Philly still does not have a defensive coordinator in place, and with Andy Reid having so little say in the defense, the new direction of this unit is still wide, wide open. I would think that the Eagles would prefer to stay in their base 4-3, but if the best defensive coordinator candidate specializes in a 3-4, it’s a move the Eagles must consider. In a league where to beat elite teams the ability to confuse their quarterbacks is essential, mixing in some 3-4 looks may end up being very helpful. However, do the Eagles have the flexibility on their roster to seamlessly transition to a 3-4?
Defensive line: In a 3-4, defensive linemen are asked to engage and occupy gaps instead of penetrating and rushing the quarterback. Obviously, I oversimplified this, but essentially, defensive linemen are usually responsible for one gap in a 4-3 but two gaps in a 3-4. The Eagles are one of the few teams that run a two gap scheme out of a 4-3 though, meaning that the technique would not change all that dramatically should the Eagles choose to go in the 3-4 direction. What does change is where players must line up. Our stoutest, most powerful player must man the nose tackle spot, where he must control the line of scrimmage. Mike Patterson and Antonio Dixon would be the two players rotating in and out at this spot. The big questions are on either side of them. Who will play the five technique and use their long arms to be able to play two gaps at once while being a disruptive force in rushing the passer? Brodrick Bunkley and Trevor Laws are really the only two Eagles who could fill these spots, and only Bunkley is starting material. This would be a position we address in the draft, where I really like Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson in the second round. Here’s the projected depth chart here:
LDE: Antonio Dixon (6’3″, 325), Trevor Laws (6’2″, 305)
NT: Mike Patterson (6’0″, 295), Antonio Dixon (6’3″, 325), Jeff Owens (6’1″, 305)
RDE: Brodrick Bunkley (6’2″, 305), Jeremy Clark (6’3″, 295)
The Eagles have a ton of undersized, athletic pass rushers who could be great 3-4 rush linebackers. They would also only have two off-the-line linebackers instead of three in this scheme, which could eliminate one of the weaknesses from a year ago. Really, the linebackers are not the issue here, it’s the defensive end spot. Here’s the projected depth chart for linebackers.
LOLB: Darryl Tapp (6’1″, 270), Brandon Graham (6’2″, 265), Ricky Sapp (6’4″, 260)
LILB: Jamar Chaney (6’1″, 245), Moise Fokou (6’1″, 235)
RILB: Stewart Bradley (6’4″, 260), Keenan Clayton (6’1″, 230)
ROLB: Trent Cole (6’3″, 270), Juqua Parker (6’2″, 250), Daniel Te’o-Nesheim (6’3″, 265)
It’s clear that the Eagles’ current personnel is best suited for the 4-3, and tampering with it too much could really damage our run defense. Many think that by switching to a 3-4, the defense will magically transform into something like Pittsburgh’s or Baltimore’s unit. That simply is not the case, though I would not be opposed to occasionally flashing some 3-4 looks to keep opposing passers on their heels.