Eagle Eye: Team turnaround
The Eagles limited Brandon Marshall to his second-lowest yard total (36) of the season. (USA Today Images)
They’re the very best the league has to offer. The biggest, the toughest, the strongest, the fastest.
And, somehow, the Eagles handle them.
Week after week, the Eagles faced stud wide receivers, and week after week, they’ve emerged relatively unscathed.
Pierre Garçon one week, Larry Fitzgerald the next. Calvin Johnson one week, then the tag-team duo of Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.
So far this year, the Eagles have faced nine of the top 20 receivers in the NFL, and -- including Garçon and Victor Cruz twice -- those 11 receivers have averaged about six catches for 75 yards.
Only two of the 11 -- Vincent Jackson and Dez Bryant -- have surpassed 100 receiving yards, and the list doesn’t even include Fitzgerald, who the Eagles limited to a relatively painless 5-for-72.
Considering the Eagles allowed the third-most passing yards in NFL history through nine games, their ability to quell some of the greatest receivers of this generation is remarkable.
The Eagles get Bryant again on Sunday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in a game that will determine the NFC East champion.
“Every week, it seems like everybody has a receiver that’s talked about as one of the best, and as a defensive back, you look at that challenge and that’s what you want,” cornerback Bradley Fletcher said.
“Go out there and play those guys, you want to challenge them and play well and get a win.”
The Eagles’ corners have gotten better and better as the season has gone along, and defensive coordinator Billy Davis on Sunday was able to let Fletcher and Cary Williams handle the Bears’ two superstar receivers by themselves, which is remarkable considering Jeffery and Marshall this season have a combined 180 receptions for nearly 2,600 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“Our corners stepped up on their own and handled them,” Davis said. “I had a lot of things in the plan, but as I watched it unfold and saw how the corners were holding up, they really were holding up well. I let them out there on their own, and they did a great job.”
Neither Jeffery nor Marshall was a factor Sunday in a game the Eagles won 54-11.
Here’s a look at the receivers the Eagles have faced this year who rank among the top 20 in the NFL and how they’ve fared against the Eagles.
Listed are the wide outs by where they rank, followed by their catches, yards and long gain against the Eagles:
· 2. Calvin Johnson, Lions (3-52; 33)
· 6. Alshon Jeffery, Bears (6-76; 21)
· 7. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos (9-86; 15)
· 9. Pierre Garçon, Redskins (7-64; 17)
· 9. Pierre Garçon, Redskins (6-68; 21)
· 10. Eric Decker, Broncos (5-88; 52)
· 11. Brandon Marshall, Bears (4-36; 14)
· 12. Vincent Jackson, Buccaneers (9-114; 24)
· 15. Dez Bryant, Cowboys (8-110; 19)
· 20. Victor Cruz, Giants (5-48; 14)
· 20. Victor Cruz, Giants (7-86; 26)
Remarkably, even though those receivers caught a combined 69 passes against the Eagles, only two went for more than 26 yards.
The Eagles’ secondary held Jeffery, Thomas, Garçon, Marshall, Jackson, Bryant and Cruz all without a long catch.
Although the Eagles still rank 30th in the NFL in passing yards allowed, that’s to a large degree a product of how many opposing possessions they’ve faced, thanks to their no-huddle offense.
By most measures -- completion percentage, sacks, interceptions -- this has evolved into one of the NFL’s best pass defenses.
And they’ve proved it week after week against the NFL’s best receivers.
“It’s a measuring stick, and me and Fletch and all the guys that come into this building take pride in what we do, and we work hard at what we do, and we go out there and it’s an opportunity to show the world what we’ve accomplished and what we can do,” Williams said.
“We don’t shy away from that. We actually invite it. We think it’s a great challenge, a wonderful opportunity for us to get better. We understand our roles and go out there and meet the challenges that other players present.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s just a mentality, man. We’re going to go out there and fight for 60 minutes regardless of who’s out in front of us. We don’t care about numbers, jersey names, whatever it may be. We just want to play our best football.”
The Eagles did get gashed in Minnesota by veteran Greg Jennings, who had 11-for-163, but that was the exception.
The first four weeks of the season, the Eagles allowed six pass plays of 40 yards or more. In 11 games since, they’ve allowed three.
We’ve certainly come a long way since the days of Nnamdi and DRC, haven’t we?
This secondary doesn’t get intimidated. Whoever they line up against -- no matter how many 1,000-yard seasons they have, no matter how many Pro Bowls they’ve been to, no matter how many catches they have -- gets a battle.
“In the NFL ... I don't know that you're ever overmatched,” Davis said. “That that guy's better than you or you're that much better than the other guy.
“It's who brings it to the field on Sunday and executes their technique with the passion and aggressiveness that we'd like to have.
“We've had ups and downs. I don't think it's attached to who they're playing. I think it's that game and how we approach it.”