Les Bowen: Further review: Eagles' defense even better than it seems

Andy Reid wants to see the special teams make life easier for his impressive defense.
Andy Reid wants to see the special teams make life easier for his impressive defense. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 03, 2012

This time last year, the Eagles were three games into a four-game losing streak that messed up their season. Not one of those four losses would have been won by a 19-point offensive effort, such as the Birds posted in their Sunday-night victory over the Giants.

The Eagles' defense is really what's different this year; it's allowing more than four points a game less than it was through four games last year, when Juan Castillo and half his players were new and all was chaos. Is four points a game a lot? Well, that's the Eagles' combined margin of victory in this season's three wins.

It says here the Birds' defense is even better than it has looked on the stat sheet this season - where it ranked seventh in the NFL going into Monday night's action - because opponents are so often working on short fields, thanks to the Eagles' dozen turnovers in the first three games, and to the terrible kickoff coverage against the Giants.

Castillo's defense has given up only two touchdown drives of 60 yards or longer this season. Two of the seven TDs scored against the Eagles were scored against the offense, an interception return in the opener and a fumble return at Arizona. Five of the field goals the Eagles have allowed this season, the opponent didn't even have to gain 35 yards on the "drive" that set up the attempt.

"You don't want to on a consistent basis," Eagles coach Andy Reid said Monday. "You don't want that to be a habit. You want to be sure we do better on special teams . . . We made the change with the punter. If we're not picking our weight up on special teams, then we have to do what we have to do there."

Reid isn't going to say he is surprised to see his defense playing so well. But he did talk Monday about how pleased he is with its "relentless attitude."

When Castillo is asked about his unit's improvement, he always starts with middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. Castillo credited him for gathering players and getting them ready for the final Giants drive, on which Eli Manning completed just one pass.

"That guy's got to be an extension of your coordinator, and they've got to be on the same page," Reid said of the middle linebacker.

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said he isn't surprised to see the defense performing effectively.

"We practiced against 'em all training camp," Mornhinweg said. "I thought there was an expectation there, that they'd be rockin' and rollin' pretty good."

Does this affect Mornhinweg's outlook? "Oh, sure," he said.

"There's certain times where you could play a little closer to the vest, there's other times where you take some big calculated risk because they'll cover it."

"Our guys know this is a day-to-day process," Castillo said after Sunday's game. "We're still not where we need to be. The key here, for our guys, is they want to have the best defense in the NFL. The only way you can have the best defense in the NFL is to win a championship - and they know that."

DEVELOPING STORYLINES

* Fletcher Cox was a monster the first defensive series, in which Eli Manning completed one of five passes.

* The Eagles did a great job with the snap count, luring the aggressive Giants across the line of scrimmage for penalties three times, flags thrown on Mathias Kiwanuka, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul.

* That time the Eagles lined up Damaris Johnson in the backfield and handed him the ball? It looked just like Johnson's punt returns - as soon as he had possession, somebody was tackling him.

* Le Sean McCoy's first seven carries netted 2 yards. His next three carries gained 60 yards. Excellent Stanley Havili block on Michael Boley to spring McCoy for 34.

WHO KNEW?

That the Eagles' defense could dominate a game in which it did not record a sack?

OBSCURE STAT

The Giants are 0-2 in the NFC East for the first time since 1996.

EXTRA POINT

OK, we've been kvetching for 3 weeks about Eagles turnovers in the red zone. So this is really a picked nit. But, in making sure Michael Vick didn't throw a killer interception Sunday night, did the Eagles get too conservative down near the Giants' goal line?

They scored on every second-half drive, but it was all field goals. That first drive of the third quarter, first-and-goal from the 1, three successive LeSean McCoy runs, right after he's run for 4, 34, and 22. So that's six successive McCoy runs on the drive.

Then there was that Vick roll and drop for the gimme sack, just before Alex Henery's game-winning, 26-yard field goal. A touchdown would have been much, much better there.

I asked Marty Mornhinweg this Monday, and got a dry chuckle from the offensive coordinator. It wasn't a rueful "gee, maybe you're right there" kind of chuckle. It was more along the lines of, "I'm barely restraining myself from leaping over this desk and batting you about the head and shoulders with my clipboard."

"Take care of the ball," Mornhinweg said. "There's nothing that's emphasized more than that, as players and as a staff. We did a good job of that [Sunday] night. That was certainly one of the big keys to the game."

Mornhinweg suggested that to play mistake-free, after nine turnovers in three games, was a major feat for Vick. Maybe a bigger deal than missing out on a possible touchdown or two.

"Mike stepped up to the heat, now. There's no question that that happened," he said. "I have great confidence in Mike . . . the things that happened to Mike really, in a blue moon, will happen to anybody. Certainly, it wasn't perfect. Certainly, he made some poor choices on several occasions . . . but at the same time, he led us to two, and now three, late fourth-quarter, come-from-behind victories."

In other words, "We won, we held onto the ball, shut the bleep up."

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|