Keys to the Game: 49ers-Eagles – Part II
Here comes Jonathan Gannon
Editor’s note: If you missed Part I of the Niners-Eagles ‘keys to the game’ preview, you can read that here.
The Niners and Eagles will face off at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday for the right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LVII. Both sides feature a star-studded cast. We’re talking best on best: offensive line versus defensive line; the league’s top secondary versus the league’s most explosive, malleable collection of skill position talent.
Much has been written about the influence the McVay and Shanahan tree has made on modern-day offense. The man behind the best counter to that offense is currently unemployed former Broncos head boss, Vic Fangio.
(Make sure you check out Shawn Syed’s amazing piece on the Book of Fangio to really get into the details of the footprint he has put on the modern-day NFL, especially to counteract the success of the McVay, Shanahan, and LaFleur attacks.)
As Jonathon Gannon watched the final minutes tick away on the Cowboys last Sunday night, he had to have a sense of relief that he has, at his disposal, perhaps the best sidekick to help him come up with a masterplan to slow down the 49ers offense. As has been documented elsewhere, Vic Fangio has been serving as a special consultant for Gannon and the Eagles since the offseason. Rumblings even broke earlier this week that if Gannon bags a head coaching gig elsewhere, Fangio will slide into his vacant seat in Philly.
During his first season as defensive coordinator for the Eagles, Gannon struggled due to the pieces he had on defense. He wanted to run a hybrid front seven but found it tough sledding without the correct pieces up front. While he had some talent along the defensive line – mostly an overpowering four-man front – his five-man, early-down front lacked inspiration. The Eagles missed a true nose (the backbone of the front) and an electric edge player who could both rush the passer due and drop back in coverage at a high level. That defense wound up finishing near the bottom of the pack in sacks in 2021.
On the back end, Gannon’s scheme was unbelievably vanilla. It hit its nadir in the playoff game against Tom Brady and the Bucs. Against the best to ever do it, Gannon stuck to his base structure, refusing to rotate or disguise. It was a static, boring, conservative two-deep and four-deep based defense – one that took the bend-don’t-break mantra to a whole other level.
Average to above-average QBs set records in completion percentage week after week throwing against a defense backing off into soft coverage with shells with a non-existent pass. But, hey, you know, they limited explosive plays, people!
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