Since his arrival in 2013, many fans have been reluctant to support defensive coordinator Billy Davis. But six games into his third season in Philadelphia, he may have finally created the Defense that this city has craved since the departure of Brian Dawkins.
The Eagles now have the 3rd ranked overall Defense, 3rd ranked on pass Defense and 5th ranked run Defense after an opening week which saw fans lose close to all of their hope. Given that Chip Kelly is an Offensive mastermind it seemed highly unlikely that this team would see an intimidating Defense or one that became the focal point of the team for quite some time..but it’s happened.
A lot of how this has came to be has nothing to do with statistics. Sure you can say that the Eagles have forced 10 fumbles in just 6 weeks and if they get just two more, then they would have already recorded more than five of the last six seasons (as shown below) and sure you can say that the sacks, interceptions and passes Defensed statistics are sky rocketing..but it’s about more than that.
Because on paper, these are players who should be overlooked and for an opposing team, exploited. Byron Maxwell was seen by many as a waste of money early on, two of the Eagles Safeties used to play at corner, you have two rookies who are shining week in and week out and even more impressive is that the player who was seen as valuable enough to be traded against LeSean McCoy has been injured for four weeks.
So what makes this Defense so good? Toughness. It’s something that has lacked oh so much in recent years. Whenever Williams or Fletcher would get burnt out even just once, the whole D would just drop off so to speak. There would be no fire, just heads hung low and more sloppy mistakes giving up X-Plays.
Last season saw a Defense of individuals. Talent lay spread across the board but nobody was their to utilise it. If one link broke then the ice would begin to crack and despite the best efforts of the likes of Cox and Barwin, it wasn’t enough to salvage the problems and errors plaguing those behind them. But this season has seen so many changes that many wondered if it would perhaps change anything at all….it’s changed everything.
Malcolm Jenkins is the best Safety the Eagles have had since Brian Dawkins without question. He makes plays all over the field game in and game out and he now ranks inside the top 5 safeties in the league to back that up. He’s tough, he inspires and he leads by example. But alongside him? Walter Thurmond. The Eagles desperately needed some help for Jenkins and this was perhaps the most overlooked signing of the off-season..well, he is overlooked no more.
Thurmond’s allowed 10 of the 13 passes thrown his for just 109 yards and two touchdowns. But the safety has three interceptions, has made 10 stops on running backs and has only missed two tackles out of 31..ranking him inside the top 20 for tackling efficiency.
But for the first time in a long time, this is a Defense who are proud to be in Philadelphia. You have Jordan Hicks pumping up the crowd as a rookie…the confidence to try and intimidate the Defense and feel at one with the crowd is not something that’s given, it’s not something that you just pick up…it’s earned and it comes from deep inside.
The veterans are playing so well and a by-product of that is the younger guys starting to flourish. With Fletcher Cox dominating for two weeks in a row, the less experienced players or perhaps less proven players are learning from arguably one of the best front sevens in the league right now. Vinny Curry struggled setting the edge early on but amassed 1.5 sacks against the Giants and became a dominant force early on.
Brandon Graham who had just one sack in five games and set a target of 32 for the season found himself hitting Eli Manning and racking up another 4 tackles, that’s 11 in the last two games he’s played.
A large part of this is a new methodical approach however. Davis saw that Beckham was beating Maxwell with ease in the first half and that Eli marched up the field with ease on the opening drive. So he changed things around and played much more aggressively. Before, it was always a “throw enough mud at a wall and eventually some will stick” philosophy but now the Defense are not afraid to make changes and it has been hugely successful.
The overall product is a Defense that embodies everything Philadelphia stands for. Toughness, passion, heart and a drive. They want to be in the team and they want to succeed. From the drastically improved E.J. Biggers to Nolan Carroll who shut down OBJ in the second half against the Giants. This is a young team who have been largely depended on when it comes to the success of the Philadelphia Eagles. When the unit has to face 40 minutes against the Redskins and still allows minimal points? That’s a good Defense. But with the Offense finally kicking and screaming in most areas, it’s allowed the Defense to assert a dominance over their opponents.
It’s that dominance, those hard hits, the passionate reactions and the simply incredible stats from a group of underdogs who have turned a sorry Eagles Defense who ranked 31st in the NFL against the pass last season, into one of the most intimidating forces in the NFL.
They may not be the biggest, the fastest or the most statistically proven..but this is a group of players who are playing with such passion and intensity that stats are almost irrelevant. Because they’re not playing for individual honours, they’re not playing for statistics..they’re playing for their team. For their city. For a ring. It’s that quality that has seen this Defense rise above and beyond expectations as of late and that same quality that could well see this team of underdogs, veterans and rookies emerge as a top five Defense once again.
(image credit: philadelphia.cbslocal.com/gettyimages)