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The Eagles' D on preparing for Mike Glennon
Cary Williams (left), shown after an interception in last week's win over the Giants, believes the Eagles to grow into a "feared defense." (AP)
Peyton Manning one week, Mike Glennon another. Terrelle Pryor in November, Matthew Stafford in December. Rookie, veteran. All-time great, first-year starter.
None of it matters to Cary Williams.
The names and pedigrees of quarterbacks who face the Eagles each week this year really have no bearing on the game plan, Williams was saying Friday at his locker during a lengthy discussion with reporters about the Eagles’ rebuilding defense.
On Sunday, they face Tampa Bay rookie Glennon, and Williams was asked about the difference in approaching a quarterback gearing up for his second NFL start compared to a first-ballot Hall of Famer like Peyton Manning.
Apparently, there is none.
“You really don’t worry about what a quarterback is doing or what he’s trying to do, especially when you got a defense like this that’s so new and fresh,” Williams, the former Ravens corner, said. “If this was more of a cohesive unit like it was in Baltimore, then I would say yeah. We paid a lot more attention in Baltimore to what Peyton did because some things meant certain things. Some things weren’t just all BS.
“There [was] a lot of stuff that [were] really good things to pick up on, but especially here in this young defense, we’re trying to learn each other, trying to figure out what’s best for the team, and you try not to get involved in those things.”
Williams came here in free agency after winning a Super Bowl with the Ravens, a franchise built on defense with future Hall of Fame pillars in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and stud front-seven personnel anchored by Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata.
For years, the Ravens built their 3-4 scheme around that nucleus of playmakers, and when new guys like Williams were added to the fold, they understood quickly that the fast track to playing time was to get on the same page with the defensive leaders.
This Eagles defense can’t possibly match that environment. It’s in the first year of an overhaul, from a 4-3 wide nine to a 3-4, two-gap scheme. It has new starters at six of the 11 positions, five of which were with another organization last year, including both cornerbacks.
“We definitely have a personality in development,” Williams said. “It’s still a little murky right now. At the end of the day, hopefully, we can establish some kind of identity that we can build on and play with confidence with. It’s a long season. This race is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. We’ve got to understand that.”
Williams understood this when he signed a three-year, $17.5 million deal in the offseason. He knew linebacker DeMeco Ryans had been established last season as the leader of the defense, so he chooses his words carefully around the team and defers to Ryans when statements need to be made.
Although he tends to be fiery and high strung on the field, Williams knew going into the year that an extreme makeover requires patience more than anything. Right now, the Eagles have the NFL’s second-worst defense in total yards (434 per game) and third-worst scoring defense (31.8), but Williams isn’t fazed.
“I understood that it’s not going to happen overnight,” he said. “It’s not something that’s going to be quick and we’re going to automatically have this great feel for each other and this great flow.
“We got several new guys playing different positions, new guys that you haven’t seen, and you’re not even aware of how they like to function in the defense or what plays into their strengths. We haven’t played that long in a real environment. … It’s going to take some time. It’s going to take some development. When we’re building on those things, we’ll build a culture.
Williams envisions a “feared defense” like the ones he played on in Baltimore and the ones he remembers in this city, where Reggie White and Brian Dawkins remain legends from what seems like an eternity ago.
“When you mention the Eagles name, it’s guys [going against them] who don’t want to get hit. It’s guys who are not completing routes,” he said. “It’s guys that [are] not completing runs because they understand that those Eagles are going to fly around. That’s the defense we’re working toward. We’ve got the right people in the locker room. It’s just a matter of time until we get to that point.”
Williams said the Eagles showed “resilience” against the Giants, creating three turnovers that ultimately meant the difference en route to a 36-21 win, but what they still miss is comfort and trust within the scheme and alongside each other.
He recalled an in-game chat with nickelback Brandon Boykin about a trend he noticed from the Giants that he felt Boykin could capitalize on with a pick.
“I thought he probably would have got an interception on [it]; he probably would,” Williams added.
The great defenses have that camaraderie with each other, the trust to know that each person is accountable and looks out for the next man. Until the Eagles can foster that comfort, which is impossible after just five weeks, they can’t fit the mold Williams sees.
“That’s the whole point I was trying to make, that when we’re talking and communicating it’s building the trust and building the bond between players,” he added. “Right now we’re fresh and there’s a lot of guys trying to figure this thing out, trying to trust people.
“We got Connor Barwin, who’s used to playing with guys in Houston. I’m sure he sees things on film where he wants to take certain things into his own hands and he’ll try to make plays but you try to stay within the confines of the defense because we don’t have that … it’s still a newness, it’s not a jelling point right now. Everybody doesn’t know what everybody is trying to do.
“We’re trying to get to that point. Communication is getting better. It’s gotten better tremendously in the last two weeks, it’s crazy. We’re making great strides and that's something positive to build on. It’s just a matter of us getting that individuality in the defense, trying to do some things you’re used to doing and knowing that the guy next to you understands what you’re trying to do and just playing off each other.
“It’s a light switch that comes on. Once you build that trust, it’s huge. When you look at those past [Eagles] defenses, they had a great jell. Those guys trusted each other. Right now, we’re learning a new system and we’re still trying to develop that trust.
“Like I said, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. We’ve only been playing for nine weeks, real football. It’s gonna come. It’s just a matter of, when we get hot, then you’ll see a tremendous difference than what was going on earlier this season, and I think we’re making our way to that point.”