Birds defense is adequate against a winless team

Trent Cole bats down a pass by Tampa Bay's Mike Glennon. Earlier, tight end Tim Wright got behind Cole for a 36-yard catch.
Trent Cole bats down a pass by Tampa Bay's Mike Glennon. Earlier, tight end Tim Wright got behind Cole for a 36-yard catch. (   RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 15, 2013

TAMPA, Fla. - Great is the goal. Good enough has been the reality the last couple of weeks. Better is what will be needed in the next game.

"We want to be an elite defense, and we're heading in that direction," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said Sunday after his department made a genuine contribution to a 31-20 victory over the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

What the Eagles defense did Sunday in the searing heat at Raymond James Stadium was easily overlooked because Nick Foles poured gasoline on the quarterback-controversy fire by lighting up a respectable Tampa Bay defense for more yards and points than the Bucs had surrendered against either Tom Brady and New England or Drew Brees and New Orleans earlier this season.

Six minutes into his postgame news conference, coach Chip Kelly still had not received a single question about his team's defense. When he finally did, he had mostly positive things to say.

"I thought our defense did a really good job," Kelly said. "They got pressure on the quarterback. There were a couple third-and-longs I think we'd like back, but overall we were around the ball. We kept the ball in front of us. We didn't let any balls go over our head. We're getting better each week, so we'll take this one and grow from it."

It's difficult for any defensive unit to gain respect when it is going against a rookie quarterback making his second career start, as the Bucs' third-round pick, Mike Glennon, did Sunday. But you can only play what's in front of you, and the Eagles defense had a couple of crucial momentum-changing moments in a game that Tampa Bay led at halftime.

The first one came in the opening quarter. Foles scored a touchdown on the first drive, and the defense forced a three-and-out with the help of pressure from blitzing linebacker Mychal Kendricks and tight coverage by cornerback Bradley Fletcher. But then Tampa Bay got its first break of the game when Darrelle Revis recovered a LeSean McCoy fumble at the Eagles 40-yard line.

The Buccaneers settled for a field goal. That's a win for Davis' defense.

Bad, however, is the only way to describe how the Eagles defense played in the second quarter, when the Bucs scored a couple of touchdowns to take a 17-14 halftime lead. After a 40-yard punt return by Eric Page gave Tampa Bay the ball at the Eagles 39-yard line late in the first quarter, Davis sent safety Patrick Chung on a blitz. Chung bit on a run fake, which gave Glennon enough time to complete a 24-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson.

"It was an unblocked safety blitz," Davis said. "We just have to get there. He froze on a run fake or we would have got there."

There's no sin in surrendering a touchdown when the opposing team has a short field, but there was plenty to bemoan when the Bucs scored again late in the first half. The defense lost track of the rookie Glennon on a third-and-14 play, and the gangly quarterback ran 16 yards for a first down on the final play before the two-minute warning. Three plays later, Glennon hit Jackson for a second touchdown and the Bucs had a 17-14 lead.

The Bucs had not scored more than 17 points in any of their four previous games, so this didn't look like a day when the Eagles defense would take a step forward in its pursuit of greatness.

Bad got immediately worse on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, when rookie tight end Tim Wright got behind linebacker Trent Cole for a 36-yard completion from Glennon.

"My fault," Davis said. "I put Trent in a bad position. I have to make a better call than that. There are a handful of calls every game that I want back, too. I'm learning about my guys and they're learning about me and each other."

Glennon made his one rookie mistake two plays later, throwing an interception directly into the arms of Fletcher. Foles turned that Tampa turnover into seven points, and the Eagles never trailed again.

A Tampa Bay drive that started from its 1-yard line and resulted in a 27-yard field goal by Rian Lindell with 10 minutes, 48 seconds remaining in the game best symbolized the yin-and-yang state of the Eagles defense.

"It was great that they only ended up with a field goal, but there is no way it should have been anywhere close to that," Davis said. "But it tells you about their resolve more than anything. They really do have short memories, and they line up and they play. It was a series of third downs that got us in trouble. They were third-and-winnables, so that's the frustrating part."

The satisfying part was that the Eagles got a win and the defense deserved its share of the credit.

"It's a move in the right direction," Davis said. "This whole season is going to be about, 'Are we moving in the right direction?' "

The answer Sunday was "yes." The challenge that lies ahead against Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys is a much more formidable one.

"It's a great passing attack with all kinds of weapons," Davis said.

The last time the Eagles defense faced a great passing attack with all kinds of weapons, it was torched by Peyton Manning in Denver.

"Every time you face one of these tests, you see where you are," Davis said. "We get to see where we are this week compared to where we were in Denver and against some of the other offenses we've faced."

Good enough is what they were in Tampa. Better is what they need to be against Dallas. Greatness remains far off on the horizon.


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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