Eagles' defense is showing improvement as season progresses

Posted: October 31, 2013

FROM THE FIRST play of their choppy season, the Eagles seemed to list from too much weight on one side. Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Jason Peters and Brent Celek were all former Pro Bowlers headlining an experienced and well-paid offense, one that would have to do enough to offset a green and eclectic collection of defenders, many weaned on at least one different defensive scheme, some more than that.

By majority, the offense was getting paid handsomely.

By majority, the defense was trying to prove it deserved to be.

So here we are in Week 9, and what do we have? A defense that now seems to have found its way, or a way, at the precise juncture the offense seems to have lost its way. And a defensive coordinator building some faith even as the head coach seems to be losing some, at least outside the city limits.

"I don't think there's anything else our offense needs to look at except our defense," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said on Monday. "They've stayed the course. They've worked continually on their techniques. We haven't added a lot of new things for those guys. We continue to let them feel comfortable in what we're doing. On a weekly basis, I see them getting better and better and better."

Since surrendering 52 points to Denver, the Eagles have limited opponents to 21 points or fewer in 4 straight weeks. Sure, it doesn't hurt that three of the four opponents were the offensively challenged Buccaneers and Giants, but wedged between those games was the effort against Dallas' high-octane attack, which kept the Eagles in the game well into the fourth quarter, despite eye-popping offensive ineptitude.

Would it be different if the Broncos were in the Eagles’ division and they got to play them again?

"I was actually thinking about that the other day," second-year Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks said in the locker room yesterday. "I truly believe it would be different. I really do. From the first game, we'd learn a lot. It would be here, so the elevation wouldn't hurt me. I think we'd give them a great run for their money.

"But that's fantasy. Of course, I can sit here and say that too. But I live in reality."

OK, here's some. Dallas, with a plethora of talented receivers, scored only 17 points, despite its defensive dominance. Sunday, the Giants' defense shut out the Eagles offense, and facilitated 38 minutes, 5 seconds of offensive possession. Yet New York also failed to reach the end zone, settling for five field goals.

Yesterday, defensive coordinator Bill Davis, roasted just a few weeks ago for contending his defense showed improvement during that debacle in Denver, took his turn at the podium and tried his best to deflect the accolades, tried his best to hide his pride in the progress his group has made since its first game against Washington.

"I knew that Washington game was our starting point, because I've been through this before," he said. "I knew the kind of overhaul we were making. The position coaches are the ones who right now should be out here talking to you. They're the ones who have made the progress we've had happen . . . It's a credit to them and the individual periods and the fundamentals we've taught since Day 1."

To wit: The improved play of much-maligned Nate Allen, whom Davis praised yesterday. The continued aha moments provided by Kendricks. While yesterday's trade of nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga reflects poorly on the brain trust that signed him last offseason, it also indicates an increased faith in the improved abilities of the team's young linemen - notably Clifton Geathers, whom Kelly said on Monday was "outstanding" in Sunday's loss to the Giants.

Here's what also seems hopeful. The Eagles' defense held up against different offensive looks provided by Dallas and New York. This Sunday? A healthy Terrelle Pryor will offer something they really haven't seen yet, given the limitations of Robert Griffin III in Week 1.

"We've got our hands full," Davis said.

"It is hard to measure, because every week is a different unique set of challenges," Davis said of his defense's improvement. "So the statistics aren't as much the measure as the techniques. I personally watch the tape to see if the mistakes we were making 2 weeks ago are still happening. After the Denver game . . . the results weren't anywhere near what you wanted, but you knew we were moving in the right direction."

The results still, at least for the last 2 weeks, aren't anywhere near what they wanted. But as Kelly said Monday, the magnifier is now on the offensive side of the ball, on the little things they're not doing, on their lack of cohesiveness.

"When I talk to the team about it, you don't have to look too far on what the formula is for success," the head coach said. "We need to go back out there, we need to continue to work, need to get a better understanding of what we're trying to get accomplished as a group. Not one person has to do it all himself. We all have to kind of contribute. But I think on defense, we have 11 guys really contributing . . .

He paused. "More than 11."

"We just keep working," Kendricks said. "It's brand-new, so you keep working, keep believing in what he's telling us and believing in ourselves. When things go wrong, what are you going to do? Fold, quit, or just get back to work? You work. It's as simple as that."


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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