Friday, November 22, 2013
Eagles defense owes a debt to Texans
By Phil Sheridan
PHILADELPHIA -- The timing is convenient for Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis. Since the end of the regular season is right after Christmas, he can send his thank-you note to the Houston Texans along with those for the other gifts he receives.
Without DeMeco Ryans and Connor Barwin, linebackers who learned their craft in Houston, it's hard to imagine Davis' defense making the progress it has over the past few months.
"The thing that jumps off the film is the effort our guys are playing with," Davis said. "They view themselves as a high-effort defense. We're not a bunch of Pro Bowl names, pretty faces. We're scrapping and keeping people out of the end zone. It's hard work and high effort that's getting it done."
Ryans is the inside linebacker who converts Davis' play calls into proper alignments and assignments. Barwin is the outside linebacker with the skills and versatility to make some of Davis' best schemes possible.
Just as important, the two ex-Texans are a major reason for the defense's change in personality. Gone are team-second guys like Jason Babin and Nnamdi Asomugha. Here are Ryans, Barwin and cornerback Cary Williams.
"We don't have any egos on the defense," said Barwin, who signed with the Eagles as a free agent this year. "It's fun to play with 11 new guys that their goal is to be a good defense and shut teams down. As long as we keep that, we'll be fine."
"It's totally different [this year]," Ryans said. "We have great chemistry, a lot of younger guys. We have fun together, not only here during the day at work, but outside of here. We go eat dinner together. It's really becoming like a brother, you know? You care for that guy on the field and off the field. It's good to have our defense come together in that manner."
Ryans was here last year, too. After being acquired in a trade, he was expected to play middle linebacker and help bring order to the chaos of Andy Reid's final season. But with assistant coaches Juan Castillo and Jim Washburn getting fired in-season, and with the epically poor play of Asomugha and the secondary, it was an impossible task.
It's no wonder Ryans and the rest of the returning defenders were so willing to embrace Davis' scheme. It represented sanity in the asylum.
"He's smart," Barwin said. "He's really smart. He prepares us for the plays the offense is going to run. You understand the schemes and how they're trying to attack you. That really helps you during the game."
Barwin said Davis' defense is more complicated than the 3-4 run by Wade Phillips in Houston. It relies on more communication on the field. That makes the in-season progress even more remarkable, considering it was a new scheme with new starters at seven positions.
And that makes smart, versatile players even more valuable. None of Davis' players are any smarter or more versatile than Ryans and Barwin.
Davis said Barwin "wears a lot of different hats" during a game. He might set the edge on his side of the field against a run play, drop into coverage with a tight end or rush the passer. He made a huge play Sunday against Washington, sacking Robert Griffin III in the red zone and forcing a fumble that was recovered by teammate Fletcher Cox.
As for Ryans, he is an extension of the coaching staff, making sure a young and developing group lines up correctly and goes in the right direction.
"DeMeco is the leader of our defense and he's having an outstanding Pro Bowl year," Davis said. "We couldn't be happier with everything DeMeco is doing for us."
That thank-you note to Houston should be a pleasure for Davis to write.