Here’s what Eagles fans saw in Jonathan Gannon: A coach who was overmatched from the jump, wasn’t aggressive enough, didn't make adjustments, saw his unit get torn apart by every good quarterback it faced and butted heads with a six-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman.
Here’s what the rest of the world saw in Jonathan Gannon: A coach who led a no-name unit without much talent to a No. 10 NFL ranking, whose unit was third-best in the league preventing big plays, who adjusted so well that his defense allowed the 11th-fewest second-half points in the league, who did such a good job learning how to deploy his personnel that after Week 8, the Eagles allowed the fourth-fewest points in the league (not including the meaningless finale against the Cowboys) and who came to a good understanding with Fletcher Cox on how he should be used.
Rare that two perspectives would differ so greatly, but Eagles fans demand defensive excellence above all else and things did not get off to a very good start last year for Gannon’s unit — or anyone else on the Eagles.
But they got better in a big way, and when you step back and take a look, the fact that this was a top-five defense over the second half of the season with Alex Singleton, Steven Nelson, Hassan Ridgeway, Ryan Kerrigan, Eric Wilson, Genard Avery and Anthony Harris all playing major roles speaks volumes about Gannon’s ability to coach effectively with less than stellar personnel.
The league noticed.
The Texans, Vikings and Broncos all interviewed Gannon for their head coaching openings — the Texans met with him twice — despite the fact that he had just one year experience as a coordinator.
They saw a young coach whose undermanned unit improved dramatically as the year went on and was one of the best in the league by the end of the year.
I’m not sure why anybody was surprised a rookie defensive coordinator without much talent had his unit torched in his first month on the job by two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history — Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady — as well as a few others, but things got a lot better after that lousy start.
Now Gannon has tools. Nine guys who played at least 250 snaps on defense last year are gone (Singleton, Nelson, Ridgeway, Kerrigan, Wilson, Avery, Harris, Rodney McLeod, Davion Taylor). That’s a lot.
They’ve been replaced by Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean, Haason Reddick, Kyzir White, James Bradberry, Reed Blankenship, Josh Jobe and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
That appears to be a mammoth talent upgrade. And their ability and versatility will give Gannon the flexibility to be far more multiple, far more creative and far more unpredictable than last year's defense. And, yes, far more aggressive.
Howie Roseman has given Gannon everything he needs to make this an elite defense.
He added star power in Reddick and Bradberry. He added intriguing rookies in Davis and Dean. He added playmakers in White and Gardner-Johnson.
He added talent on every level, and the ball is truly in Gannon’s court now. There’s no reason for this team to be second-to-last in the league in sacks, 26th in takeaways, 23rd on third down or last in completion percentage.
And they won’t be.
It’s never fair to judge anybody after one year on the job.
The Eagles once had a defensive coordinator whose unit his first year on the job ranked 22nd in the league in points allowed, 24th in yards allowed, 28th in rushing yards allowed and 20th in sacks. And the Eagles went 5-11 and finished last in a five-team NFC East.
His name was Jim Johnson.
And he had Jeremiah Trotter, Brian Dawkins, William Thomas, Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor on his defense.
Within a year, Johnson had the No. 4 defense in the league, the Eagles were a playoff team, and Johnson was on his way to etching his name into Eagles lore as one of the greatest coaches in franchise history.
This isn’t to compare Gannon and Johnson. The point is that it’s never fair to make any final evaluations — whether it’s Jalen Hurts, Nick Sirianni, Gannon, Brandon Graham or anybody — after one week or one month or one year.
All that said, Gannon has to produce this year.
Roseman got the goods, and Gannon has no excuses.
If this defense doesn’t dominate, if this defense doesn’t shut teams down, if this defense doesn’t harass quarterbacks and create turnovers and make big plays, then Gannon absolutely needs to go.
I’m guessing he will go. Right to a head coaching job.
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