Yes, I’m aware that grading a coaching hire just hours after the news broke is a fool’s errand. In the immediate aftermath of the Darrell Bevell hiring last year, most were mocking the hire for the fiasco at the end of Super Bowl or lamenting the fact that Bevell coached with a philosophy of a forgotten era in which rushing ran supreme. Well, Bevell managed to erase most concerns about him in just one year’s worth of work. We should all give new Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Cory Undlin the same opportunity as well.
But there’s no harm in offering an immediate opinion on the hire. So that’s what I intend to do here.
What I like about the hire
It’s obvious to me that this guy was well respected in Philadelphia. There are several reports out there that the players thought quite highly of him and respected him. He was also very clearly respected by the coaching staff there, as many believed Undlin was the next in line to become defensive coordinator had Jim Schwartz landed himself a head coaching job this offseason.
I tend to trust those that are close to man over fans who only have statistics—which are based on a ton of different factors including personnel, injuries, draft scouts, free agency pickups, etc.—to base their opinions.
And let’s not kid ourselves here, the Eagles suffered massive injuries among their defensive backfield in the past two years and it certainly had an effect on Philly’s pass defense. Take a look:
2018 Eagles injuries
- No. 1 CB Ronald Darby placed on IR after 9 games
- Starting nickelback Sidney Jones misses 8 games (including playoffs)
- No. 2 CB Jalen Mills placed on IR after 8 games
- Rookie Avonte Maddox (promoted to starter in Week 5) misses 3 games
- Starting safety Rodney McLeod placed on IR after 3 games
Despite all these injuries, the Eagles managed to actually improve in the final half of the season, winning five of their last six games thanks in large part to their defense. Players like Cre’Von LeBlanc and Tre Sullivan—practice squad guys—put in significant time and played fairly well (PFF grades of 72.7 and 62.6, respectively). While, overall, the unit finished the season 15th in passer rating allowed and 15th in pass defense DVOA.
2019 Eagles injuries
- No. 1 CB Ronald Darby misses 6 games
- No. 2 CB Avonte Maddox misses 4 games
- Starting CB Jalen Mills starts season on PUP, misses first 6 games
- Cre’Von LeBlanc starts season on IR, misses first 12 games.
The injuries weren’t as bad in 2019, but the results weren’t nearly as bad as some are making it out to be. The Eagles ranked 16th in pass defense DVOA, and 19th in passer rating allowed. As for their secondary, Philly ranked sixth in passes defended (82) but t-22nd in interceptions (11th).
Overall, I wouldn’t call his time in Philly a failure. It’s clear in his five years there, he built up a respected reputation and produced adequate results.
What I don’t like about the hire
It wasn’t surprising at all, but the fact that Matt Patricia went to his own set of friends for the hire is a bit disappointing. Ultimately, it’s his defense and he wants people he knows and is comfortable with, but there are so many other coaches out there that deserve a chance to grow and become comfortable with the current staff. To cast a net only as far as your social circle is not doing a true coaching search justice.
Though it’s fair to point out that their coaching history only lasted one year, and Undlin has coached under several different defensive coordinators that bare little resemblance to the kind of coach Patricia is. That list includes Jim Schwartz, Jack Del Rio, Romeo Crennel and Mel Tucker.
However, you’d love to see more examples of the Eagles developing young secondary talent. In the past three years, Philly has drafted three cornerbacks in the first four rounds of the draft: Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas. The highest-ranked player amongst those was Jones at 63.5—good enough for 67th among 134 qualifying corners.
His resume from Denver looks a lot more promising, but he inherited a pretty darn talented roster when he became defensive backs coach in 2013, including a 24-year-old Chris Harris.
Still, it’s impossibly hard to separate talent issues from coaching issues. Is coaching to blame for some of these young corners not developing, or is the general manager to blame for accumulating poor talent? And how much is it fair to blame injuries for the development of some of these players? To point to the results of the Eagles’ secondary and conclude decisively that the coaching staff sucks is too far of a bridge for me to cross.
Those are all questions that don’t have clear answers, so I can’t truly give a strong opinion about this hire based on cloudy results. Overall, it sounds like the guy is good enough to earn some serious respect around a valued franchise in Philadelphia, but the on-field product is still very much to be determined. Overall grade: C
What grade do you give the Cory Undlin hiring?
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