It has been an interesting end to the season for Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. A lackluster defensive effort contributed to the Eagles 31-15 playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, Gannon might actually be feeling pretty good about himself these days, as he has
reportedly been asked to interview for three open NFL head coach positions.
Many Eagles fans are likely wondering how they should feel about Gannon right now. Is he a coordinator whose defenses could only excel against bottom of the barrel offenses? Or was the lack of a talent the main reason the Philadelphia’s defense struggled against upper echelon teams? Should they hope Gannon isn’t offered a head coach job and is able to stay in Philly? Or does Gannon getting hired by another team open the doors for the Eagles to hire a more capable defensive coordinator? Maybe the Eagles should just fire Gannon outright.
This was a tough Eagles team to assess in many aspects, including defensively. Ultimately though, the NFL is a results oriented business, wins and losses. And it’s a lot easier to win when your defense limits how many points your opponent scores. So let’s take a look at wins, losses and defensive scoring for the Eagles to see how Jonathan Gannon did in his first season in Philadelphia.
The Eagles held opponents to 22.6 points per game in the regular season, the 18th fewest points allowed. Not great, yet they won nine games and made the playoffs. In those nine wins the Eagles allowed just 14.8 points per game, and allowed 31.5 points per game in their eight losses. If you take out the 51
points allowed in the Week 18 loss to Dallas, when many defensive starters didn’t play, that average drops a few ticks to 28.7. The Eagles then gave up 31 points to Tampa Bay in the playoffs, right on schedule with the defensive scoring average in losses. But let’s add some more context to these
numbers to see just how well, or poorly, the Eagles defense played.
The fourteen teams (two games against each NFC East opponent) the Eagles faced this season scored 20.9 points per game. If that had been an NFL team it would’ve been just the 20th highest scoring offense
this season. The eight teams (Washington twice) the Eagles defeated this year averaged 18.8 points per game, which is an abysmal 26th most. The seven teams (two losses to Dallas) the Eagles lost to in the regular season scored 25.7 points per game, slotting in right behind the Eagles for the 13 th best offense in the NFL.
Of the seven teams the Eagles lost to, four of them averaged 27.9 or more points per game. SanFrancisco scored a respectable 25.1 points per game, but the Eagles did hold them to just 17 points in Philly’s Week 2 loss. The Eagles allowed the Raiders to score 33 points in Week 7, but Las Vegas
averaged just 22 points per game in 2021. Of course much of the blame for the 13-7 loss to the New York Giants in Week 12 has to fall on the offense, but the Giants had the second worst offense in the league this season, scoring just 15.2 points per game. In the Eagles eight losses, teams scored 5.3 more
points per game than their season scoring average and held an opponent below their scoring average four times.
Philadelphia only beat one team that averaged more than 20 points per game this season, and that was New Orleans in Week 11. The Saints scored just 21.4 points per game this season and the Eagles won despite giving up 29 points. Remove the Saints from the equation and opponents the Eagles defeated have scored 18.4 points per game for the season; and the average points scored against the Eagles in those victories is just 13. The teams the Eagles beat scored 3.5 fewer points per game their season scoring average, 4.9 fewer if you don’t include the Saints, one of only two teams to exceed their scoring average against Philly. Of course, the Panthers scoring 18 when their average was 17.9 isn’t anything special.
So what does this tell us about Jonathan Gannon’s defense? Philadelphia beat the teams they should beat, based on defensive scoring and opponents points per game, and were more likely than not holding those teams below their season scoring average. The Eagles lost to every opponent that had a better scoring offense than Philly’s scoring defense. It was a coin flip as to whether or not the Eagles opponent would exceed their scoring average, but it was by a significant margin when they did.
By the numbers it doesn’t seem like Gannon’s scheme was able to get much more out of a defense that lacked elite talent, but it certainly wasn’t an awful showing. Staying the course and seeing what Gannon can do with an influx of talent seems like the logical route, but the Eagles likely wouldn’t be much worse off with a new defensive coordinator in 2022.
Follow Moshe Kravitz on Twitter @MosheKravitz