Billy Davis encourages Eagles' DBs to play tough

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Billy Davis encourages Eagles' DBs to play tough

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December 3, 2013, 5:00 pm
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Arizona's Andre Roberts pleads for a flag on Cary Williams' interception on Sunday. (USA Today Images)

Instead of telling his defensive backs to be careful about contact, to be wary of interference and holding calls, Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis preaches an opposite mantra.

Davis on Tuesday said he’s noticed a change in the way games are called by the officials this season, and he’s adapted his coaching to the change.

After a few years of highly liberal flag-tossing and defensive backs getting nickled-and-dimed on every pass, Davis said referees are going back to letting the players decide the outcomes. Not in every game, but enough to notice a developing trend.

“It's very obvious right now that all the games that have been played -- no matter [if] you're watching our games or anybody else on TV -- that both the offensive players and the defensive players are allowed to have a little bit more contact,” Davis said.

“As long as you don't knock them off their route, they don't knock us off ours. It's just what they’re doing, and each game we tell the DBs and the guys in coverage, ‘Learn how they are calling this particular game, how is this crew calling this game.’

“If they’re allowing more, then do more. If they’re not allowing more, then do less. And we just play from there, and knowing that every now and then, we're going to get a call against us and every now and then they are going to get a call against us.”

The discussion came in the aftermath of some very subjective officiating in the Eagles’ 24-21 win over the Cardinals on Sunday at the Linc, a game that involved plenty of contact between receivers and defensive backs on both sides.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians sent a package of plays to the NFL office to be reviewed (see story) and said Monday “obviously, there were many, many problems” with the officiating, prompting an irate response from Eagles cornerback Cary Williams.

Williams, who ripped Arians and said the Cards were equal recipients of calls that could go either way (see story), said he still thinks defensive backs aren’t given enough leeway to use their bodies in coverage.

“I would love for us to (be allowed to) play a little bit more defense,” he said, “just to kind of even it out a little bit. You already can’t touch them after five yards. Like, [there] was one play [Michael] Floyd had my left arm,  I couldn’t get through. I probably would have had my second interception in that situation but he had my arm.

“If I grab him, it’s a P.I. If he grabs me, it’s a no-call. And don’t complain about the call. It’s just one of things where refs are going to let you play to a certain degree, and in certain instances they’re going to call it, and certain instances they’re not. It just depends on what they feel at the particular time.”

After two years of having the cornerback positions manned by Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, two guys who didn’t play physically and reflected the downfall of defense in Philadelphia, the team signed the noted Williams and Bradley Fletcher in the offseason to bring some toughness back to the secondary.

Neither was considered an elite cover corner, but both brought reputations for playing tough and specializing in man-press coverage. Fletcher, one of the team’s many pleasant free-agent surprises, leads the team with 14 pass breakups, three ahead of Williams.

Fletcher’s contact-laden breakup on a fourth-down pass from Carson Palmer to Michael Floyd on Arizona’s last drive was part of the package Arians sent for reviewal.

It’s not uncommon for teams to ask the league to review specific plays from games, but it’s rare when a coach publicly admits it.

Davis was asked for his take on the Fletcher fourth-quarter breakup, in which he appeared to have his arms wrapped around Floyd’s ribcage during the catch attempt.

“I try not to get into the officiating,” Davis said. “The officiating always levels out. Through the course of the season, you win some, you lose some. They do a good job out there.

“We'll never be the ones to complain or be overboard with what happened out there, because there are plays that we think we're fouled and they think they are fouled and at the end of the day it all evens out, and I think that once we get a bead on how [the refs] are calling it, then we play from there.”