Theories for fixing the Eagles run defense in Jordan Davis’ absence

Jordan Davis, Philadelphia Eagles (Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
Jordan Davis, Philadelphia Eagles (Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports) /

They’re 8-0, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to improve upon. In fact, the opposite is true. There are questions surrounding this Philadelphia Eagles team, one being how they intend to replace Jordan Davis. Philly escaped Thursday Night Football with a win despite being tested, but one of the takeaways from that game is familiar, one involving their inability to stop the run.

Every time we watched the Eagles get gashed on the ground, we thought of Jordan Davis. Surely, having him on the field would have fixed things. There are just two issues there. First, we all are very aware of the fact that Philly doesn’t have Jordan Davis. Second, now that he’s been added to the team’s injured reserve, we are also aware that the Eagles are without him for at least a month.

So, what do they do to fix this in the meantime? Maybe they can rely on some of what we’ve seen them borrow from Vic Fangio.

How should the Eagles’ defense move on in Jordan Davis’ absence?

Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has experience in running Vic Fangio-styled schemes. Interestingly enough, during the offseason, Fangio was brought on as a consultant. The Philadelphia Eagles have improved in run defense in large part to the implementation of what Coach Fangio calls ‘Penny Fronts’, and while the Eagles are without Davis. it may be wise to use this scheme more often.

In penny fronts, five men are positioned on the line of scrimmage. Two are defensive tackles that are typically aligned in 4i techniques, meaning that they are lined up on the inside shoulders of the offensive tackles that they are lined up against.

Penny fronts also require a nose tackle, one that is asked to align in a zero technique (directly across from the center). Two overhang defenders playing the nine technique (the two gaps outside of the offensive tackles) is also necessary.

These fronts work so well because they simplify and clarify the run fits for the linebackers and defensive backs. What sets Jordan Davis apart as a nose tackle is his unique blend of size and power. He’s used both to dominate opposing offensive linemen this season.

Davis’ impact hasn’t been demonstrated by statistical production. He hasn’t tallied a ton of tackles or sacks, but he has While his tackles and sacks statistics aren’t impressive, his impact is being felt in other areas. He creates opportunities for his teammates.

If the Eagles intend to continue utilizing 50 fronts, the best options for replacing Jordan Davis are Javon Hargrave or Marlon Tuipulotu. The advantage of starting Hargrave at the nose lies in the ability to get Milton Williams reps at the defensive tackle position.

The advantage to starting Tuipuloti at the nose is the ability to have Cox and Hargrave aligned as 4i techniques. That would allow them easier reads on most of Gannon’s play calls. As was the case with Fangio, Gannon’s style revolves around a read-and-react defense, having consistent reads is key to success versus the run.

Expect Jordan Davis to contribute to the passing game once he returns.

Something that we don’t mention enough about Jordan Davis’ game is he has both the speed and skill to get into the backfield and frustrate the passer. He doesn’t have any sacks on his resume this season. He is, however, credited with six pressures, and that has caused an impact on the passing game.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of Jordan Davis being injured lies in the fact that, for the first time all season, he was being used more consistently versus the Pittsburgh Steelers as opposed to only being used situationally. It would have been fun to see how he would have responded by having the extra responsibility. For now, that will have to wait.

Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox should continue to dominate along the defensive line’s interior in the meantime. Milton Williams and Marlon Tuipulotu will continue to develop, and once Davis returns, he should return to a better team, one that may benefit from utilizing some of what they’ve learned from Vic Fangio’s scheme.

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