Eagles' 'fiery' defense dominates again vs. Steelers

Eagles' 'fiery' defense dominates again vs. Steelers

Connor Barwin wasn’t quite sure. 

The veteran defensive end definitely hoped the Eagles’ defense would be dominant, that the aggressiveness would pay off, that the talent would take over. 

But he wasn’t sure. 

“To be honest with you, I really didn’t know,” Barwin said. “I thought we were talented. I really felt that we had a good team, a good group of guys that all liked playing with each other. But all through summer and OTAs, you don’t really know until you go out there and play. So far we’ve been playing together as a team. We’ve been pretty disciplined, played smart and played hard.”

After Sunday’s 34-3 clubbing of the Steelers and after the Eagles’ defense has given up just 20 points through three weeks (see Instant Replay), things are coming into focus. 

The Eagles’ defense wasn’t just good on Sunday against Pittsburgh … it was downright dominant, holding a team with a future Hall of Fame quarterback, the best receiver in the league and the NFL’s leading rusher coming into the week, to three points. 

Three. 

“They just weren’t going to be denied,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “They just weren’t going to bow their necks. They weren’t going to let them in the end zone. It came down to our will vs. theirs and I was just so happy with the way the guys played.” 

Just how dominant has the Eagles’ defense been? Well here’s a look: 

  • Sunday was the first time the Steelers had been held to three or fewer points since Dec. 19, 2011. It was also the worst loss (31 points) for the Steelers since Sept. 17, 1989. 
  • The Eagles have held their opponents to 14 or fewer points in each of the first three games for the first time since 1992. And the team has given up just 27 points through those three games, also the fewest since ’92. 
  • They’re one of just two teams in the NFL that hasn’t yet allowed a passing touchdown. The other is Seattle. 
  • The Eagles lead the league in points scored (92), fewest points allowed (27) and point differential (plus-65). 
  • The plus-65 point differential is their biggest through three games since 1980. That was a Super Bowl year.

“Well, we got our butt kicked,” Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “We couldn’t put any points up. Couldn’t get any stops. We have to find a way to get back.” 

So, yeah, the Eagles have been pretty impressive. 

And while Carson Wentz has stolen headlines, the team’s defense has been just as pivotal to its success (see 10 Observations)

“That’s the expectation,” linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “That’s been the expectation since Day 1. We knew we were going to have to be dominant. We’ve got a lot to improve on, but if we keep improving and keep taking it day by day, we’re going to be fine.”

While Ben Roethlisberger had time in the pocket early during Sunday’s game, eventually the Eagles’ vaunted pass rush got to him. Roethlisberger was sacked four times by the Eagles. He had been sacked just twice total in the two previous games. 

The Eagles also shut down the Steelers’ rushing attack. DeAngelo Williams, who entered Week 3 as the NFL’s leading rusher, had just 21 yards on eight carries. 

From the time defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz arrived to town with Pederson, the defense was expected to change and get better. It clearly has. And it’s taken on the persona of the man in charge. 

“It’s the attitude of our coach,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “We’re always out there, we’re always competing. We’re always feisty, fiery, we always want to make that pay, compete.” 

As the game progressed on Sunday, the Eagles could feel the Steelers’ frustration mounting. By the time the game got deep into the third quarter, the route was on. 

“Absolutely. We made them one-dimensional,” Hicks said. “They couldn’t run the ball. They had to throw the ball down field. Our defensive backs were doing a great job; we were doing a great job in underneath coverage. We made them one-dimensional and when that happens, our defensive line eats. Our defensive line just goes and goes and it is tough to stop.”

The hallmark of a Schwartz defense is the front four getting to the quarterback without needing to blitz. After another slow start, the Eagles’ talented defensive line did its job on Sunday. 

Fletcher Cox had two sacks, while Brandon Graham and Bennie Logan each chipped in one apiece. Cox and Graham each have three sacks through three games. 

“We can still be better,” Cox said. “We can grow. We’re not comfortable. That’s what I think about this team. Nobody is comfortable or patting themselves on the back. We know we can be better. We just have to take this bye week, take a little time off to come back and get ready for Detroit.”

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Eagles 'not comfortable' after historic 3-0 start

Eagles 'not comfortable' after historic 3-0 start

They’re not just beating people. They’re destroying people. They're not just winning. They're doing it in historic fashion. And they're not just 3-0. They're 3-0 with a first-year coach and a rookie quarterback.

This just doesn't happen.

Yet it's happening.

“I know a lot of people said the first two games we didn’t play anybody, stuff like that,” linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “But we just play whoever’s on the schedule, and it’s hard to win every week in the NFL. Definitely encouraging to start out the way we have."

The Eagles are only the second team in NFL history with a new head coach to win its first three games by 15 or more points. The 2007 Steelers, whose head coach Mike Tomlin was across the sideline Sunday afternoon, also did it.

But that team’s quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, was in his fourth season and had already won a Super Bowl.

This team’s quarterback was a third-stringer a month ago.

Unprecedented stuff.

Nobody saw this coming, and if they say they did, they’re lying.

The Eagles improved to 3-0 Sunday afternoon with a 34-3 shellacking of a Steelers team a lot of people expect to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, a team that hadn’t lost by 31 points in 27 years (see Instant Replay).

"We got that full head of steam," rookie tailback Wendell Smallwood said. "I think we're going to keep rolling. We're not going to sit back and get comfortable at all. We're going to keep it going and keep rolling."

The Eagles go into the bye week one of five 3-0 teams in the NFL, and the only one with a rookie coach.

They’ve outscored their three opponents by 19, 15 and 31 points. They have the hottest rookie quarterback in NFL history and a defense that hasn’t allowed a second-half touchdown.

“I’ll bet there’s a lot of new Eagles fans today,” Bradham said. “We have a lot of hardcore fans here, but I’m sure they started coming out of the woodwork all over the country when they saw our score today.”

The Eagles are 3-0 for only the ninth time in their 84-year history. They’re in first place in the NFC East and they’ve played extraordinary football on both sides of the ball (see 10 Observations).

The Browns are the Browns. The Bears are the Bears.

But a win over the Steelers? That’s legit.

“We saw this game as kind of a respect game, an offense of that caliber going against a defense like us?” safety Rodney McLeod said. “It was a matchup to see and we came out victorious. But it doesn’t end here. We’ve got a lot of work to do."

The Steelers hadn’t lost by 31 points since a 41-10 loss to the Bengals in 1989. And they had never lost by 31 points to an NFC team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

Unprecedented stuff.

“We still can be better,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “We can grow. We’re not comfortable. That’s what I think of this team.

“Nobody is comfortable or patting themselves on the back. We know we can be better. We will go and watch the film (Monday). I’m sure there were a lot of mistakes, including myself, to correct. Everybody stays focused.”

Considering the Eagles haven’t won a playoff game since 2008, it’s easy to get carried away right now.

It’s been a seven-year drought since Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins and Brian Westbrook led that 2008 team to the NFC Championship Game.

Finally, some new names to be excited about. Carson Wentz. Rodney McLeod. Wendell Smallwood. 

“This is what I think everybody here fully expected,” center Jason Kelce said. “When you’ve been in the league for a while, you can tell when you have good players, a good team.

“I think, even in the offseason, I think everybody, just looking at the roster we had, I thought we were very underrated in the media’s eye, (and) honestly, it seems like our team always does better when the media doesn’t expect us to do well.

“Obviously, nobody expected Sam (Bradford) to get traded right before the season and Carson to get the start. But he deserves all the praise he’s getting. He’s been the most consistent player through these first three games. What Carson has done, in my opinion, as a rookie, has been incredible.”

Wentz is the first quarterback to go 3-0 the first three weeks of his rookie season without throwing an interception (see photo gallery).

On Sunday, he became the first rookie in NFL history to throw for 300 yards in a game, complete 74 percent of his passes and throw two or more TDs and no interceptions.

Like we said … unprecedented stuff. 

Historic stuff.

Simply unbelievable stuff.

But the defense has been just as impressive. Since giving up a touchdown in the second quarter to the Bears, the Eagles have faced 19 consecutive possessions without allowing a touchdown.

They’ve allowed a TD on only one of the last 31 drives they’ve defended.

The last time the defense gave up a second-half touchdown, Pat Shurmur was the head coach. 

“I think we still have a lot of room to grow,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. It’s three games, but I feel like every single week we keep improving, keep fixing our mistakes.”

The Eagles have outscored their three opponents by a combined 65 points, which is the second-largest differential in Eagles history after three games.

The 1980 team outscored its first three opponents by 88 points on the way to Super Bowl XV.

“Everyone is starting to play kind of inspired football,” Wentz said. “Everybody is believing in each other and it’s been three great team wins. The defense is playing phenomenal, the special teams are doing a great job and offensively we’re doing our part.

“I think everyone around here was confident, and we knew we had the ability, but we had to keep chopping. ‘Keep chopping away’ is a motto that we have, and we’ve done a good job of it.”

How far can chopping take them?

“Our goal is going to the Bowl and get that trophy,” Bradham said. “That’s our goal and that’s what we want to do. It’s still early. There’s a lot of football to go. And we know we have to keep fighting to get there.”

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