The Philadelphia Eagles brought in defensive line coach Jim Washburn for a particular reason: pressure on the quarterback. Washburn resume suggested a history of success. The Washburn wide nine system is designed specifically to enhance the defensive ends ability to get to the quarterback.
Early in the 2011 campaign, the wide nine technique worked, however, the Eagles run defense was exposed with the large gaps the split defensive ends created. The linebackers responsibility of filling the gaps became too much for the Eagles young, inexperienced, under-sized linebacking corp.
What is curious to me is that it took awhile, middle-to-end of the season, for the adjustment to be made. Who was responsible for the lack of tweeking the defensive scheme: Jim Washburn or defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo? I believe the answer is pretty clear: Jim Washburn.
I, and many others, speculate that Jim Washburn wielded more influence over the defense than Juan Castillo at the start of the season. Castillo was transitioning from his offensive line coaching job to his new title with no hands on experience. What was frustrating was that it did not take a genius to figure out that the wide nine was crippling the run defense. Was Washburn stubborn? Was there an ego play involved? Who knows?
The end result was shifting the defensive ends in a little, thus eliminating the enormous gaps the weak linebacking group could not effectively plug. This simple adjustment made an immediate impact. The Eagles were more stout against their opponents running attack.
Overall, Washburn proved his philosophy was impactful. Furthermore, he validated that he is a heck of a defensive line coach. The Eagles led the NFL in total sacks (49) for the 2011 season. Defensive ends Jason Babin (18 sacks) and Trent Cole (11 sacks) combined for a total of 29 sacks alone. Both Babin and Cole are players who’s skill set thrives in Washburn’s wide nine technique.
Now, the Eagles need to acquire or draft other defensive ends with similar skill sets. The rotation of defensive ends not named Babin or Cole combined for a total of eight sacks. Even though Babin and Cole put up excellent sack numbers, they wore down near the end of the season.
In his first year, Washburn was a definite success. Could he have been more willing to adapt earlier in the season? Unless the linebacking corp changes dramatically, let us fans hope that Washburn has embraced flexibility.