The Philadelphia Eagles finished the 2021 season with a respectable 9-8 record. First-year head coach Nicki Sirianni and starting quarterback Jalen Hurts were often the focus of the ups and downs of last season.
One of the areas not to overlook is the defensive side of the ball. This unit is led by defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. 2021 was Gannon’s first year leading an NFL defense and he had mixed success. How will Jonathan Gannon improve in year 2?
Jonathan Gannon’s Coaching Career
Gannon was a three-sport athlete during his high school years in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. He went on to play football at the University of Louisville before suffering a career ending injury. This led him into coaching where he started off as a graduate assistant for Louisville.
In 2007, Gannon got his first NFL job as a defensive quality control coach for the Atlanta Falcons. He then became a college scout for the Rams and then a defensive quality coach for the Titans. After two seasons in Tennessee, Gannon became an assistant defensive backs coach for the Vikings for four years.
In 2018, Gannon was hired by Frank Reich to be the Colts defensive backs and cornerbacks coach. Gannon was a part of the Colts coaching staff for three years along with Nick Sirianni who served as their offensive coordinator. In 2021, the Eagles hired Nick Sirianni to succeed Doug Pederson as head coach and he brought Jonathan Gannon to Philadelphia to be the defensive coordinator.
Jonathan Gannon took over for a unit that was led by Jim Schwartz for five seasons. Schwartz helped develop one of the strongest defensive lines in football. The Schwartz led defenses had plenty of success including the Super Bowl 52 season in 2017.
The 2021 Eagles defensive line was anchored by Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, and Josh Sweat. The linebacker group was led by Alex Singleton who is now with the Broncos. And the secondary was led by Darius Slay and Rodney McLeod who is now with the Colts. Jonathan Gannon’s group saw mixed success:
Points Per Game Allowed: 22.6 (Ranked 18th)
Rush Yards Allowed Per Game: 107.9 (Ranked 9th)
Pass Yards Allowed Per Game: 220.9 (Ranked 11th)
Interceptions: 12 (Ranked 20th)
Sacks: 29 (Ranked 31st)
Fumble Recoveries: 4 (Ranked 31st)
The 2021 Eagles defense was very good against the run and about average for pass yards allowed. The unit really struggled to generate pressure against opposing quarterbacks and forcing turnovers. Situational defense was also weak as the Eagles were below average in points allowed.
The inability to record sacks and turnovers allowed some of the better teams in the league to jump out to early leads in 2021. Dallas scored over 40 points against the Eagles twice, the Chiefs scored 42, the Raiders 33, and the Buccaneers 28. These games were blowouts until the end and the Eagles looked mismatched. The coverage was soft, and the defense generated little to no pressure.
Gannon’s defenses were not prepared against talented and superior teams. To his credit though, the Eagles defense got better as the year went on and took care of business against the rest of the NFC East and some of the weaker teams in the league.
Will 2022 Be Better?
Much of the attention on the Eagles this offseason was on Jalen Hurts and the offense. Jonathan Gannon’s defense needs to be a focus as well. This group underperformed last year but has a lot of potential this season. The Eagles added to the defense in both free agency and the draft.
The first major signing on defense was for pass rusher Haason Reddick. The former Temple star will be back in his home city to give the Eagles pass rush a serious boost. Then the Eagles added Kyzir White at linebacker. He was the Chargers’ leading tackler in 2021 and generated two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
The Eagles also added to their secondary. Cornerback James Bradberry will line up opposite of Darius Slay to give the Eagles a very good CB duo. Bradberry was previously with the Giants and was a Pro Bowler there. Safety Jaquiski Tartt was added from the 49ers where he spent the last seven seasons.
Defense was also a focus in the draft. The Eagles were fortunate to add two defenders from the 2021 Georgia Bulldogs National Championship team. Jordan Davis will play defensive tackle and Nakobe Dean will play linebacker. It is unclear how much playing time either will get, but they should be a part of the defensive rotation.
Jonathan Gannon will have a lot of new pieces to work with to go along with returning stars such as Fletcher Cox, Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham. There is no reason why this group can’t be better than a year ago. The defense overall has a lot more talent than in 2021 and the scheme will be more familiar to the returning players. All eyes will be on Jonathan Gannon in 2022 as the Eagles look to build upon their playoff appearance from a season ago.