NFL Nation: Bill Davis

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PHILADELPHIA -- The tree trimmer is in luck. He is working on this block of South Broad Street just as the Philadelphia Eagles are beginning one of Chip Kelly's hyperspeed practices. His spot in the cherry picker gives him a perfect vantage point on this sunny, early autumn afternoon.

The blaring speakers across the way drown out the tree trimmer's saw while the Eagles begin their session with what looks like a dance class. Players line up across one of the three practice fields. They march forward, knees high, for 20 yards. Then, they return, walking backward this time, without turning.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles, G.J. Kine, Matt Barkley
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesIt's important for the Eagles to get loose before practice because they'll be going full tilt once the first practice period starts.
There are two flat screens, roughly the size and shape of play clocks on game day, one on each side of the NovaCare Complex's fields. They have two pieces of information. In small, orange numerals at the top, the screen shows which period it is. In large, red numerals, a clock counts down the amount of time remaining in the current period.

Period 1

On one field, three groups gather at intervals of 20 yards. Each group is comprised of a quarterback, a center, a running back and some receivers. Each unit lines up in unison. Three balls are snapped, three quarterbacks drop back. Almost simultaneously, three balls are thrown to receivers, all open because, well, no one is covering them.

On the next field over, practice squad quarterback G.J. Kinne throws passes down the middle of the field. Cornerbacks and safeties take turns running under them, turning and leaping to catch them.

Nearby, the big guys are starting to line up across from one another. Offensive linemen square off with each other, some using large, foam pads to brace themselves, while others fire out as if the ball has just been snapped. Defensive linemen run similar drills with each other.

Period 4

In the early going, this is pretty much how it looks. Position groups are working together, focusing on specific skills. Only the quarterbacks get small complements of teammates, and their focus is on timing.

At one end of a field, the running backs gather. They are paired off, with each member of a pair stepping into the open end of what looks like a long rubber band. As one player stands his ground, the other clutches a football, lowers his shoulder and runs forward until the rubber band has reached its limits and starts pulling him back. The backs take turns, serving as anchor and then fighting the resistance.

Meanwhile, around the field, a large, rubber ball is being rolled at the outside linebackers. Each one reaches down, pushes the ball away and then sprints toward a blocking sled. After pounding the sled, the player rolls off and heads back to repeat the exercise.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Matt RourkeThe frenetic chaos of practice, and the preparation for similar chaos on Sundays, is what Eagles coach Chip Kelly lives for.
Offensive and defensive linemen are grappling with each other. Wide receivers run routes while defensive backs shadow them. All the components of a football play are there, but none of them have been put together yet.

Meanwhile, the tree trimmer's ears are assaulted by what sounds like the iPod of a 15-year-old girl. There are pop hits, dance-club favorites and the occasional old-school rock song mixed in. It is all played very loudly to simulate the noise of a crowded stadium on game day.

"It's controlled chaos," linebacker Emmanuel Acho said. "We have the music blaring. Sometimes, you can hardly hear your teammates. But that means everything on Sunday is a lot slower. When you come out here and you can hardly hear the call, then on Sunday, when you're playing at home and it's quiet when you're out there, then it's very simple. I think we do a good job of stressing ourselves in practice so the game is easier."

That is precisely Kelly's intention, and it is precisely what set cornerback Cary Williams off after a Week 3 win over the Washington Redskins. Williams said it was difficult to play a game on Sunday after playing "three games" in practice sessions in the preceding week. The veteran, who previously played for John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens, said he thought the toll levied by the practice pace was being paid by a lack of energy in the beginning of games.

Kelly met with Williams, who stood by his comments. But it's also true that many players credited the practice schedule with helping them stay fresher last season than they had in previous seasons.

Period 12

Now the practices begin to resemble real football. There is not live hitting, although the Eagles do practice in pads once a week. But the offense and defense line up against each other and run plays.

One of Kelly's principles is that everything is done at the hurry-up pace he wants to operate his offense at in games.

"It's fast-paced," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "We're getting a bunch of reps in a short amount of time. And then we're getting a lot of different periods. We'll go full speed, then a walk-through period. It simulates how we play the game. We run a 10-play drive, full speed the entire time, and then we sit on the sideline while the offense is up. And we keep doing that rotation the whole practice, so you're getting gamelike repetitions during the week."

[+] EnlargeDarren Sproles, Henry Josey
Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsDarren Sproles (43) & Co. get a water break and some teaching time before going back at it.
There is a consequence of that. To have the first-team offense run a drive against the first-team defense -- and then have both squads take to the sideline -- you have to give the second teams a lot of practice time. In the past, the Eagles' backup quarterbacks would get exactly zero practice reps while the starter was preparing for a game. Under Kelly, all the backup players get nearly equal practice time.

When a starter gets injured, that pays off. It's not a guy who is cold and unfamiliar with his teammates stepping into the vacancy; it is a guy who has practiced with and against them all week.

"We get tons of reps here, which is great," said backup center David Molk, who was pressed into action because of injuries in two of three games so far and will start Sunday in San Francisco. "I'm extremely comfortable with how [the other linemen] move and react and shift. It's easy for me."

Period 16: 'Teach'

The sudden silence is jarring. With the music silenced, a voice is audible over the speakers.

"Teach," it says. And for the period that follows, players gather in position groups, around their position coaches, and instructions are given. It's also time for a water break.

But the "Teach" periods underscore that very little communication goes on in the regular practice periods. This is very different from the typical NFL practice.

Reporters who have covered the Eagles for a long time all do a version of Rich Kotite's distinctive nasal honk cutting through a practice session: "Back in the huddle," Kotite would yell, and the players would abandon their misguided formation and trudge back into a circle to be corrected by the coach. Then, they would spread out again, line up correctly and run the play.

Kelly has no use for this. His team doesn't huddle, for one thing. For another, there has never been an occasion in a game in which the coach was allowed onto the middle of the field to make sure the players were lined up correctly. If it doesn’t happen in a game, it doesn't happen in a Kelly practice session. What's the point?

But the "Teach" periods allow everyone to catch his breath and focus on the coaches' instructions. There aren't many of them.

Period 22

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia Eagles
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaThere's no rest for the weary, as the all-important red zone drills are about to start.
By this point in a practice, everyone has been on the field for almost two hours and is getting tired. But this is the point at which Kelly conducts his red zone drills, the most intensely competitive aspect of any NFL practice.

The importance of these drills was brought into sharp relief by the Eagles' come-from-behind, Monday night victory over the Indianapolis Colts. During that comeback for the Eagles, Period 22 became a rallying cry.

"No one rises to the occasion," Kelly said after the game. "You always sink to your level of training. That's how we trained them. You heard our guys talk about it after the game. This is no different than Period 22 on a Wednesday or Thursday for us."

You heard versions of that in the locker room afterward.

"Some people were saying, 'This is just like Period 22 for us,'" Jenkins said that night. "We practice at such a pace that, when we get into the fourth quarter, guys are fresh. Guys are still at full speed. This is what we train for. It’s Period 22."

Period 26

The players are on the grass, forming a large circle. They are on their backs, legs up, stretching one last time. Each player has a long rubber band that allows him to stretch his tired leg muscles. They are already beginning the recovery period that will allow them to be strong the next day.

[+] EnlargeCary Williams
AP Photo/Matt RourkeCary Williams wasn't kidding when he spoke about the intensity of an Eagles practice: They aren't a joke.
Aides scurry around, collecting the tiny GPS devices players wear. These monitor movement and help the training staff keep track of how much each player is exerting. This information is used to help create the famous post-practice smoothies players consume and to tell coaches which players need a little time off.

"Not many teams have done that, as far as catering to the individual athlete," said Acho, who spent time with the Giants last year. "Whether it’s their own meal plan or their own workout regimen, their own recovery regimen, everybody has something individualized for them. It's very unique to this organization."

Bill Davis knows. Unlike Kelly, who arrived in the NFL last year after many years coaching at the college level, Davis is an NFL lifer. His father, also named Bill, was an assistant coach and executive with the Eagles and other NFL teams. Davis himself has been an NFL assistant for more than 20 years. This is his third time as a defensive coordinator. He has fully embraced Kelly's new world order.

"We train in a great way," Davis said. "The sports science we have, the way we handle it, there's no concern. I actually think we are the strongest team in the fourth quarter, and it shows. We keep finishing the games. Where others don't have it in the tank, we have it in the tank, and it shows. This is an elite program. I've been with 10 different organizations, and it's not even close."
PHILADELPHIA – They are their fathers’ sons.

Buddy Ryan begat twins Rex, the colorful head coach of the New York Jets, and Rob, the long-haired firebrand who runs the New Orleans Saints' defense.

Bill Davis Sr. begat Bill Jr., the polite, plainspoken defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles.

About all Davis and the Ryan brothers have in common is that they went into the family business. About all their fathers have in common is that their NFL career paths intersected in Philadelphia. Intersected? Make that collided.

[+] EnlargeBill Davis
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliBill Davis has helped make the Eagles' defense formidable by going with a 3-4 look.
Buddy Ryan was the head coach of the Eagles. He was hired after leading the Chicago Bears’ legendary defense all the way to a dominating Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots. Ryan clashed with his boss, Mike Ditka, in Chicago and he clashed with his bosses in Philadelphia as well.

Owner Norman Braman was “the guy in France.” Team president Harry Gamble, as decent a guy as ever who worked in the league, was often forced to react to Ryan’s outlandish comments and actions – such as presenting personnel men with oversized “scab rings” for assembling a particularly incompetent group of replacement players during the 1987 strike.

A year later, Gamble hired Bill Davis to run the personnel department. Ryan and his friend Joe Woolley had been making draft-day decisions, and Ryan wasn’t thrilled by the move. He once snarled, “"Bill Davis has got a job and he's got a title, but that's about it."

Davis, who had been on Dick Vermeil’s coaching staff in the 1970s, resigned in 1989. Ryan was fired a year later.

A quarter century later, Rob Ryan and Bill Davis Jr. will coach against each other in a first-round playoff game. Ryan will stalk the sidelines, trying to rally his guys to slow down Chip Kelly’s go-go offense. Davis will sit up in the coaches’ box, trying to find answers for Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and the rest of Sean Payton’s weapons.

“I don't really know him that well,” Davis said of his adversary. “I know the Ryan brothers to say hello to, but I really don't have a big history with either one.”

That’s remarkable when you consider Davis was a ballboy for those ‘70s Eagles teams. The Ryan brothers were too young to coach with their father in Philadelphia, but Buddy hired them when he made a brief stop in Arizona as head coach of the Cardinals.

Rex Ryan made three stops at the collegiate level before returning to the NFL for good in 1999. Rob Ryan has been in the league since 2000. Davis has worked continuously in the NFL since 1992.

That’s a lot of scouting combines and Senior Bowls for three second-generation NFL coaches not to get past “hello.”

But then, they are their fathers’ sons.

On Saturday, the cameras will follow Rob Ryan up and down the sideline. He is every bit the character his father and brother are – loud, funny, irreverent. He’s also a really good defensive coach, as evidenced by the Saints’ vast improvement over last year.

Davis has quietly done a very good job with the Eagles, too. He was not an enormously popular hire. Kelly spent weeks interviewing potential defensive coordinators before settling on Davis. He had been the linebackers coach with the Cleveland Browns (Rob Ryan was the Browns’ coordinator for two years before Davis got there; it’s a small league). Davis had been a coordinator twice before, with little to distinguish him.

He has led the Eagles in the transition from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4. His unit has gotten better every week, with the exception of one poor showing in Minnesota. Davis’ Eagles play smart football, tackle much better than they did the past two years and have started creating turnovers at key moments.

Davis himself is as adept at explaining the game and his strategies to fans as he is at teaching the players. He never ducks responsibility when things go bad – he did a postgame news conference by cellphone after the 52-20 loss in Denver – and spreads credit when things go well.

“I think the biggest thing that's happened in this defense is the chemistry and the type of men that they are made of and how much they are really playing for each other,” Davis said this week. “I've been on a lot of different teams and been through a lot of seasons and this one is unique in that the guys are truly unselfish and they are truly playing for the success of their teammates.”

To paraphrase his father’s nemesis, Bill Davis has a job and a division title, and that’s pretty good.


There was a time when the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys both had a good chance of being undefeated going into an October showdown. That time may be long gone, but this meeting between a pair of 3-3 teams still has a lot of cachet.

The winner will have sole possession of first place in the NFC East. With Washington (1-4) and the New York Giants (0-6) already wrecked on the side of the road, this game will establish pole position for the race ahead.

Todd Archer, who covers the Cowboys for ESPN.com's NFL Nation, and Philadelphia counterpart Phil Sheridan discussed some of the big questions going into the game.

Sheridan: DeMarcus Ware and DeMarco Murray -- whether they're out or just limited by injury -- which can the Cowboys least afford to lose and why?

Archer: To me, the easy answer is Ware because they really don't have much of a pass rush without him. The Cowboys can get by without Murray because of Tony Romo and the passing game. Ware has several little injuries this year with a stinger, a back strain, dehydration, getting poked in the eye and now this quad strain. He says he is a fast healer, but I don't think he'll heal fast enough for this week and the Cowboys will have to get by with what Jerry Jones called the "no-names," like George Selvie, Kyle Wilber and Caesar Rayford.

I'll go with the either/or as well: Michael Vick or Nick Foles? If both are healthy, whom does Chip Kelly eventually roll with?

Sheridan: I wish I knew what Chipper is really thinking. Ultimately, I think he has to get an extended look at Foles this season. Vick's injury opened the door, and Foles certainly took a confident stride through it Sunday, earning NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors in Tampa. But part of being a successful NFL quarterback is coming back, week after week, through nagging injuries and fatigue. Kelly has to know whether Foles can do that before this season is over. Combine that with the fact that Foles may actually run the offense more effectively and I think it may be a while before we see Vick again.

Foles had a good day in Tampa. Now he faces the godfather of the Tampa 2. How is Monte Kiffin's defense coming together after six games?

Archer: To be kind, not well. The Cowboys have allowed three 400-yard passers this season. They allowed 216 rushing yards last week against Washington. They likely won't have Ware, so that will hinder the pass rush. The Cowboys aren't really the true Tampa 2 scheme that Kiffin ran so well in Tampa. First off, he doesn't have Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks or John Lynch, but the Cowboys are mixing their coverages a lot more because of their cornerbacks. They paid a lot of money for Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick and have tried to play more man-to-man lately. They were fairly effective against the Redskins, and that helped the pass rush. They'll have to be that effective this week too.

I mentioned the 216 rushing yards, and LeSean McCoy is on the docket for the Dallas D. He's off to a great start and seems to be a perfect fit in this offense. True?

Sheridan: One hundred percent true, although McCoy might be a pretty good fit in any offense that involves a football. Some of the Broncos, who don't see him often, were comparing him to Barry Sanders, and it's not as big a reach as you might think at first. He's quick, he's strong, he changes direction almost magically, and his instincts are remarkable. For a few weeks, the Eagles were piling up rushing yards without getting enough points. Against Tampa Bay, McCoy went for 116 yards and there was a 31 on the scoreboard. That's where the Eagles need to be.

Let's turn to the Dallas offense. Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said this week what a lot of people think, that Romo is capable of making a big play or a big mistake at any time. How is the franchise quarterback's confidence this year?

Archer: I wonder if Davis has seen Romo play much this year. Maybe he just saw the end of the Broncos game when he had the interception, but Romo has only three picks on the year. One was a busted route by a rookie receiver, and another was a tipped ball. I think his involvement in the game plan really has Romo tuned into the opposing defenses and what they're trying to do. He is not forcing throws (no, I'm not forgetting the late Broncos interception), and he is being more patient than ever. This is his offense in a lot of ways, and he doesn't want to screw it up. That being said, the offense has not performed well in its first two road games, scoring 16 and 14 points against Kansas City and San Diego. In the last two games, the Cowboys have spread it out more, and without Murray this week, I think you'll see more spread looks Sunday.

For so long we've been used to seeing a Jim Johnson-type defense in Philly, but Davis has a different style. What has or hasn't happened so far in the Eagles' move to the 3-4?

Sheridan: It is a process, as Davis and Kelly constantly remind us. It's a tough transition when you have players better suited to a 4-3. It's even tougher with players who aren't suited to any defensive scheme at all. The Eagles seemed to have a few of those while giving up 33 passing touchdowns last year. They made a lot of changes in the secondary, but it has still been vulnerable -- especially on third down. The defense seemed to make progress against the Giants and Bucs, but those are two winless teams. It will be a big deal if the Eagles can continue to make progress against a quarterback like Romo.

How good is Dez Bryant right now, and how much more potent can this offense be if and when Miles Austin gets it going?

Archer: Bryant has carried over his success from the second half of last season to this season, at least in terms of touchdowns. He is a nightmare for cornerbacks in the red zone. He's just too big and physical down there for them to handle. He's almost too physical and might get a pass interference penalty one of these days. But Romo is so confident in him down tight that he'll just throw it up knowing Bryant will get it or nobody else will. What's strange, however, is that Bryant has had three games in which he has averaged less than 10 yards per catch. If teams want to take him out with help, they can. And that's where Austin comes in. He's just not healthy yet but was off to a good start before injuring his hamstring. Rookie Terrance Williams has really caught on lately and helped make up for Austin's absence/lack of production. When he's right, Austin is dangerous in the slot and outside and is a tough matchup.

Let's stick with the receivers. Is DeSean Jackson, well, DeSean Jackson again?

Sheridan: DeSean Jackson is DeSean Jackson, only better. He seems to have matured almost overnight. He says he worked out and added a little muscle mass during the offseason. Not sure whether it's that or Foles or Kelly's offensive approach, but Jackson is suddenly a factor in the red zone. He was always a deep threat but disappeared inside the 20. He has red zone scores in each of the last two games. He'll never be the kind of receiver you described Bryant as being, but he's added a better understanding of the game to his gift of speed.

Both teams are 3-3. It's not exactly the 1990s, when they might both be undefeated when they met in October, but this will still decide who is in first place in the NFC East. Do you think the Cowboys have what it takes to knuckle down and win the division in a decidedly down year?

Archer: I think they do, but if there's one thing I've figured out in covering this team, it is to never come to expect anything. They are just too up and down. There's no doubt the NFC East is down, but the prevailing wisdom is that the Cowboys are infinitely more talented than every other team in the division, so they should run away with it. I don't know about that. They're good at the top but not so much in the middle and bottom. They have a ton of questions on defense. They can't afford injuries. They might have the best chance to win the NFC East, but it's not a lock. This game, to me, is huge. If they can get to 3-0 in the division, it gets a little easier. If they lose, they're riding that 8-8 bus again.

Is Kelly in this for the long haul?

Sheridan: Here's another case where I wish I knew what was going on inside Kelly's head. He's good at talking about football, what he's trying to do and why. He doesn't entertain any questions that appear to be probing into his personal life or his feelings about anything. I think he's learned the NFL is difficult in different ways from the college game. Whether he enjoys being out of his comfort zone and sees it as a challenge to excel at this level or whether he can't wait to get back to a college gig, I have no idea. He just doesn't share that kind of thing. I can say that neither extreme would surprise me. More to the point, I think he can be a very good NFL coach. His offense certainly works in the league.

QB Watch: Cowboys' Tony Romo

October, 16, 2013
10/16/13
9:00
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A weekly analysis of the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback play:

Romo
Rewind: There is something about the Washington Redskins that has affected the Cowboys’ passing game. Tony Romo completed only 60 percent of his passes (a season low) and threw for a season-low 170 yards against the Redskins. He was intercepted once but had a Romo-like touchdown, escaping trouble and finding Terrance Williams for a 15-yard score. Coming off a 506-yard effort against Denver when he was able to get the ball down the field, Romo’s longest completion against the Redskins was just 17 yards to Dez Bryant. Things started out well with Romo completing four of his first five passes for 50 yards on a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to open the game, but the Redskins' pressure and tight coverage forced him to be slightly off for the first time this season.

Fast-forward: For most of his career, Romo could expect to see a wide variety of blitzes from the Eagles' defense with the influence of former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson still being felt after he stopped coaching. Romo has yet to go against a Bill Davis-led defense in his career, but he has gone against Davis’ influences in the past that have employed similar schemes. He has had some success but also struggled at times against the confusing looks. Philadelphia, however, is allowing 314.5 yards per game through the air, which is 31st in the NFL. Without DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys' running game figures to be limited at least a little, so Romo will have to make plays through the air.

Mixing it around: The Cowboys have had 12 different players catch at least one pass in the first six games. Rookie running back Joseph Randle became the 12th with two catches against Washington. While Jason Witten is the security blanket and Bryant is the big-play receiver, Romo is at his best when he mixes it around. He had six different receivers versus the Redskins. He had eight different receivers two weeks ago against the Denver Broncos. He’s not afraid to go to Williams or Cole Beasley in a tight spot if needed. Six different receivers have caught Romo’s 14 touchdown passes. The ability to spread the ball makes it that much harder for a defense to key in on one or two targets. By going to so many different players, Romo is making his job a little easier.

Prediction: Romo was held to only 130 yards fewer than what I predicted he would get against the Redskins. In his two road games so far -- losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers -- he has thrown for 544 yards. Let’s split it down the middle and say he throws for 272 yards against the Eagles and comes up with two touchdown passes as well. He has yet to throw an interception on the road this year, but that streak will end against Philadelphia. It doesn’t mean the Cowboys will lose though, does it?
DeSean Jackson and Mike GlennonGetty ImagesDeSean Jackson is on pace for over 1,600 yards, while Mike Glennon is looking for his first win as an NFL starter.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Sunday's meeting between the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers represents a culture clash of offensive styles.

The Eagles have been making headlines with their fast-paced offense, while the Bucs have been plodding along with a passing offense that ranks No. 32.

ESPN.com Eagles team reporter Phil Sheridan and Bucs team reporter Pat Yasinskas discuss the matchup.

Phil Sheridan: Eagles fans are familiar with Bucs coach Greg Schiano through his Rutgers and Penn State connections. Has he been able to hold the locker room together through this Josh Freeman episode?

Pat Yasinskas: It has been a challenge and I guess you could say it remains a work in progress. There have been some reports that some veteran players aren't sold on Schiano's old-school ways. He might be a little overboard with his thoughts on order and discipline. But this was a team that was in disarray when he arrived. The Freeman episode was a major distraction, but it's over now. Schiano needs to take this team and move forward from all the Freeman stuff.

Speaking of coaches who have come from college backgrounds, Chip Kelly fits that profile and his offense has generated a lot of headlines. From a distance, it seems as though Kelly's offense has been up and down. What are your thoughts on whether this offense can be successful in the NFL over the long term?

Sheridan: Talk about a work in progress. We all saw the Eagles burst out of the blocks in that Monday night opener in Washington. We really haven't seen much of the Kelly offense -- uptempo, innovative, aggressive -- since then. The Eagles have the NFL's top rushing offense, but that seems inflated by quarterback Michael Vick's rushing yards as well as defenses' willingness to let the Eagles amass yardage as long as it doesn't translate to a lot of points. Meanwhile, it does seem as though the offense wears down in games after trying to push the tempo early. I'm not sure that means Kelly's scheme won't work in the NFL or if he just doesn't have the personnel to run it.

On that note, it's especially tough on a team when one side of the ball is playing at a high level and the other is struggling. How has the Bucs' defense been able to hold opponents to such low-scoring totals?

Yasinskas: Pitting the defense against the offense is another concern for the Bucs. Their defense has played well, overall, while the offense has struggled mightily. Although no one has griped publicly, I sense that the defensive players are frustrated with the lack of production from the offense. The secondary, the defensive line and the linebackers all have had some very bright moments. But the offense has been dismal. If things continue like they are, it's only a matter of time before there are some ill feelings from the defensive players.

Speaking of the defense, how has Philadelphia's been so far? It seems like all the talk has been about the offense, but we really don't know much about the defense.

Sheridan: Talk about a work in progress -- oops, did I already say that? Kelly hired Bill Davis to install a 3-4 defense with a bunch of new starters (three quarters of the secondary, plus Connor Barwin), or old starters at new positions (Trent Cole, especially). The defense was OK in the opener, terrible for long stretches against San Diego, Kansas City and especially Denver, then OK again against the Giants on Sunday. There are no real playmakers, the kind who keep offensive coordinators up at night, but overall, this group seems to be jelling a bit better. The equation this year always had the offense producing enough points to carry a developing defense. So far, the offense has let down the defense.

Other than he's tall, Mike Glennon is an unknown to people around here. Can he play on this level or do you sense the bigger plan is to get through this season and find a quarterback in the draft?

Yasinskas: The jury is very much out on Glennon. But Schiano has liked Glennon since he tried to recruit him out of high school and would like to make things work. Glennon is the kind of quarterback Schiano likes -- he's a rah-rah, fiery leader (something Freeman was not). Perhaps more importantly, Glennon has the big arm that Schiano covets. Schiano's core offensive philosophy is to run the ball well and take some deep shots with the passing game, so Glennon fits the profile of what Schiano is looking for in a quarterback.

Speaking of quarterbacks fitting in, how much different should we expect Philadelphia's offense to be with Nick Foles playing in place of Vick?

Sheridan: I won't use the work-in-progress joke again because I'm better than that. Kelly swears it is the same offense regardless of who is playing quarterback. That is what we football insiders technically call balderdash. Kelly went with Vick because the veteran still represents a serious threat to run the ball, which in turn gives Kelly's read-option the edge it needs. Foles can move in the pocket and elude a pass rush, but his mobility doesn't translate to 20-yard read-option runs. But he does get the ball out more quickly in a rhythm passing game, so it will be interesting to see if the receivers who haven't been open for Vick -- talking Riley Cooper, Jason Avant and the tight ends -- are more involved if Foles plays.
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QB Watch: Broncos' Peyton Manning

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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A weekly examination of the Denver Broncos' quarterback play.

Manning
Rewind: At one point late in the first half Monday night, Peyton Manning was 21-of-23 passing for 264 yards and three touchdowns against the Raiders. And those two incompletions were drops. That’s about as dialed in as a passer can be and Manning’s increased comfort level in the Broncos’ offense, in the city of Denver and with the receivers around him continues to show with each passing week.

Fast-forward: The fast-break Eagles want to run waves of plays at opposing defenses, but have had only one game this season -- the opener against the Redskins -- where they’ve run more plays than their opponent has and they didn’t top 65 against either San Diego or Kansas City. But they will have to consider how fast they want to go against the Broncos because handing the ball over to Manning too many times hasn’t really worked out well for any of the Broncos’ opponents.

Little of this, little of that: The Broncos showed Monday night they have more variety in their playbook than they had previously shown. They had been a three-wide receiver team much of the time in the first two games, but flashed several two tight end groupings -- including Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme in one and Virgil Green and Thomas in another -- to go with a three tight end look they showed on one pass play.

Prediction: Manning has 12 touchdown passes in three games. He has completed 73 percent of his passes and averaged 9.4 yards per attempt. Those are migraine-inducing numbers for opposing defensive coordinators and the Eagles’ Bill Davis is next in line. Against a team with a first-year coaching staff and depth issues, the Broncos figure to push the Eagles into plenty of specialty packages in the secondary in hopes of getting favorable matchups against defensive backs further down the depth chart.

Eagles defense makes encouraging debut

September, 10, 2013
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LANDOVER, Md. – Bill Davis made a remarkable admission last week, as he prepared the Philadelphia Eagles defense for Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris.

“I don’t know what’s coming,” Davis said.

He meant that he couldn’t really gauge the state of his squad until he saw it against a real NFL offense with a real game plan.

It's a good starting point for us. They executed the plan. I won't say it was a surprise, but it was nice to see that against a great offensive team.

-- Bill Davis, Eagles defensive coordinator
After one quarter, in which the Eagles created two turnovers and a safety, Davis might have thought he had the 2000 Baltimore Ravens on his hands. After a full game, a 33-27 victory at Washington, he knows there is work to be done, but he can still feel encouraged.

“It’s a good starting point for us,” Davis said. “They executed the plan. I won’t say it was a surprise, but it was nice to see that against a great offensive team. It was a fun night and the guys did a great job.”

Trent Cole, the veteran defensive end transitioning to outside linebacker, forced a Morris fumble on Washington’s second play from scrimmage. Cole lined up with his hand on the ground at times, as an OLB at other, but had consistent pressure on Griffin.

Cary Williams, the ornery cornerback known more for scuffling in practice, made a great diving interception. He sacked Griffin on a blitz from the slot. And, in maybe the biggest play of all, he broke up a fourth-quarter, fourth-down pass that temporarily derailed Washington’s comeback.

Second-year linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who recovered Morris’ fumble, had a team-high 10 tackles. He and DeMeco Ryans handled the middle as Morris was held to just 45 rushing yards on 12 carries.

Those were the positive highlights. In the second half, Griffin led his team to 20 unanswered points. Williams was sidelined with cramps for part of that, allowing Griffin to pick on rookie cornerback Jordan Poyer for one touchdown.

“The game changed,” Davis said. “I probably pressured a little bit more than I should have. The second-to-last score was on a couple of multiple pressures back-to-back. I wanted to let them know that we aren’t going to sit back and play prevent, and I got burned on it. Sometimes that happens. They made some plays and we played a little softer.”

That was another encouraging sign: Davis was as willing to explain what went wrong as what went right.
PHILADELPHIA – The mystery of Chip Kelly’s offense -- what it will look like and how he will adapt it for the NFL -- is the dominant storyline for the Philadelphia Eagles.

There is an equally mysterious aspect of the Eagles’ makeover. So mysterious, in fact, that even the man behind the curtain has no idea what it will look like.

If the world is wondering how Kelly’s offense will look when the Eagles debut at Washington on Monday night, Bill Davis is wondering how his own defense will look.

“Yeah, I'm very anxious for the Redskins to show us who we are and where we are,” Philadelphia's defensive coordinator said. “I don't know what's coming. The truth will be, at the end of that game, we will know defensively how far along we are. … No matter what I wish for or what I want -- doesn't matter. The game will show us who we are.”

At some level, Davis is probably trying to keep the expectations of a very demanding fan base low. But there is some real candor there, too. The Eagles' defense was terrible last season. Davis was Kelly’s choice to rebuild it. He is moving from a 4-3, “wide-9” base defense to a 3-4 hybrid with personnel who don't fit well in either scheme.

[+] EnlargeBill Davis
AP Photo/Matt RourkeBill Davis, in charge of making over the Eagles' defense, remains uncertain where that process stands.
So what do those mischief-makers at the league office give him? Robert Griffin III, arguably the most dynamic young quarterback in the game, and the league’s No. 1 rushing offense from last season, led by Alfred Morris. All on "Monday Night Football," with the whole world watching.

So yes, Davis will get a merciless assessment of his squad’s progress.

“They are very talented across the board,” Davis said of Washington's offense. “They played all 16 games together last year -- which is a huge advantage, to play in a system -- and we have to face that, and we have got to face it using an overhauled defense with new techniques that we have taught.”

Davis can take some consolation in the fact that there is nowhere for this defense to go but up. Griffin and Morris destroyed the Eagles last season, sweeping the season series and helping grease the skids for Andy Reid’s exit.

Connor Barwin was with the Houston Texans when Wade Phillips was brought in as defensive coordinator and installed a 3-4 scheme. Barwin, an outside linebacker who signed with the Eagles as a free agent, said it took until about Week 6 for the defense to run smoothly.

“It’s not unsettling at all,” Barwin said. “This is just the position we’re in. At one point, the Patriots were in this position. At one point, the Bengals, the Niners, the Texans were all in this position. You have to go through it to get where you want to be.”

Barwin said it was reasonable to believe the Eagles could be a “top-10 defense” this season. That might be a little ambitious, but there’s no harm in aiming high.

For Davis, the man charged with building this thing, it’s all about the process. And the first real game is a major stepping-stone.

“Wherever we start against Washington, good or bad or somewhere in the middle, it has to continue to get better by the 16th game,” Davis said. “This season has got to be about this defense getting to where everybody wants it to be. The Washington game is our starting point. I don't know where along the scale we are, but wherever that is, that's the ground level, and we have got to take it a lot higher than it is.”

Planning for unknown in Washington

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
12:54
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Michael Vick, Chip KellyDrew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesComing up with a game plan to stop Chip Kelly's Michael Vick-led offense won't be easy.
It is the NFL coaches' day to plan. They are preparing for their season opener, of course, but Chip Kelly and his brethren have had months to contemplate how to attack their first opponent -- and vice versa.

There are some unique aspects about the way the Eagles will prepare for Washington. It is Kelly’s first real NFL game after a preseason spent deciding exactly what he did and didn’t want to reveal about his offense. It is the first real outing for Bill Davis’ revamped defense. And although Washington is an all-too-familiar NFC East rival, there is some mystery about the health and effectiveness of quarterback Robert Griffin III in his return from ACL surgery.

Let’s start with the matchup that makes this game worthy of the season’s first Monday night slot: Kelly’s offense against coordinator Jim Haslett’s defense.

How will Haslett prepare for an offense he hasn’t seen? Can he even trust what he has seen, or has Kelly thrown some red herrings in the red zone? Haslett will no doubt study what Gus Bradley’s Jacksonville defense did early in that preseason game to confound the Eagles’ offensive linemen. When told that Haslett has said he studied Oregon’s offense for clues, Kelly saw the logic in that.

“We are different,” Kelly said, “but I would do the same thing. It's either watch Oregon tape or watch nothing. It's going to be a combination of [Oregon tape and] our preseason games. It's no different than when we have to prepare for the Chargers. You have to kind of look at what the history is. … That's commonplace, I think.”

My guess: With less certainty about scheme, Haslett will focus on what he does know best -- the players. If blitzing Michael Vick has worked in the past, then you blitz Vick until the Eagles show they can stop it. If being physical at the line with DeSean Jackson has taken him out of games, that’s what you do.

There can be a kind of self-fulfilling element to that. By attacking the areas he knows, Haslett could disrupt Kelly’s scheme enough to derail it for the night. It will be up to Kelly to anticipate Haslett’s approach and counter it.

The other side of the ball is nearly as perplexing. Unlike former coach Andy Reid, who hired defensive coordinator Jim Johnson because of the trouble Johnson gave Green Bay’s coaches, Kelly doesn’t run a common NFL offense. He never coached against Davis or any other coordinator on this level.

“I don't really look at it that way because I think what we do offensively is a little bit more unique,” Kelly said. “I think we want a defense that gives the majority of the teams we play problems, you know what I mean, so it's more of that aspect.”

As it turns out, practicing against Kelly’s offense all summer won’t be a total waste in Davis’ first game as Eagles coordinator. Griffin won’t be running the same system, of course, but there are at least some familiar elements.

The Eagles' defense is very much a work in progress, with Davis trying to figure out just how to deploy the players he has available. This defense isn’t ready yet to impose its will on another team. With three games in 11 days -- along with Philip Rivers, Alex Smith and Peyton Manning in the first month -- Davis will have to customize his schemes for each opponent.

Just as Haslett will attack Vick's known vulnerabilities, Davis surely will try to get Griffin on the move to test his quickness and willingness to be physical in his first live action since the knee surgery.

The true personality of this Eagles defense will have to emerge during the course of the season. There is no better foundation than early success.
PHILADELPHIA – Only the strong (safety) survived.

That’s been the case so far, as the overhaul of the Eagles’ dreadful 2012 secondary remains incomplete. Strong safety Nate Allen could be the sole survivor.

“Nate's a phenomenal athlete and good football player,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “Nobody works harder at it than Nate. The first game he struggled a little bit, and second game, he played well.”

Allen, drafted with a pick acquired in the Donovan McNabb trade, figured to be swept out with the rest of the starting defensive backfield. That group gave up a league-high 33 touchdowns, more than two per game, and wasn’t exactly a model of stout run defense.

The starting cornerbacks are gone. Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had become symbols of the 2011 “Dream Team” debacle. They were even less effective last season. Asomugha was released. Rodgers-Cromartie walked in free agency.

General manager Howie Roseman signed Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher to replace them.

[+] EnlargeNate Allen
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportThough he hasn't exactly overwhelmed during camp, safety Nate Allen could be close to cementing a place in the Eagles' secondary.
Free safety Kurt Coleman is still in camp, but has been displaced on the depth chart by Patrick Chung. Roseman signed Chung in the same offseason spree that netted Williams, Fletcher and safety Kenny Phillips.

That’s where the overhaul remains incomplete. Injuries have kept Phillips from establishing himself. He missed the second preseason game, against Carolina, with a strained quadriceps. He was riding an exercise bike instead of practicing Wednesday.

Meanwhile, fifth-round pick Earl Wolff has not yet been able to slip into the starting lineup. That leaves Allen, who has been an underwhelming presence, as the No. 1 strong safety for Saturday’s preseason game in Jacksonville, Fla.

“This is a big preseason game for us,” Davis said. “In the evaluation process, every game weighs a little heavier than the practices, obviously, because of the speed at which you play and the tackles and all that. But this is a big preseason game to help us determine who the starters will be and the back ups.”

Davis said Allen and Chung will start for the third week in a row, but he plans to rotate other candidates in with the first team.

“There is still a good competition going on there,” Davis said. “We'll try to get everybody some plays. Probably roll some of the other safeties in the first half. So it's not in stone. We really want to get a good look at all the guys and see where we are at the end of the three preseason games that we play.”

If Phillips isn’t able to play, there won’t be much time left for him to make a run at the starting job. That could leave Allen, thought to be targeted for replacement, as the only secondary survivor from last year’s wreckage.

“I need to have a great game,” Allen said. “No mental errors, just go out there and make plays. That’s the same every day. Even out here in practice, you have to go out and play your game -- no mental errors, nobody getting behind you. Whether I’m running with the ones or the twos or the threes, I’m just going out there and working.”
New Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Cary Williams is upset because of the way the Patriots teased and bullied the Eagles' defense during joint practices last week. Williams came from Baltimore as a free agent this offseason, and he insists that such a thing would not have taken place were the Patriots jointly practicing with the Ravens:
"At the end of the day, I've still got to do things the way the coach wants me to do it, and I understand that, but it definitely would have been a different situation in Baltimore. It wouldn't have been a fun practice for the Patriots, I'll tell you that," he said.

...

"I feel like we've got to establish a toughness, a tenacity, a hard-nosed defense, something that's to be feared when it comes out there each and every week. I think [former Eagle] Brian Dawkins alluded to it a couple of times when I spoke to him, he's talking about 'bring that fear back here.' Right now, I don't know if there's anybody out there in the league who fears this defense, especially after last week," he said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

We talked about this Monday on "NFL Insiders," and I mean, fair enough. But Williams arrived in Baltimore in 2009, nearly a decade after the Ravens' first Super Bowl title and with the culture there firmly established around a dominating defense. The Ravens' defense had some roots down, and had spent a large chunk of time establishing itself as a group with which no one would mess.

To expect the same of the Eagles in August of 2013 is folly. Head coach Chip Kelly has been there for seven months and has never coached in the NFL before. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has been there for six months, and his assistant-coach resume doesn't exactly read like those of former Ravens defensive coordinators Marvin Lewis and Rex Ryan. Williams himself has been an Eagle for less than five months. He's one of at least four new starters on defense, and many of the holdovers are learning new positions.

Right now, the Eagles' defensive players are consumed with learning the myriad things they have to learn about Kelly and Davis' new defensive concepts. Until they learn them, they can't execute them with consistent confidence. And until they can do that, it's going to be awfully hard to project Ravenesque meanness. The Patriots surely know that and played into it, but that's life. The Eagles were being hazed. Everything is new in Philadelphia, much of it still feels uncomfortable, and as long as other teams know that they will do what they can to take advantage of it.

The Eagles are rebuilding, and while I know that's a dirty word in the NFL, sometimes it's true. This is a team that won four games last year and made a ton of significant changes. Of course they could contend this year. Stranger things have undoubtedly happened. But the likelihood is that the Chip Kelly Eagles will need a lot more time to get from where they were in January -- and even where they are now -- to where Kelly ultimately plans and hopes to take them. Williams is expressing the frustration that comes along with being involved in something that's new and not yet established. Coming from Baltimore, he's not used to that. This probably won't be the last time he or someone else in that locker room is frustrated.
With the fifth pick of the third round, the Philadelphia Eagles took their first defensive player of the 2013 draft -- LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan.

If they were going defensive tackle here, I'd have expected Alabama's Jesse Williams, who'd be a smoother fit in the 3-4 sets that everybody thinks Chip Kelly and Bill Davis are going to run. Logan profiles more as a 4-3 defensive tackle, which could make him more of a rotational player on the Eagles' defensive line. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially in the third round, and Logan is known as a smart, high-character guy who likely would respond well to the instruction required to learn different roles.

Logan's production wasn't the best in his final college season, but obviously Kelly sees something he likes if he's taking him here with guys like Williams and Johnathan Jenkins still on the board. Maybe he can play nose tackle or the 5-technique position on a 3-4 line. Maybe he just helps them with interior pressure when they do go to 4-3 looks. Again, third round. Take the guy you like.
PHOENIX -- Everybody wants to know what Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles offense and defense is going to look like. So does he. As Kelly pointed out Wednesday in answer to questions about the schemes he intends to run in his first year as an NFL head coach, he hasn't had a chance to get his players on the field yet. And he doesn't think it's right to impose a "system" on a group of players without first getting a handle on what they do well.

"Our defensive staff understands, just like our offensive staff understands, that everything you do has to be personnel-driven," Kelly said. "So we can say we want to run this defense, but if we don't have the personnel to do it, we still have to play games. So how do we adapt? How do we adjust? The process is about evaluating what you have and then finding out what their strengths are and how to play to their strengths and also how to hide their weaknesses."

Many have assumed the Eagles will run the kind of fast-paced offense Kelly's teams ran at the University of Oregon. And the hiring of Billy Davis as defensive coordinator led many to believe the Eagles would run the "4-3 under" type of defense Davis ran when he was defensive coordinator in Arizona. But Kelly has repeatedly resisted labels or descriptions for his planned schemes and alignments because he (wisely) wants to get a handle on what kind of roster he has before imposing structure on it.

So while I know everybody wants to know what roles Trent Cole and Brandon Graham will have if the Eagles line up in a 3-4 alignment instead of a 4-3, and how DeSean Jackson will be used on offense. But as we have discussed many times here, you don't hire a star college coach like Kelly to coach your NFL team because you liked the system he ran at Oregon. You hire him because you think he's smart and open-minded and has the ability to lead men. And the best way to lead men as an NFL head coach is to first find out what kind of men you have then figure out the best way to succeed with them.

Coaches who come in determined to do things their way, and add personnel that fit their idea of the proper scheme, aren't the ones that last. If Kelly is smart, as he appears to be, he'll find ways to use talented guys like Cole and Graham even if they don't fit defined roles and terminology Davis used in Arizona. He's operating as though he's still at the start of a long-term process. He gets one extra minicamp since he's a new head coach, and he said he's going to have it the week before the draft. That's when he'll start figuring out who goes where, and I think if you're an Eagles fan you can be intrigued and excited to follow along as he pieces it all together between then and the start of the season.
The Philadelphia Eagles added another piece to their defense Thursday when they announced a new six-year contract for linebacker Connor Barwin, formerly of the Houston Texans. Barwin is a pass-rusher who had 11.5 sacks for the Texans in 2011 but only three in 2012, and our friends at Pro Football Focus would tell you he was one of the worst 3-4 outside linebackers in the league in 2012. They ranked him 32nd overall and 33rd in pass rushing among that group.

But whatever. He did have 11.5 sacks in 2011, so there's evidence that he can get to the quarterback. And Barwin also has something the pass-rushers already on the Eagles' roster do not have -- experience playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive alignment. While it's entirely possible that Trent Cole and Brandon Graham, who were defensive ends last season when the Eagles lined up in a 4-3, can handle the likely change in roles, it's also possible that they cannot. Bringing in someone such as Barwin augments the pass rush with someone the Eagles know can handle it, deepens the pass-rushing talent on the roster and improves the Eagles' versatility on several fronts.

If Barwin's skill set isn't exactly equal to those of Cole, Graham and Vinny Curry, it allows coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis to mix and match pieces on defense, which appears to be a big part of what the Eagles intend to do in 2013. If the defense is to be a "hybrid," as it has been described in many places, it will help to have a variety of players with different strengths and weaknesses up and down the depth chart at every position. You cannot, as the Giants are so fond of saying, have too many pass-rushers. So while your first question might have been whether this means the Eagles are getting rid of Cole, I wouldn't assume that. Cole had a rough year in 2012, but even great players do that sometimes, and I doubt the Eagles are ready to ship him out of town. His trade value is low right now anyway, and I can't believe there's no place in their defense for someone of his abilities and accomplishments.

The Eagles are adding a lot of pieces to their defense. Since free agency opened, they've signed two safeties, two cornerbacks, a linebacker, a nose tackle and now a pass-rush specialist. They have a lot more cap room left and are likely to keep adding pieces. Their additions have set them up to take the best player available to them with the No. 4 pick in the draft, regardless of position, which is surely the position in which they want to be. And while, as always, there's no way to predict how any of these guys will play, if the goal is to amass depth and multiple options at as many positions as possible while they figure out what they want to do and how they want to do it, the Eagles appear to be on their way to doing that.
Gary Horton and Field Yates are doing "Offseason Playbook features" on every team, and if you have the Insider access I recommend them thoroughly. And if you don't have the Insider access, I recommend getting it. Anyway, today Gary and Field take a look at the Philadelphia Eagles with a brief rundown Insider of what the offense and defense will look like under new head coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis. Interesting stuff in there, especially the part that urges people (as we've been doing for some time) not to assume the offense will just be an NFL version of the one Kelly ran at Oregon.

Goldson
They also list six positions of need, starting with safety and cornerback as you or I would. And as they've done with every team in the series so far, they pick one free agent they think the team should pursue. For the Eagles, with a gaping need at safety and the cap room to outbid anyone, they select 49ers safety Dashon Goldson. Field writes that Goldson "can be a tone-setter for Philadelphia, which needs help in the worst way in the secondary."
In Philadelphia he would bring consistency and reliability to a safety group that had very little of it last season. Goldson is a productive safety against both the run and in the passing game and would bring immediate toughness to a defense that is in transition right now.

Regardless of what scheme Davis opts to run in Philadelphia, he needs to add playmakers on all three levels of his defense. Goldson has proven himself to be one for the 49ers in each of the past four seasons, and he would immediately become a pillar of Philly's new-look defense in 2013.

It would certainly be exciting for the Eagles to land a player who may be the top guy on the market at a position of significant need. Goldson turns 29 in September, so he's not old but likely not exactly as young as the Eagles would like the new players on their defense to be. And you do have to ask yourself why a Super Bowl team that barely substituted at all on defense in 2012 is letting Goldson go. Eagles fans may also be gun-shy about another big-name free-agent signing so soon after the mess of 2011. But there's no question they need players -- and playmakers, especially on defense. There are quite a few experienced safeties on the market, and it's possible the Eagles like someone else better. But they will need to get someone, and Goldson would qualify as a big splash.

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