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Who will win the NFC East?
The Eagles allowed just 2.8 yards per carry against the Giants and held Eli Manning to a QB rating of 81.8. (USA Today Images)
They were supposed to be the team with the offense that nobody could stop and the defense that couldn’t stop anybody.
Boy, were we all wrong.
What’s more improbable?
That the Chip Kelly offense, on record pace through six games, would suddenly be unable to score?
Or that the Billy Davis defense, on record pace in a bad way through four games, would suddenly start playing sound defense on a weekly basis?
The Eagles’ unstoppable offense hasn’t scored a touchdown the last two weeks, and the defense that wasn’t supposed to be able to stop anybody has been one of the best in the league over the past month.
What the heck is going on here?
A week after holding the Cowboys to 17 points, the Eagles’ defense on Sunday held the Giants to 15 points and no touchdowns. Yeah, the Eagles lost both games. Yeah, it wasn’t the defense’s fault either time.
The first four games of the season, the Eagles’ defense allowed 28 points per game. The last four, they’ve allowed 18 points per game.
The Eagles are 3-5, and they’ve lost three of their last four and 10 straight at home, but you can’t blame the defense.
They’re pretty good right now.
“I feel like we’re starting to get to know each other and develop some chemistry and just have a feel for where each other is going to be,” said rookie safety Earl Wolff, who’s started four of the last five games.
“We’re just improving. We have a long way to go, but I feel like we’re getting better every day, every practice, every game.”
With a new coach and staff, seven new starters and a new scheme, it’s understandable that it took a few weeks before the Eagles put together a consistent defensive stretch.
Just think. This time last year, Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Kurt Coleman, Akeem Jordan and Derek Landri were all starting.
“The wins will come,” Davis said Sunday night, after an excruciating 15-7 loss to the Giants at the Linc (see story). “All we focus on is what we do out there defensively. We ask, ‘Did we play well enough to win?’ We did not play good enough to win [Sunday]. That’s all we can focus on.
“We are a team. We will continue to be a team. It’s all three phases coming together to win a game. None of the three phases were good enough to win.”
On Sunday, despite having to play over 38 minutes because the offense was so putrid, the Eagles’ defense held the Giants to 325 yards and no touchdowns.
The Giants are the fourth straight team to net fewer than 100 rushing yards against the Eagles, the first time since 2010 the Eagles have held four straight teams below 100 rushing yards.
If they hold the Raiders below 100 yards, it will be the first time in more than 20 years they’ve limited five straight teams to fewer than 100 yards on the ground.
And if they hold Oakland to 21 or fewer points, it will be the first time since 2009 they’ve held five straight teams to 21 or fewer.
“Anytime you don’t let a team score a touchdown that’s a positive,” Connor Barwin said. “I think we are getting better. Every week we have said that and done that, so I think that is important.
“Obviously you have to produce turnovers. The first time we played [the Giants] we forced two turnovers, which the offense turned into scores. That is what was missing [Sunday].”
The sacks aren’t where they want, and the turnovers haven’t been where they want, but right now the Eagles are putting a competitive product on the field every Sunday.
They’re clearly ahead of schedule.
“The number one word you used is consistency, and that is what we are looking for,” Davis said.
“Are we consistent? We have to be consistent on first downs. We have to get into third downs and then on third downs it wasn’t as good [Sunday] as it needed to be. But the red zone picked up.
“Consistency in every phase and situation in the game is what we are looking for. We have to continue to grow and get better, until we can pull out the wins.”
The biggest thing the Eagles’ defense has done is not give up big plays.
The Giants didn’t have a run of 10 yards or a pass play of 30 yards, and the Eagles are one of two teams that hasn’t allowed a run of 25 yards all year. They haven’t allowed a pass completion of 40 yards in their last three games, and they’ve allowed only three all year. Only seven teams have allowed fewer.
“I just think they're starting to really get the grasp and understanding of what our defensive coaches are doing,” head coach Chip Kelly said. “I think they're in the right spots. They're holding disguises a little bit longer. They can confuse the quarterback at times. ...
“They're starting to understand the package. I think since day one, they're playing with great effort and doing a better job tackling right now. I think [on Sunday] we defended some of the deep balls, some of the balls thrown in the end zone.
“They've done a really good job with that. They haven't gotten the ball thrown over their head, and they've kept the ball in front of them. So I think we can build from where we are on the defensive side.”
This is only the third time in the last five years the Eagles haven’t allowed an offensive touchdown. They held Pat Shurmur’s Browns without one in last year’s opener, a 17-16 win in Cleveland, and held the Jaguars to a field goal in a 28-3 win in 2010.
The Eagles, now 3-5, travel to the West Coast this weekend to face the Raiders on Sunday in Oakland.
The Raiders are 26th in offense, but Terrelle Pryor is obviously a dangerous weapon. Then, five of the Eagles’ last seven opponents are currently ranked among the top 11 in the NFL in scoring –- the Bears (No. 2), Cowboys (No. 3), Packers (No. 4), Lions (No. 8) and Redskins (No. 10).
So there will be plenty of challenges for this Eagles defense the second half of the year.
“We're making strides, but at the same time, there are no real individual goals,” Brandon Boykin said. “The ultimate goal is to win, and if you don't, then we've got to look and see what we could have done better.”