Rich Hofmann: Cole, defense are keys for Eagles vs. Giants

Cole: 'Teams win . . . man'
Cole: 'Teams win . . . man'
Posted: January 07, 2009

'I'LL TELL YOU now, I'm very tired," Trent Cole was saying.

The Eagles' going-all-the-time defensive end was standing in the visitors' locker room in Minneapolis after the Eagles' 26-14 wild-card playoff victory. He had just recorded 13 tackles in a brutal game. He was tired and he was entitled.

A minute or so later, trainer Rick Burkholder broke up the interview because he wanted to have a look at Cole before the flight home, probably to begin the rehydration process if nothing else. Fatigue. It will be the Eagles' issue this week as they prepare to play the rested New York Giants.

If anybody is going to surmount the exhaustion, it is No. 58. The 13 tackles tied his career high, also against Minnesota in 2007. Against the Giants so far this season, he has played strong games. In the first game, he had six tackles, three for losses, a sack, a hurry and a forced fumble. In the second game, he had five tackles, one for a loss, a hurry and a blocked field goal.

He is going, going all the time. And he looks at the way the Eagles' defense is playing and liking it a lot. "I know what my defense can do," he said. "We can play better. I know we can play a whole lot better. That's the kind of confidence I have in my teammates."

The strong suspicion is that they will have to be better this week, through the fatigue, through everything. The Vikings got too much done in the first half of that game. They scored two touchdowns, converted a bunch of third downs and dominated in time of possession (more than 18 minutes in the first half). A better offense with a better quarterback would likely have done more than 14 points of damage. The Giants have a better offense with a better quarterback.

Cole said, "In the first half, we got a little out of control. In the second half, we screwed things down."

That's fine - and it was a tough, hard-hitting game by the Eagles' defense. It's just that, well, offensive tackle Jon Runyan had it exactly right when he spoke Monday on Comcast SportsNet's "Daily News Live." If the rested Giants get a chance to become front-runners on Sunday, it could be a long day for the Eagles. Cole, though, takes a wider view.

"It's team," he said. "We're going to do our part . . . Every unit worked [against the Vikings]. That's why they call it a team. Everybody did their part . . . If they're not getting it done, you've got to pick up."

Some asked him the defense-wins-championships question. Cole did not bite.

"Defense really doesn't win championships," he said. "In my opinion, teams win championships, man. It takes everybody. It takes the offense to score. It takes the special teams to get field advantage. It takes the defense to keep them from scoring."

This defense is the story of the Eagles' late-season surge, even as we all fixate on the offense's run/pass ratio. It is the group that has made all things possible. Turned over pretty much on the fly over the last couple of years, the defense has come together in a very big way in the last half-dozen weeks.

Consider: The defense held the Vikings' running backs (Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor) to 131 yards on 32 carries. When you look back to the Eagles' earlier games against the Giants and Washington, when they got run over, you can see the difference. The defense's ability to turn opposing running games into honest weapons, yes, but not killers, is the reason they were able to nurse a 16-14 lead into the fourth quarter against the Vikings. It is the reason why they have more than a puncher's chance against the Plaxico-less Giants this week, and why you wouldn't hate their chances the following week if they had to go to Carolina.

It is from that defensive improvement that everything else about this team has flowed.

"[Defensive coordinator] Jim Johnson, he's been in the league for a long time," Cole said. "He's great at what he does . . . He's gotten us here . . . He's putting us in the right place at the right time."

Where they are is in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, ready if not rested. *

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