Comprehensive Breakdown of Defensive Coordinator Candidates for the Eagles

Jim Schwartz is reportedly taking time away from the NFL as he mulls retirement. This leaves the Eagles with an opening at their defensive coordinator position. Here are potential candidates for the job, broken down into 3 tiers:

The In-House Candidates

Matt Burke

Scheme: 4-3 Over

The Eagles current defensive line coach and run game coordinator was brought into the organization because of his familiarity with Jim Schwartz. Burke has coached for 5 different NFL teams:

  • 2004 – 2008, Tennessee Titans (Admin Assist, Defense quality control coach)
  • 2009 – 2013, Detroit Lions (LB Coach)
  • 2014 – 2015, Cincinnati Bengals (LB Coach)
  • 2016 – 2018, Miami Dolphins (LB Coach: 2016, Defensive Coordinator: 2017 – 2018)
  • 2019 – Current, Philadelphia Eagles (Defensive Special Assistant: 2019, Defensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator: 2020)

Under Burke as defensive coordinator, the Dolphins defense struggled mightily, ranking 29th (2017) and 27th (2018) in team defense. One area where Burke has shown some ability, however, is player development. Former Detroit 3rd round pick DeAndre Levy had a career high in interceptions under Burke, Vincent Rey excelled under Burke and had the two best seasons of his career with Burke as his position coach, Burke also helped to resurrect the career of former Eagles linebacker Kiko Alonso where he went over 100 total tackles in each of Burke’s years in Miami, and with the Eagles this past season, Brandon Graham made his first career Pro-Bowl and Josh Sweat had a career year with 6 sacks. Under Burke the Eagles defensive line accounted for 40 of the team’s 49 sacks.

As the Eagles current defensive line coach and (defensive) run game coordinator, Burke would allow for continuity to be established. Burke’s area of expertise in terms of technique and coverage shells are the exact same as Schwartz: Wide 9/Cover 1 Robber.

An area where Burke differs, however, is pressure rates. According to Football Outsiders, in the 2 seasons Burke captained the Miami Dolphins defense, the blitz frequency was as follows: 2017 – 28.8% (rank: 12th in the NFL—Philadelphia ranked 26th)— and 2018- 22.8% (rank: 15th—Philadelphia ranked 30th).

Marquand Manuel

Scheme: 4-3 Base

The Eagles current defensive backs coach is another in-house candidate to replace Jim Schwartz. The defensive backs coach has coached in the NFL for 9 years for 3 different teams:

  • 2012 – 2014: Seattle Seahawks (Assistant special teams coach: 2012, Defensive assistant: 2013, Assistant secondary coach: 2014)
  • 2015 – 2018: Atlanta Falcons (Secondary coach: 2015-2016, Defensive Coordinator: 2017-2018)
  • 2020: Philadelphia Eagles (Defensive Backs Coach)

Marquand Manuel should be one of prime candidates to replace Schwartz in my opinion. He’s a former NFL player who retired in 2009 and Manuel played for Jim Schwartz when Schwartz was the Lions head coach in 2009 (and coached under him this year), so there’s some continuity seen there. He’s coached and played in a variety of defensive schemes. To name a few of the defensive coaches Manuel played under, Marvin Lewis, Leslie Frazier, Ray Rhodes, and John Fox. Along with the variety of defensive schemes he experienced as a player, he also had the benefit of coaching under some high profile coaches as well. With Seattle, Manuel coached under Pete Carroll and alongside some noteworthy defensive coaches such as Dan Quinn, Kris Richard, and Robert Saleh. Manuel then coached under Dan Quinn again in Atlanta. It was there that his ascension as a defensive coach began.

Manuel started in Atlanta as the defensive backs coach. In this role, Manuel was lauded for his player development skills. This is seen through his ability to develop and help both Ricardo Allen and Damontae Kazee convert from cornerback to safety, as well as his development of former Atlanta first round pick, Keanu Neal.

“He understands the flow of the game,” Allen said on Manuel. “He’s a guy who can start to anticipate what people are going to do against him. He’s very smart.”

It was this understanding and ability to develop that skyrocketed Manuel to the Falcons defensive coordinator position during the 2017 offseason. Manuel was given play-calling duties and the Falcons defense flourished under Manuel, ranking 9th in the NFL. Specifically, the defense ranked 8th in scoring defense, allowing just 19.7 points per game, 12th in passing defense, and 9th against the run. The Atlanta defense even led the Falcons to an undefeated record when the offense scored 20 or more points. Remember, this unit was coordinated by Manuel and he called plays. In 2018, injuries derailed the unit. Pro-Bowlers Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, and Ricardo Allen went on IR, newly signed rotational defensive end Derrick Shelby missed 9 games, and Grady Jarrett missed 2 games. As a result, the defense plummeted and Manuel paid the price.

I don’t think stretch to say that Manuel would make a fine replacement for Schwartz. Like Schwartz though, one of Manuel’s biggest drawbacks is his reluctance to blitz. In 2017, the Atlanta Falcons defense blitzed on 20.2% of their defensive snaps, ranking 24th in the league and in 2018 that frequency rose to 23.1%, the 14th most in the league.

The one time he had a healthy defense at his disposal, the group was a top 10 unit in the NFL. He’s coached and played in a variety of schemes, has shown the ability to get the most out of players, and can relate to players as a former player.

Options Outside of the Organization

Honorable Mentions/Guys I’d take a very in-depth look at:

  • Aaron Glenn: Saints Defensive Backs Coach
  • Raheem Morris: Former Falcons Defensive Coordinator
  • DeMeco Ryans: 49ers Inside Linebackers Coach
  • Jay Rodgers: Bears Defensive Line Coach
  • Ben Bloom: Browns Senior Defensive Assistant
  • Joe Cullen: Ravens Defensive Line Coach
  • John Mitchell: Steelers Assistant Head Coach
  • John Fox
Steve Wilks

Scheme: 4-3 Base

Steve Wilks is a veteran defensive coach. Wilks has been coaching football since 1995, both in college and the pros. He’s seen success as both a position coach and defensive coordinator. Wilks is an experienced defensive mind that has coached for 8 different colleges and 6 different NFL teams. Those 6 teams include:

  • 2006-2008: Chicago Bears (Defensive Backs Coach)
  • 2009-2011: San Diego Chargers (Defensive Backs Coach)
  • 2012-2017: Carolina Panthers (2012-2014: Defensive Backs Coach, 2015-2016: Assistant Head Coach & Defensive Backs Coach, 2017: Assistant Head Coach & Defensive Coordinator)
  • 2018: Arizona Cardinals (Head Coach)
  • 2019: Cleveland Browns (Defensive Coordinator)

Wilks spent the 2020 season out of the NFL after spending the 2019 season with the Cleveland Browns. Wilks defense in Cleveland was the 20th ranked defense in the NFL. They were 7th against the pass but 30h against the run. I think context is key when looking at the 2019 Cleveland defense, as multiple defensive starters missed multiple games. Players like Christian Kirksey, Olivier Vernon, Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, and Morgan Burnett all were expected to play key roles in the Cleveland defense and each missed game action in 2019. And of course, we all know what happened with Myles Garrett, who had 10 sacks before his suspension, in the final 6 games of the season. But beyond this, Wilks has shown he can effectively coordinate a defense as in 2017 with the Panthers, Wilks defense was among the NFL’s top units.

Wilks 2017 defense ranked 3rd in sacks, allowed just 7 rushing touchdowns on the season, and 8th in redzone defense. They also ranked 7th in yards allowed and 11th in points allowed.

Wilks also has connections inside the Eagles building, as he was the defensive coordinator in Cleveland when Eagles front office consultant, John Dorsey was the Browns GM. Keep in mind that Wilks 4-3 defense would keep the Eagles in the same alignment as they had under Schwartz. One area where Wilks differs though, is aggressiveness. Wilks will dial up pressure.

“Wilks is aggressive, man,” former Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said on Wilks. “He’s not believing in sitting back and let you dink and dunk us. We’re going to come after you.”

According to Football Outsiders, in 2017 the Carolina Panthers defense blitzed at the highest frequency in the NFL. In 2018 with Arizona, Wilks defense blitzed at the 3rd highest frequency in the NFL, and in 2019 with the Browns, Wilks defense sent 5 or more rushers at the 4th highest rate in the NFL.

“We are very multiple in what we are doing. I think you have to be in this day in age with all of the different things you are seeing. It can change week to week. I am aggressive by nature, but it is all about trying to put your guys into the best position to be successful,” Wilks said on his defensive style.

Wilks also fits the bill for what he Eagles like in defensive coordinators, as Doug Pederson gave Jim Schwartz full autonomy over the defense to select his style of players and deploy the defense to his liking. As a former head coach, Wilks definitely checks off that box.

Teryl Austin

Scheme: 4-3 Under

Teryl Austin is a well-regarded defensive mind across the NFL. The veteran defensive mind has been coaching since 1991, when he got his start as a graduate assistant with Penn State. Since then Austin has coached for 6 NFL teams:

  • 2003-2006: Seattle Seahawks (Defensive Backs Coach)
  • 2007-2009: Arizona Cardinals (Defensive Backs Coach)
  • 2011-2013: Baltimore Ravens (Secondary Coach)
  • 2014-2017: Detroit Lions (Defensive Coordinator)
  • 2018: Cincinnati Bengals (Defensive Coordinator)
  • 2019-Present: Pittsburgh Steelers (Senior Defensive Assistant/Secondary Coach)

The story with Austin as a defensive coordinator in the NFL is pretty simple: Give him competent talent in the secondary and his defenses can succeed, otherwise there will be issues. With the Lions his defenses fluctuated from top level to bottom level in his 4 years with the organization. In 2014, Detroit had the 3rd ranked defense. They had the 5th most interceptions and 8th most sacks. And after that year, the Lions lost a mountain of talent. Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, James Ihedigbo, and DeAndre Levy all left in free agency. As a result, in 2015, Detroit dropped to the 23rd ranked defense and had the 7th least interceptions in the league. The defense then rose again in 2016 to 13th in the league and allowed the 2nd least amount of passing yards gained per completion. His final year in Detroit again showcased his ability as a coach. The Lions racked up the 5th most interceptions and 10th most passes defensed. With Cincinnati, the issue was more so talent than anything. How do we know this? The Bengals only won one more game all season after firing Austin and the defense gave up over 350 yards on 6 separate occasions.

Austin then moved on to the Steelers where he is currently their defensive backs coach. In his first year with Pittsburgh, Austin helped guide the Pittsburgh secondary to the 3rd ranked passing defense in the league. And in 2020, it’s been much of the same. The Steelers currently have the NFL’s number 3 passing defense and are tied for the league lead in interceptions with 18. They also allow the leagues lowest passer rating at 76.7. Make no mistake, Teryl Austin’s impact on this defense is felt and felt in a big way.

“He’s awesome. It’s just, he’s down to earth. He’s around. If you got a question, he’s there to answer it. I mean, he’s about his job. He’s in here, he’s coaching us, he’s teaching us,” Steelers safety Jordan Dangerfield said on Austin.

As far as his defensive mindset Austin has said on multiple occasions that he isn’t, “married to anything,” as far as identity. Austin has been on a lot of defensive coaching staffs that feature a bevy of schemes, like Baltimore who have consistently ran a 3-4 as opposed to Austin’s traditional 4-3 setup.

One thing Austin has consistently emphasized to his defenses however, is takeaways. Defenses coached by Austin have consistently been among the NFL’s leaders in takeaways. This would be a much needed advantage to an Eagles defense that had just one interception by a cornerback on the entire season. And that cornerback is Darius Slay who Austin inherited in Slay’s second year. Austin oversaw Slay’s development and in Austin’s defense, Slay snagged the most interceptions in a single season in his career with 8 in 2017, which is also the year Slay made his first pro-bowl. His development of Slay has been the calling card of Austin’s ability to develop talent. With the Steelers, Austin has even been able to somewhat resurrect the career of former pro-bowl cornerback, Joe Haden who made the pro-bowl in his first year under Austin’s tutelage.

With the Eagles, Austin’s defense would be similar to that of Jim Schwartz in that they both run a 4-3 defense but the only difference is, Austin isn’t endeared to any specific style of alignment or technique. Austin’s defenses have been more geared toward press man with two high safeties. This would be a welcome sight for Eagles fans. Austin has connections to the Eagles defense and he has the experience and evidence necessary to show that he’d be a good fit in Philadelphia.

Kris Richard

Scheme: 4-3 Base

Richard is a disciple of the Pete Carroll defensive coaching tree. Richard played in the NFL for 4 years and has coached for 10 years for 2 different teams:

  • 2010: Seattle Seahawks (Assistant Defensive Backs Coach)
  • 2011: Seattle Seahawks (Cornerbacks Coach)
  • 2012-2014: Seattle Seahawks (Defensive Backs Coach)
  • 2015-2017: Seattle Seahawks (Defensive Coordinator)
  • 2018-2019: Dallas Cowboys (Defensive Backs Coach, Defensive Play-Caller and Passing game coordinator)

In coverage, Richard’s 4-3 defense utilizes mainly Cover 1 or Cover 3 pattern match zone concepts, which display zone coverage pre-snap but shift into man coverage like concepts after the snap. In layman’s terms, the coverage adapts to the routes that they see. Each player in coverage has a certain set of rules depending on the routes ran by opposing receivers. It’s a defense that is heavily dependent on discipline and trusting your eyes as a defensive back.

Richard has a elite level track record as both a talent evaluator and developer. Richard has been credited by many, including Richard Sherman, with the development and molding of the historic Legion of Boom defense.

“He kinda built the giant we are now with discipline, attention to detail, always being on it and always keeping us humble and down to Earth, especially in the meeting room and making sure we understand our strengths, our weaknesses, what we do well and what we don’t do we,” Sherman said of Richard.

Under Richard the Seattle defense in 2015 was the NFL’s number one ranked defense, number 3 in 2016, and the ranking dipped to 14th in total defense. However, to explain this dip, context matters. While the total rank dropped the pass defense remained in the top 10. Injuries also played a huge role in the defense’s drop. Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor and suffered season ending injuries. After this season, Richard was let go—A move that surprised most of the Seattle defensive locker room. This is because Richard was lauded for his ability to not only relate to players but inspire and develop them as well.

Richard’s development skills can be seen in Deshawn Shead. Shead signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012, worked under Richard, and started 7 games in 2015. 

After leaving Seattle, Richard was hired as the defensive backs coach, defensive playcaller, and passing game coordinator. Under Richard the defense hit the ground running, earning the 6th ranked defense in Richard’s first year with the team. And in 2019, the ranking rose to number 11, while still maintaining a top 10 ranked passing defense. And while he was with Dallas, Richard’s area of expertise also shined, as he was able to help develop Byron Jones from above average safety to pro-bowl cornerback.

Richard has shown the ability to develop and get the most out of players. On a grand level, I think Richard is one of the best candidates for the job. He fits what the mindset is on defense (pressure with 4) and he also brings his own twist on things (mainly the physical press style play of the defensive backs), he’s a leader of men and his defenses from the past show how good he is as a defensive coach. He’s coached top level defenses and developed several players. Should the Eagles look into Richard, there would likely need to be a revamp of the secondary (outside of Darius Slay) and linebacker positions because of what Richard’s defense ask them to do, i.e. dropping into coverage (A LOT). An example of a potential change Richard would likely bring to the Eagles defense: playing K’Von Wallace down in the box more.

As a whole, Richard has everything you’d want in an ideal defensive coordinator: the playing experience, the coaching experience, history as a developer of talent, and a fiery competitiveness about him that can galvanize players.

The College Candidate(s)

Honorable Mentions:

  • Karl Scott: Alabama Defensive Backs Coach
  • Brad White: Kentucky Defensive Coordinator
  • Randy Bates: Pittsburgh Defensive Coordinator
  • Marty Long: Northwestern Defensive Line Coach
Jim Leonhard

Scheme: 3-4

Now I know what you’re thinking. 3-4? Why/How would that work? But the current Wisconsin defensive coordinator is very multiple with his looks. His 3-4 is similar to Wade Phillips in that, both are attacking one-gap style 3-4 defenses. Leonhard is flexible and with his looks. Leonhard’s Wisconsin defense utilizes a lot of stunts and secondary blitzes.

A lot of buzz within the past few years has been centered around finding the next great offensive mind. Leonhard is the next defensive coaching boy-wonder. In Leonhard’s 3 full years at the University of Wisconsin, the team has finished with a top 10 defense in 2 of his seasons and the unit looks to be trending that way in the 2020-21 season as well.

In 2017, Leonhard’s Wisconsin defense held Iowa to 66 total yards. The previous week, the Iowa accumulated 487 yards and 55 points in an upset of the number 6 ranked team in the nation (at the time), Ohio State. Leonhard’s defensive style has the ability to flat out overwhelm opposing offenses.

With the Eagles, I think Leonhard would need to reshape the Eagles defense. There’d be investment into linebackers because of what his scheme asks of the position. The former defensive backs coach would also relate well to players because of his 10-year professional career. Leonhard also has connections to the Eagles organization as he was signed by the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent in 2005 and was the only undrafted rookie to make the 53 man roster. The GM of that Buffalo Bills team? Eagles Senior Director of Player Personnel, Tom Donahoe.

The Eagles will have a long list of defensive coordinator candidates to choose from. Regardless, of the scheme or technique implemented, there are some extremely talented coaches to choose from. The number one thing to remember is that this defense will be re-shaped in the image of whoever that defensive coordinator wants. Of the names that I’ve profiled and listed, I think each brings their own spin on things even if they operate under the same technique, scheme, or alignment as the previous defensive coordinator. Regardless, the Eagles will have a lot of coaching staff decisions to make this offseason and The Philly Blitz will have you covered every step of the way.

Author: Pierre Baptiste Jr.

I am the creator of The Philly Blitz and I am committed to delivering innovative and interesting coverage on both the Eagles and Sixers. Contact Information: Twitter - @pierreb3_ Email: pierrotjr3@gmail.com

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