Eagles' defense bends but doesn't break

Posted: November 19, 2013

BILL DAVIS is an accentuate-the-positives guy, and right now, the biggest positive about his defense is the fact that since that 52-point, 35-first down, 472-yard debacle in Denver in late September, it has held seven straight opponents to 21 or fewer points.

Yes, the Eagles still are giving up a lot of yards, including 427 to the Redskins in yesterday's 24-16 win. Yes, they're near the bottom of the league in sacks per pass play.

And yes, it got a little hairy there in the fourth quarter when the Redskins scored two touchdowns and very nearly sent the game into overtime before Robert Griffin III made like the Bad Brett Favre and threw a careless, up-for-grabs pass into the end zone that Brandon Boykin intercepted.

But you've got to go back to the Year of Our Lord 2003 to find the last time the Eagles held seven straight foes to 21 or fewer points.

"I don't like giving up as many yards as we've been giving up,'' Davis said after the game. "But right now, the points are the focus.

"When you take over a new undertaking, the players will give what you ask of them. But you can't ask for a list of 15 things. You've got to focus on a couple. We wanted to get our effort up and run to the ball. We wanted to tackle better. We wanted to eliminate passes that went over our heads. So, we've done all those things.

"Within that, we've been able to keep the scoring down. Obviously, we'd like to shut people down and under 300 yards in total offense. But it's not happening. The points are happening. So we'll continue to focus on that, be tough in the red zone, make them drive the whole length of the field without getting a cheap one over our head.''

For three quarters, Davis' unit was shutting down the Redskins. Held them to 196 yards and 14 first downs. Gave up just seven completions in 14 attempts and 57 passing yards to Griffin, sacked him four times.

Had a few problems stopping the Redskins' ground game, which collected 167 yards on 32 carries in the first three quarters. But it didn't translate into any points.

But then Griffin threw a pass to fullback Darrel Young, who was being covered by linebacker Trent Cole. Cole and safety Patrick Chung both went to tackle Young and ran into each other, and Young romped for a 62-yard touchdown, after which the Redskins went for two and made it.

On Washington's next possession, Griffin hit Aldrick Robinson for a 41-yard touchdown, then ran for the two-point conversion, and suddenly it was a one-score game.

They got the ball back again with 3:26 left at their own 4-yard line and drove all the way to the Philadelphia 18, converting two third-and-10s and one third-and-25 when Santana Moss beat Roc Carmichael on a deep slant for a 28-yard gain.

But on a third-and-1, defensive end Fletcher Cox, who is having a Pro Bowl-caliber year in Davis' two-gap 3-4 scheme, managed to get in Griffin's face. The second-year QB threw the ball up and Boykin came down with the game-saving interception.

"It got a little shaky,'' said Cole, who had two of the Eagles' four sacks. "But we're not going to quit. We're going to fight to the end. That's what kind of team we are, that's what kind of defense we are.

"We're going to have bumps in the road during the game. We've got to stay calm and keep playing."

Davis was missing three starters. He was without cornerback Bradley Fletcher, rookie safety Earl Wolff and linebacker Mychal Kendricks.

His unit was on the field for 77 plays. For the season, it's averaging 74.8 plays per game. No other defense in the league has been on the field that much. To say it is looking forward to the bye week is an understatement.

"We tried to keep them off-balance," Davis said. "We threw some mans [coverage], some zones, some pressures. We fell back [into coverage] a little bit. We were just waiting at the end. We were going to make a play or they were going to make a play. We stepped up and made it."

Cox, who provided the pressure that forced the interception, had an outstanding game. Recovered a fumble in the air in the second quarter after linebacker Connor Barwin knocked the ball out of Griffin's hand, when the Redskins had the ball at the Philadelphia 5-yard line.

He made back-to-back stops on running back Alfred Morris and Griffin to kill a Washington drive early in the fourth quarter. Then he came up with the timely pressure on Griffin.

"I had it in my head that something had to happen," said Cox, who is playing as well as any 3-4 end in the league right now. "I knew a big play was coming, so I stayed calm and I got pressure on him and he threw the ball and Boykin picked it off."

The Eagles went into the game ranked 31st in the league in yards allowed. The 427 they gave up to the Redskins isn't going to change that. But for now, Davis is OK with that. For now, all he cares about are the points.

"We have a good group of grown men who know how to not panic and fight through and hang together," he said. "We know at the end, when it gets all pressure-packed, you've got to go back to your fundamentals and your technique and your training. That's what separates you.

"Coach [Chip] Kelly does a lot of talks and speeches about always going back to your training when it gets tough and the pressure's on you. And I think our guys did that tonight."

It's hard to get a read on this defense right now. It has proved it can stop pretty good running games, even if it did give up 10 runs of 9 yards or more to the Redskins.

But its pass defense still is a question mark. Let's see what happens in a few weeks when it has to go against quarterbacks like the Lions' Matthew Stafford and the Bears' Jay Cutler and the Cowboys' Tony Romo again.

"We're growing together," Davis said. "It's the growth we all talked about and knew we had to have. The fundamentals and the technique are growing. They're understanding that we're not changing the defense. We're not adding a whole bunch of new stuff. So really, their understanding of what we're doing is getting better and better each week."

Is the defense where he thought it would 11 games into the season?

"We're right where we hoped we'd be," Davis said. "But you never know. That's why we said before the first game, let's see where we start. Let's see what kind of group we have and what kind of growth we have.

"And injuries are a big part. Are you absorbing injuries? Other guys have to step in and you have to retrain. We've been fortunate not to have a whole lot of injuries. But today was a test on our depth, and our depth stepped up."

DID YOU NOTICE?

* Brad Smith, whom the Eagles signed earlier in the week, was activated for the game. He played on special teams and also played an offensive snap in the second quarter. He lined up in the backfield with Bryce Brown and went in motion to the left. Nick Foles faked a pass in his direction and dumped it off to Brown on the right side; he gained 24 yards on the play.

* The Eagles had a busted coverage on the Redskins' first possession that left tight end Logan Paulsen wide open down the field. But Robert Griffin III overthrew him. It was one of many poor throws by Griffin.

* DeSean Jackson handled all the punt returns. He returned two punts and had two fair catches. His longest return was 6 yards. Brandon Boykin returned kickoffs, though expect Smith to do it after the bye.

* Linebacker Connor Barwin had another batted pass. It was his sixth of the season.

* The outstanding play by Boykin on a punt in first quarter. He dived and prevented a Donnie Jones punt from going into the end zone. Smith downed it at the 2.

* The back-to-back plays by Brandon Graham and Najee Goode on the Redskins' second possession. Graham slipped a block and dropped Alfred Morris for a 3-yard loss. On the next play, Goode came unblocked off the edge on a blitz and sacked Griffin for a 6-yard loss.

* LeSean McCoy beat Ryan Kerrigan on a wheel route on his 49-yard catch and run on Eagles' first scoring drive.

* Right tackle Lane Johnson lined up wide right in a bunch formation on a 9-yard run by McCoy late in the first quarter.

* The unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on McCoy for saying something to DeAngelo Hall after a 10-yard, second-quarter run.

* Trent Cole had two sacks. It's the first time he's had two or more sacks in a game since he had three against the Dolphins in December 2011.

* Tight end James Casey got beat by Brian Orakpo on a third-quarter sack of Nick Foles.

* The Eagles used 11 personnel (one back, one tight end, three wide receivers) on 52 of their 62 offensive plays.

BY THE NUMBERS

* Nick Foles extended his streak of passes without an interception to 199 dating back to last season. He's thrown just two in his last 385 attempts and has just five in 427 career attempts. Throw in his career at the University of Arizona and he's thrown just 38 interceptions in 1,822 passes in college and the NFL. That's one interception every 47.9 passes over the last 5 years.

* In the last three games, Foles has completed 51 of 72 passes (70.8 percent) for 932 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. He has a 152.8 passer rating in those games. Since 1960, just one player - the Cowboys' Craig Morton - has had a better rating over a three-game period (155.2).

* For the ninth time in 11 games, the Eagles failed to score on their opening possession. For the seventh time in 11 games, they scored on their second possession. They have three touchdowns, including one yesterday, and four field goals on their second possession this season.

* The Eagles haven't allowed an opponent to score on its first possession in the last six games.

* LeSean McCoy had a season-high five runs for losses against the Redskins and has 24 in 11 games.

* The Eagles, who had just seven rushing touchdowns in their first 10 games, had three yesterday, including two by McCoy, who raised his rushing TD total to five.

* Nick Foles was 5-for-7 for 61 yards and three first downs on third down against the Redskins. For the season, he's 27-for-43 for 320 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions on third down.

* The Eagles gave up 427 yards to the Redskins. It was just the second time they've allowed 400-plus yards to an opponent in the last seven games. They gave up 560 to the Raiders 2 weeks ago.

* Opponents have converted just two of their last 12 red-zone opportunities against the Eagles into touchdowns. The Redskins were 0-for-2. In the first seven games, the Eagles gave up 15 touchdowns on 23 red-zone challenges.

* Nineteen of the Eagles' 31 touchdown drives this season have consumed less than 2 minutes, including two of their three TD drives against the Redskins. Sixteen of those 31 drives have taken four plays or less. Their 13-play touchdown drive in the third quarter was their longest of the season, both in terms of plays and time consumption (5:19). Previously, their longest TD drive last 3:58.

* With 77 rushing yards against the Redskins, McCoy has 1,009 for the season. It's the third time he's gone over the 1,000-yard mark. Just three other Eagles running backs have done that - Duce Staley, Ricky Watters and Wilbert Montgomery.

* The Eagles have turned the


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Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian.com

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