Chip Kelly has brought a lot of excitement and intrigue to the Philadelphia Eagles, but almost all of that is on the offensive side of the ball. All of the attention this offseason has been on the quarterback competition and what their offense will look like, but if the Eagles are going to be competitive this season, they will need to have an effective defense as well, especially in a division where they’ll have to stop Eli Manning, Tony Romo, and most likely Robert Griffin III. So what exactly can we expect from Philadelphia’s defense in 2013?
The first thing to look for is a change from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense. Not only will the Philadelphia offense be radically different this season under Kelly, but the defense has also undergone a significant transformation that could require an extended period of time of adjustment. Through two preseason games there has already been some growing pains due to the fact that the personnel in place does not necessarily fit a 3-4 scheme. Kelly has indicated that if things aren’t working out that he may attempt to stop the transition and orchestrate a scheme that fits the personnel; however, doing that at the wrong time could create a lot of chaos and confusion, which is something to look out for on the Eagle’s defense this season.
As for the talent on Philadelphia’s defense, there should be enough to make the Eagles at least an average defense, but only if the players are able to adjust to whichever scheme they end up playing. Across the front line, the Eagles have plenty of size, as well as a couple of young and talented players with a lot of promise in Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton. However, both Cox and Thornton are natural defensive tackles that will be playing defensive end in the 3-4 scheme, so both may need some time to adjust before they start to fulfill some of that promise.
The biggest key to Philadelphia’s defense this season may be their pass rush, where once again they will be relying on players switching positions. Trent Cole and Brandon Graham are two key pass rushers that will be moving from defensive end to outside linebacker in the new scheme. Both could improve as pass rushers now that they’ll be standing up, but if they’re forced to drop back in coverage, they could struggle. To help out the defense in its transition, the Eagles also signed free agent Connor Barwin, who should give them an outside linebacker with some experience at that position.
The secondary is where there could be the most question marks, as much of the defensive backs on the roster are new, following the departure of former main stays Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha. To replace those players, the Eagles signed free-agent cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, and both should step into the starting lineup right away. Both are big cornerbacks that should be able to play press coverage, and both bring plenty of experience to the table as well, with Williams coming off a Super Bowl victory with the Baltimore Ravens last year. At safety, free-agent addition Patrick Chun should step into a starting spot, as should Kenny Phillips, although Phillips is recovering from a knee injury and may not be 100%, so they may need to go with holdover Nate Allen.
As a whole, the Eagles have a good collection of talent on defense, but there are a lot of moving parts, both in terms of players that are new to the team and players that are switching positions as a result of a change of schemes. There could be a lot of growing pains for Philadelphia on defense this season, but if everything comes together, they have the potential to be a solid complement to an offense that is also high on potential but low on predictability, which is why the Eagles may be the most intriguing team in the NFL in 2013.