There's a lot of bending and breaking in the red-zone.
Bend, but don't break.
That used to be the mantra for the Philadelphia Eagles' defense when Jim Johnson was roaming the sidelines. Johnson would strike fear into opposing offenses with exotic blitzes and a ferocity he instilled in his defensive players.
He would draw up blitzes on napkins or make them up as he went along. It worked most of the time, but there were the times when the blitz bit him. That happens. But once the offense got into the red-zone, they went no further.
For an offense, scoring becomes difficult in the red-zone because the field shrinks. With it, their options shrink. Understanding that, Johnson would send the blitz and force the opposing quarterback to make a quick decision.
When quarterbacks are forced to make a decision, there's a good chance it's the wrong one. Or, if they don't make a decision at all, they go down with the ball in their hands. After a few plays of that, they're forced to kick a field goal.
And, as we all know, trading touchdowns for field goals is always a huge win for a defense.
Unfortunately, for all the time he spent around Johnson, Sean McDermott has yet to figure this all out, and we're seeing his defense break more often than not.
McDermott won't blitz between the 20s, and he refuses to blitz when teams get into the red-zone. As a result, quarterbacks are left with an inordinate amount of time, the entire offense is able to find a comfort level, and the defense is usually caught flat-footed -- which has led to the worst red-zone percentage (about 77 percent) since the 1988 Houston Oilers.
When a defense is repeatedly asked to move backward, the fire and intensity it takes to play defense -- especially in the red-zone -- is tough to find. When it's time to really lock things down and start getting after people, the players can't turn it on.
Johnson instilled that sort of fire in guys like Jeremiah Trotter and Brian Dawkins. Right now, there's no one like that on this defense because McDermott doesn't carry that same sort of passion and swagger that Johnson was able to infuse in his squads.
McDermott calls games not to lose rather than to win. He's afraid of taking a chance and being beaten. But what he's not realizing is that his soft gameplans are hurting a lot more than they're helping.
Instead of getting beat because the blitz didn't get there in time, he's getting beat because his players don't know how to play the zone defense with which he's so enamored. Sure, we don't see many big plays against his defense, but that's because he's got everyone dropping 10-20 yards deep.
So instead, offenses and able to dink and dunk their way into the red-zone.
And based on the number mentioned earlier, the Eagles' 20 is essentially the goal-line.
This is a speed defense built to come after the quarterback. And until Brandon Graham hits his potential as a pass-rusher, it's a defense that will need the blitz to create pressure.
And until head coach Andy Reid goes out and finds a defensive coordinator who understands that, this is a defense that will continue to be more of a liability than an asset.