Eagles defense deserves credit for taking advantage of limited offenses

Eagles defense deserves credit for taking advantage of limited offenses

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.

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

NEW YORK -- John Wall had 29 points and 13 assists, scoring Washington's final four points in the last 32 seconds as the surging Wizards beat the New York Knicks 113-110 on Thursday night.

Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers for the second straight night and added 23 points, but the Wizards needed big plays from Wall down the stretch to win their fourth in a row.

He made two free throws to put Washington back on top after New York had rallied to take a 110-109 lead, then rebounded Carmelo Anthony's miss and left all the Knicks in his dust as he raced down the floor for a dunk with 13.7 seconds to play.

Anthony finished with 34 points but Wall stole the ball from Brandon Jennings to prevent the Knicks from attempting a 3-pointer that could have tied it (see full recap).

Leonard scores 34 to lead Spurs over Nuggets
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points, rookie Dejounte Murray added a season-high 24 and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a pregame injury to Pau Gasol in beating the Denver Nuggets 118-104 on Thursday night.

Denver's three-game winning streak was snapped despite a career-high 35 points from Nikola Jokic.

Leonard had his fifth straight 30-point performance, right after learning he will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs were unexpectedly without Gasol, Tony Parker and then coach Gregg Popovich. Gasol and Parker were both late scratches due to injury, and Popovich was ejected for the first time this season.

Gasol broke the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand by jamming it against Kyle Anderson's shoulder during pregame warmups while attempting a running hook. The 16-year veteran center immediately clutched his hand and left the court.

X-rays revealed the break, and the Spurs said there is no timeline for Gasol's return.

Irving, James lead Cavs over Suns
CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, All-Star teammate LeBron James had 21 points and 15 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked more like themselves at home in a 118-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Cavs were back in Quicken Loans Arena following a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) that concluded with an embarrassing 35-point loss at Golden State. But on their home floor, they had better offensive balance and ball movement while improving to 30-11 -- the same record Cleveland had at the halfway point of its 2016 NBA championship season.

Channing Frye scored 18, Iman Shumpert 17 and James Jones 14 while filling in for star forward Kevin Love, still bothered by back spasms.

Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 16 rebounds, but the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).