Eagles' defense is feeling more comfortable
Billy Davis admitted he's getting "more comfortable" making defensive play calls. (AP)
After the Dallas game, Bill Davis got to work early and did what he usually does: He went over tape. He’s had to sit through some excruciating viewing experiences this year. Last weekend’s defensive effort wasn’t as hard to watch.
The Eagles lost to the Cowboys, but they allowed just 17 points to a Dallas offense that entered the game scoring the second-most points per game in the league. The Birds are getting better on that side of the ball. So is Davis.
“I think I feel a lot more comfortable,” Davis said about his defensive game calls. “I think the players feel more comfortable in the calls. All of it is a growth that's happening. I feel more comfortable. Knowing what the strengths and weaknesses of the individual players are now that we have almost half a season under our belt. So that's growing. I think more importantly, we as a staff see the players understanding the concepts of the coverage, the techniques within the coverage and how they work with the concept. All of that is growing.”
Before the season began, Davis said he wanted to restore the Eagles’ “great defense” (see story). That was easily said and not so easily accomplished. In the first four games, the Eagles allowed 34.5 points per game. That number was inflated by the 52 points the Denver Broncos put up, but even if you take that game away and excuse them for getting run over by the almost-indefensible Peyton Manning monster, the Eagles still surrendered 30.6 points per game in their first three outings.
No matter how you chop up the early-season numbers, the results weren’t good. But Davis had faith -- enough that, after the Broncos bludgeoned them, he asked people to “trust him” (see story). That amused some members of the media and fanbase. Why trust him? Why trust a guy leading a defense that hadn’t performed? It was understandable then. It’s harder to doubt him now.
Davis and his defense have been pretty good over the last three games, allowing an average of 19.3 points. And while the 31st-ranked pass defense remains a concern, the Eagles are 12th against the run.
“The interesting thing for me, and I’m really happy with how Billy has done it, the defense we ran against the Cowboys is the same defense we ran in the beginning of the year when we were much-maligned in terms of ‘what are we doing’ and all those other things,” Chip Kelly said. “I think Billy has conviction in terms of what he’s doing. I think he’s sound at how he approaches things. I think he has answers: 'If they’re doing this, we need to do that.' I also know he’s really in tune to where our players are and what they can handle.”
What the players can handle, what they do well and not so well, that’s all part of a developing a relationship between the coach and his unit, according to Davis. Brandon Boykin agreed, saying it’s a two-way flow of information of ideas that has improved over the last few weeks.
“As a player, you don’t really think about what they’re calling during the game,” Boykin said. “I think, more so, it’s once you watch the film. But everybody is learning. This is our first year in the scheme. In certain situations, now that he’s seen it, he might call something that we’ve had success against. And I think he’ll probably do that [against New York] going back from when we played the Giants earlier.”
As Davis noted, the Eagles have recently done a better job creating turnovers. In the last three weeks, the defense has forced six interceptions and recovered a fumble. That comes after not forcing a turnover in two straight weeks against the Chiefs and Broncos.
Davis said the Eagles’ defense has to get better on third down, in the red zone, and in points allowed. As you might expect, he held himself responsible for all that, but Cary Williams said the players “don’t fault our coach. We take onus on ourselves.”
“I think he’s calling great games,” Williams continued. “I don’t think it’s necessarily his fault for any of the things that happened on the field. Sometimes it comes down to us. It comes down to us being able to execute what is called and understand our responsibilities within the defense and going out there and playing those responsibilities to the best of our ability and creating turnovers and disrupting timing between wide receivers and the quarterback. … It’s up to us to go out there and execute the things that the coaches ask us to do.”