4-3 or 3-4: What are the Eagles planning on defense?

Philadelphia Eagles training camp is up and running and boy do we know it. We’ve seen Hurts throws all over the timeline on social media, debates about Nick Sirianni’s fashion choices, and questions about whether or not Haason Reddick should drop into coverage, and it’s only been one day.

Naturally, Eagles’ fandom is throwing all sorts of myths, arguments, questions and some… questionable logic about key elements of the defense.

So I have taken the liberty of addressing some of these talking points.

Can the Eagles even move to a 3-4 defense?

A 3-4 front is something I’ve been wanting the Eagles to employ for some time. The selection of Milton Williams in the third round of last year’s draft was one which lured me to this potential defensive concept. Having the ability use him with Hargrave and Cox was enticing, but there was always a personnel problem. There wasn’t a legitimate nose tackle and the linebacker core was a ragtag bunch, ill-suited to play the required roles.

The Eagles have incredible defensive linemen all over – Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham are high calibre defensive ends, Hargrave had a career year last season and Fletcher Cox will go down as a folk hero in Eagles history at the very least.

But when it came to nose tackle, none of these players ever seemed like the right fit, especially without the required linebackers.

This all changed during the 2022 offseason. During the draft, the Eagles drafted former Georgia Bulldogs, Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean.

Davis is a 340-pound unicorn, who can absolutely play everything from a 0-tech nose tackle to a 3-tech defensive tackle. Nakobe Dean has the skillset and positional awareness to flourish behind Davis (as he has previously), and alongside free agent acquisitions Haason Reddick and Kyzir White White.

Jordan Davis isn’t a pass rusher, I want a sack demon at defensive tackle”

This monster is far more than a nose tackle. I’ve never seen a more gifted and position-savvy tackle with the build he has. While it’s true that Davis has and will likely continue to play as a 0-tech nose tackle because he has the experience doing so, Davis’ true crème de la crème in terms of his usage is as a two-gapping space eater. Where he can make multiple devastating blocks on the guard and center before they’re even able to make contact with him.

He will be able to play in any front Gannon wants to bring. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see Davis playing as a one-gapping defensive lineman because I’m a man that craves violence. I’m trying to make it clear that after observing his Georgia tape (trust me, I enjoyed it) he’s just a fantastic defensive tackle, who understands the role in any given technique.

For a more technical breakdown, I always bring in a Brett video

I admit, Davis has never really impressed people as a pure pass-rushing defensive tackle and that is shown in his college sack numbers. However, I never really take too much notice about numbers in college as it can be heavily inflated, or deflated, depending on the position and the fits.

What’s important is that Davis will attract blockers and attention, thus giving the Eagles’ defense more of a chance to maul some offensive linemen. If you believe a defensive line is as good as the number of sacks they’re getting, you’re oversimplifying it.

This is ignoring the plain and simple fact that Philadelphia has a proud and prestigious history of developing pass rushers, and you can see that with the recent improvements of Javon Hargrave and Josh Sweat. Davis has all of the versatility and intelligence to be developed into a pass-rusher.

Is Reddick a DE or OLB? Does he shut down the 3-4 talk?

Simple answer? No, he doesn’t. Like Davis, the important thing about Reddick is his ability to play in multiple different roles on defence. If he played as an outside linebacker, he absolutely could be an incredible asset and still get sacks and run stops.

I’ve never liked the talk that he’s purely a DE or OLB, however. The idea he’s Brandon Graham or Derek Barnett’s replacement in a 4-3 isn’t quite right, because I fully believe he’s Genard Avery’s replacement on this team. That being, a linebacker who can rush the passer while also having the ability to drop into coverage at times.

Overall, I don’t want this to be a hit piece on anyone nor do I think the Eagles will even employ a 3-4 defensive front long term. The simple fact is, people are missing the point when it’s simplified to a 3-4 or 4-3. The acquisitions along the defensive line and linebacker core this off-season have been about two words – versatility and intelligence.

Cover Image Credit: Christopher Szagola/Associated Press

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