unit featuring T.J. Edwards and Davion Taylor gives this team a good nucleus of inside linebackers. There’s a lot of speed at the second level now, and Dean can be the MIKE (middle linebacker) and the QB of the Eagles defense for years to come.
Jonathan Gannon is all about versatility and flexibility in his defense. Don’t rule out Philadelphia employing the base 4-3 defense this year, but don’t be shocked if you see a lot of odd-man fronts either. J.G. is known for being creative, and we may see some of the imagination in Philadelphia’s defense in 2022.