You wouldn’t think it just to look at the group on paper, but the Eagles’ defense has played well more often than it has not this season. To reiterate, they’ve had more good games so far than bad.
Yes, I’m aware Philadelphia is ranked 31st overall in total defense and 30th in points allowed. Yes, defensive coordinator Bill Davis has been jamming the square pegs leftover from a bad 4-3 defense into the round holes of a sophisticated 3-4, to varying results.
When you look at what the unit has done on a game-by-game basis though, the Birds actually have demonstrated an ability to handle the more one-dimensional offenses they’ve come across. It’s played a huge role in both of the club’s wins this season, and they arguably should have one more.
Way back in Week 1, the Eagles managed to keep Washington’s offense off the board until late in the third quarter. With Robert Griffin III getting his first live action under center for the burgundy and gold since tearing his ACL in January, the Birds honed in on Washington’s running game. Of the two touchdowns they did score, one was aided by a Jason Avant fumble in Philadelphia territory.
In Week 3, Davis took advantage of the fact that Alex Smith is not the type of quarterback who beats a defense vertically. The Eagles again focused their attention toward shutting down the run, and this time were able to keep Kansas City’s offense out of the end zone until the fourth quarter. Philly surrendered one touchdown in 60 minutes despite the Birds offense committing a whopping five turnovers and losing time of possession 2-to-1.
Then just this past Sunday, the Birds ignored the Giants’ pathetic ground attack altogether, especially once David Wilson exited with an injury, choosing instead to erase big plays through the air. The plan was largely a success, as New York did threaten with three touchdown drives and some good fantasy days for two of their three wide receivers , but the pressure eventually got to Eli Manning who turned the ball over three times.
On the flip side, a pair of signal callers were able to decimate Philly’s patchwork defense. But Philip Rivers seems to be in the midst of a career renaissance, and Peyton Manning must be a cyborg or something.
The key at this point would in fact appear to be the quality of opposing team’s quarterback. Rivers and Manning are both in the zone to start with this season, already franchise quarterbacks that when provided enough time will pick apart any defense. The Eagles haven’t been able to consistently rush the passer, and if he has time to throw, there are matchups in that secondary waiting to be exposed—particularly at safety.
RG3 is probably going to go be an elite NFL quarterback someday, but he was clearly rusty coming off of a light training camp and no preseason. Alex Smith is a quality game manager, but he’s not the guy who’s going to spin the ball all over the field and carry a team to victory. Eli Manning has two Super Bowl rings, but without a running game or much help from the offensive line, he looks less than ordinary.
That seemingly bodes well for several of Philly’s upcoming games. Some of the quarterbacks on the schedule include third-round rookie Mike Glennon this week in Tampa Bay, decrepit Carson Palmer in Arizona, whoever happens to be starting in Minnesota come December, and Eli and Griffin one more time each.
Of course, they have the likes of Tony Romo, Terrelle Pryor, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Stafford to worry about too.
Overall, the Eagles’ defenses has had several games which they can build upon this season. Nothing is going to change the fact that they lack playmakers at safety, or a true nose tackle who can occupy blockers and create push at the line of scrimmage. Yet despite numerous personnel issues, they’ve been able to get the job done the majority of the time.
The points per game stat isn’t even entirely fair to Davis’ unit. The Eagles have conceded 28 points to opponents directly off of offensive giveaways returned for touchdown and special teams miscues. That’s almost one score for each game they’ve played, and if counted separately would reduce the defense’s PPG allowed from 31.8 to 26.2—which still isn’t great mind you, but does separate them from the dregs of the league a little bit at least.
That’s probably about the kindest thing you can say about the defense at this point—they might be closer to league average than out-and-out bad. If they can stay the course against the Bucs on Sunday, and all indications are they will, the Eagles have a good chance to get back to .500 this week.