Paul Domowitch: Eagles defense delivers in 'gut-check time'

Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter is the first to get to Jason Snelling during the Eagles' goal-line stand before halftime.
Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter is the first to get to Jason Snelling during the Eagles' goal-line stand before halftime.
Posted: December 07, 2009

ATLANTA - When you win a game by 27 points like the Eagles did yesterday, no one particular play or series of plays seems all that significant afterward.

But don't try telling that to defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who still was juiced after the game about his unit's impressive goal-line stand at the end of the first half.

"Gut-check time," McDermott said in the locker room after the Eagles ran their record to 8-4 with a 34-7 win over the Falcons in the Georgia Dome. "The boys stepped up and did a great job. That's Philadelphia defense right there.

"Before the half, we had our backs to the wall. We had some penalties that put us down there, which I'm not happy about. But we've got some winners on this team and they stepped up big."

At the time, the Eagles were only ahead 13-0. After a pair of penalties on safeties Quintin Demps and Sean Jones and a 6-yard run by Jason Snelling, the Falcons had a second down at the 1-yard line. One yard and it's a six-point game. One yard and momentum swings to the home team. One yard and maybe this cakewalk wouldn't have been a cakewalk.

Three times, Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey sent Snelling into the line to get that 1 yard. Three times, he came up empty.

The normally stone-faced McDermott showed more emotion after safety Quintin Mikell and a cast of thousands stopped Snelling on fourth down than he's shown in the previous 11 games.

"Anybody will tell you that I'm pretty intense,'' he said. "I try to keep my emotions in check. But you have a goal-line stand like that in somebody else's house, I get fired up.''

He wasn't alone. The Eagles came out after the half and drove 80 yards on 12 plays to take a 20-0 lead. Then, cornerback Sheldon Brown picked off his fifth interception of the season and returned it 83 yards for a touchdown to make it 27-zip.

"We came in at the half after we stopped them and the guys were fired up across the board - offense, defense, special teams,'' McDermott said.

"To me, that [goal-line stand] was the tone-setter,'' Brown said. "I know when we've been in games and have had the ball at the 1 and the other team has stopped us, we know that if we can't score from the 1, we're in for a long day. Everybody did a great job of reading their keys and getting low leverage and getting on [the Falcons'] side of the line of scrimmage. If you're in their backfield, they can't run in."

The Eagles held a Falcons offense that was missing its starting quarterback, starting running back and two starting offensive linemen to 295 yards, 99 of which came on the Falcons' final drive of the game after McDermott had taken out most of his regulars. Redman's 3-yard pass to Roddy White on the last play of the game spoiled the Eagles' chance for their first shutout since 1996.

"I'm trying hard to forget that part," McDermott said. "I'm not happy about that. I wanted it for our players. But at the same time, we've got bigger fish to fry than to go for a shutout and put our starters back in the game."

One of those bigger fish is waiting for McDermott's defense Sunday night in the Meadowlands when the Eagles face the Giants in a critical NFC East showdown. He is hoping to get two key pieces back for the game - linebacker Akeem Jordan, who missed his fourth straight game yesterday with a knee injury, and valuable nickel corner Joselio Hanson, whose four-game suspension for testing positive for a banned diuretic is over.

"Akeem is probably one of the biggest playmakers on our defense and nobody realizes that," Brown said. "He's the guy that we're champing at the bit to get back. It's been tough [without him]. But I give a lot of credit to those linebackers for stepping up and fighting through a tough situation."

Thumbs up

To Asante Samuel for the impressive job of tackling he did. I've been on Samuel all season for his awful tackling, but yesterday he looked like a different player. Brought down Jerious Norwood for no gain on a sweep to his side in the first quarter and had another nice stop on Norwood in the second quarter, holding him to a 2-yard gain. He also broke up a pass to wide receiver Roddy White with a big hit.

Thumbs up II

To Eagles coach Andy Reid for giving Michael Vick the opportunity to enjoy his return to Atlanta. Reid let Vick lead the Eagles out onto the field before the game, made him one of the game captains and put him in for two plays on the Eagles' first possession. He put Vick in on a third-and-1 play at the Atlanta 5 early in the second half (Vick scored), and then put him in for a series in the fourth quarter.

Thumbs down

To Quintin Demps for his two inexcusable penalties. He hit quarterback Chris Redman in the head on a blitz late in the second quarter, giving the Falcons a first down at the Philadelphia 13. Then, in the third quarter, he came in late on a play and speared wide receiver Roddy White with his helmet well after White was down.

Did you notice?

** For the third straight game, Stacy Andrews was a healthy inactive.

** On a second-and-6 at the Atlanta 15 on the Eagles' first possession, Donovan McNabb could easily have run for the first down and probably a touchdown, but chose to throw a low-percentage pass in the end zone to Brent Celek, which went incomplete.

** For the second straight week, the Eagles used a no-huddle offense on their first possession.

** McNabb went back to Reggie Brown on the Eagles' second possession even after he had a costly third-down drop on their first possession.

** The costly false-start penalty on tight end Alex Smith on a third-and-1 at the Atlanta 16 late in the first quarter. Instead of a possible first down, the Eagles eventually had to settle for a David Akers field-goal attempt, which he missed.

** The hits by Trent Cole on Chris Redman on back-to-back plays early in the second quarter. He forced a hurried pair of incompletions on both plays.

** The poor blocking by Brent Celek on Lawrence Sidbury's sack of McNabb in the second quarter. Celek was off-balance and Sidbury easily shoved him aside and made the play.

** The chorus of boos Kevin Kolb got when he entered the game with 11:22 left in the fourth quarter. The Georgia Dome fans, both Falcons and Eagles, wanted Michael Vick to stay in the game.

** Chris Gocong deserved an assist on Sean Jones' fourth-quarter interception. Gocong blitzed up the A-gap on the play and forced a hurried throw from Redman.

By the numbers

**The Eagles scored on their first possession for the seventh time in 12 games. They're 6-1 in those games.

** David Akers' missed 39-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half snapped a streak of 17 consecutive made field goals.

** Sheldon Brown, who notched his fifth interception in the third quarter, and Asante Samuel are the first Eagles tandem to each record five or more interceptions in the same season since Eric Allen and Wes Hopkins did it in 1991. They're the first pair of Eagles corners to do it since at least 1950, when the NFL first started distinguishing defensive backs as cornerbacks and safeties.

** The Eagles committed eight penalties. It's the fifth straight game they've been flagged for at least seven. They've got 40 penalties in those five games.

** For just the fourth time this season, the Eagles didn't have any givewaways. They have a plus-15 turnover differential in their eight wins and minus-3 in their four losses. Sixteen of their 20 interceptions have come in their eight wins.

** Donovan McNabb has started seven of the Eagles' eight wins. In those seven games, he's got a .648 completion percentage, is averaging 8.27 yards per attempt and has thrown 13 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. In the three losses that he's started, he has a .557 completion percentage, a 7.22 yards-per-attempt average and three touchdown passes and three interceptions.

** Donovan McNabb had a 101.8 passer rating. The Eagles are 44-1 when he's got a 100-plus rating. He's had a 90-plus rating in five of his last seven starts.

** The Eagles, who converted three of six red-zone opportunities into touchdowns, are just 10-for-24 in the red zone in their last eight games,

** The Eagles converted their only third-and-1 opportunity. They are just 14-for-21 on third-and-1 this season and 7-for-13 in the last five games.

** In their eight wins, the Eagles have held opponents to a .560 completion percentage and 5.30 yards per attempt. In their four losses: .686 and 8.87.

** The Eagles, who held the Michael Turner-less Falcons to 2.8 yards per carry, haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in their last 19 regular-season games.

** The Eagles are 8-0 this season when they've led at the half and 0-4 when they've trailed.

** All three of the Eagles takeaways were converted into touchdowns. In the first 11 games, they had 25 takeaways that they turned into just 75 points.

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