Billy Davis knows the final stats for his Eagles defense against Chicago didn’t look encouraging, especially on third-down defense, especially for the starters.
But on Monday he cautioned against making long-term judgments based on less than one quarter of action in a preseason game.
Remember, Davis advised, the scheme he called against Chicago isn’t exactly what he and his staff will draw up when games actually count.
“Yeah, third down wasn't a good night for us. But one of the products of that is I really am trying to evaluate,” the second-year defensive coordinator said. “It's harder than you think to hold to base four-man rushes and coverage calls to evaluate a four‑man rush and evaluate our coverage.
“I knew halfway through that we were struggling on third down, and we were losing different 1‑on‑1 battles. You can go to the pressure package if you want. But it takes you away from the evaluation process. So the whole goal is to evaluate and grow the players, and that's what we're working on right now. It hurt a little bit on third down.”
The Bears converted 10 of 17 third downs (59 percent) against the Eagles, but Chicago’s first-team offense made 3 of 4 attempts. After going 3-and-out on the drive, the Jay Cutler-led Bears strung together a 13-play, 79-yard touchdown drive made possible by three 3rd-and-long conversions.
On each each third down, the Bears were at least seven yards from the marker. On 3rd-and-11, he found Brandon Marshall for 13 yards. On 3rd-and-10, he connected with Dante Rosario for 23. Cutler completed 7 of 10 passes for 80 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown strike to Zach Miller on 3rd-and-7.
The culprits were familiar faces from last year’s third-down defense, which ranked 24th in the NFL: moderate pass rush and spotty coverage across the middle.
“We don’t want to show everything,” cornerback Cary Williams said. “We don’t want to reveal too much. We’ve got things that [we] need to work on, so obviously his (Davis') game plan was to go through that, basically see what they were going to give us, go through the basics and we did that.
“As far as I’m concerned I think we did OK. Obviously, there are some areas where everybody needs to improve on, including myself. We got another week coming up and we can improve on that mark.”
Davis stressed the importance of honest evaluations over scheme diversity in the preseason. To measure his base defense’s ability to generate pressure, he kept nickel rushers Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham out until the second string subbed in.
Without Bennie Logan, who’s been nursing a hamstring injury, evaluated backup nose Damion Square with the starters and rookie Beau Allen with the twos.
Guys needed opportunities to show what they can or couldn’t do.
“That's exactly it,” Davis said. “And you want the guys to win the 1-on-1 battles and have a couple of opportunities. An outside rusher or inside rusher, they have a couple opportunities to set up some moves, to work some moves on that (offensive) tackle, so there is a lot of thinking that goes into staying basic in the preseason, believe it or not.”
“We had some great rushes. We had some bad ones. The guys were trying new moves and techniques that worked sometimes and sometimes they got tripped up. So every play helps us that we get to evaluate and grow. Even if it's a young player learning what not to do, at least he grows from that point.”
Coaches generally stay conservative in the preseason opener and gradually open the playbook as the preseason progresses.
Davis’ toned-down playbook didn’t catch anyone by surprise.
“In the game everything was really vanilla,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “Just a four-man rush. We didn’t have really really too many games with the front (seven). It was just see who can rush the passer and see who can cover. It’s really about evaluation right now. I’m sure as we move forward we’ll be able to kinda game plan a little bit.”