NFL Nation: Bradley Fletcher

Any list of the Eagles' needs starts with their secondary, which is understandable when a team is ranked last in the NFL in pass defense.

[+] EnlargeCary Williams
AP Photo/Damian StrohmeyerCary Williams and the Eagles cornerbacks could benefit from quality play at safety.
That's why many analysts, experts and fans think the Eagles will focus on safeties and cornerbacks in free agency and the draft. And they certainly might. But there's one thing I think gets overlooked in all this.

The cornerback play may have looked worse than it actually was because of the quality of the safeties. By improving their safety performance, the Eagles may find that Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin are perfectly adequate cornerbacks.

One step further: Improve the pass rush, which virtually disappeared late in the season and in the playoff loss to the Saints, and the whole secondary would look better.

This doesn't mean the Eagles should pass on a quality cornerback in the draft, if there is one they like when they are on the clock. It is a position where you almost can't have too much talent or depth.

But Williams and Fletcher, the two starting guys on the outside, may not be as urgent a problem as some seem to believe. They were nowhere near perfect, to be sure, but pass defense is a product of cooperation and synchronization.

Williams played for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens the year before. He had Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard at safety. They were more likely to help their cornerbacks out than to leave them hanging.

After the Eagles lost to New Orleans in the wild-card round, Williams seemed especially frustrated.

"We had too many mental breakdowns in the secondary," Williams said. "We didn't put ourselves necessarily in the best situations to win. That was really the issue with me, man. It was frustrating out there -- situations that you know are coming, that you've seen over and over on film, and they don't necessarily go right. The right call isn't being made. It's frustrating. Drew Brees saw those mistakes we made and was able to capitalize on those situations."

Williams wasn't excluding himself or the other cornerbacks from his critique. But you definitely got the feeling, watching that game and those that preceded it, that the major breakdowns were at safety. That is why Nate Allen was not among the impending free agents signed to new contracts last week, and it is why Patrick Chung could well be gone before training camp.

Buffalo's Jairus Byrd, by consensus the top free-agent safety, combined for 33 interceptions and forced fumbles in his five seasons. In four years with the Eagles, Allen had a total of seven.

Signing Byrd would make the Eagles much better, obviously. But there is a lot of room between his production and Allen's that would qualify as improvement. And improvement at safety should contribute to better play from the corners.

The next big thing: Eagles

January, 23, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- With the draft so far off this year – May! – the next major item on the Eagles’ to-do list is deciding on a strategy for free agency, which begins March 11.

General manager Howie Roseman has repeatedly said the team will continue to avoid huge free-agent deals in favor of making a number of smaller, less risky investments on the open market. That approach brought Connor Barwin, Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Donnie Jones last offseason. It also brought Patrick Chung, James Casey and Kenny Phillips, moves that didn’t hamstring the franchise when performance didn’t equal compensation.

Before getting to March 11, though, the first order of business is deciding how to handle the current Eagles with expiring contracts. That group includes Michael Vick, who wants to explore opportunities to start, wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, and safeties Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson.

The Eagles could have extended any of those contracts before now, so they’re clearly willing to risk losing any or all of those players once the market opens. The best guess here is the team will wait and see if the market convinces Cooper, Maclin and Allen that their best option is to remain in Philadelphia on reasonable contracts. If not, then adios.

There are a handful of veteran players whose contracts could dictate some action. Will the Eagles hang on to players like Williams, Casey, Trent Cole, Brent Celek and Jason Avant?

Once those decisions are made, the Eagles can move on to the next Next Big Thing, signing free agents and preparing for the May (May!) draft.
PHILADELPHIA -- Richard Sherman's intense, almost scary sideline interview after Sunday’s NFC Championship Game provoked a variety of equally intense reactions around the country.

For an Eagles fan, the reaction probably should be something like this: Yes. That is exactly what the Eagles need more of -- not less, but more.

Williams
No one is condoning Sherman’s choke sign or his apparent taunting of San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree. But that on-the-edge ferocity, that borderline antisocial attitude -- that is what Cary Williams meant from the moment the free-agent cornerback started talking during training camp last summer.

Williams had played with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in Baltimore, had been part of a defense that actually intimidated opponents. He had his own history of over-the-top behavior, which included shoving an official during an on-field scuffle in the Super Bowl last year.

Maybe the Eagles signed Williams in spite of that history. Or maybe they signed him because of it. Either way, that edgy, angry personality was something the Eagles desperately lacked on their defense over the past few years. In fact, one of the great mysteries of Andy Reid’s decline is how he allowed his defense to erode into an apathetic unit that played as soft as wet tissue in 2011 and 2012.

Enter Williams, Connor Barwin, Bradley Fletcher and new defensive coordinator Bill Davis. Enter a whole new attitude.

It takes time to get from the passivity of 2012 to the ferocity of defenses like Seattle’s, San Francisco’s and Carolina’s. The Eagles aren’t there yet, but they are at least headed in that direction now.

“I think we took some steps,” Williams said after the Eagles’ first-round playoff exit. “Like I said before, it’s going to take years for that. It’s not just a one-year situation. For people to fear you in this league, you have to do it on a consistent basis. You have to be out there flying around, you have to make plays.”

That part can’t be overlooked. Sherman didn’t just shoot his mouth off in the immediate aftermath of a game-winning play. He made the game-winning play, running stride for stride with Crabtree, elevating at the perfect moment and swiping an accurate pass away. It was a play few cornerbacks are capable of making.

But the attitude is part of it. Both teams in the NFC title game had that aura of toughness and backed it up. It seemed as if players were slow to get up after every whistle. And while the gruesome replay of NaVorro Bowman’s knee injury is hard to watch, the remarkable thing is that he held on to the football throughout.

The Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl because their defense forced Colin Kaepernick to turn the ball over three times in the fourth quarter. That’s the bar the Eagles have to clear to compete in the NFC in the next few years.

That means getting better on defense, but it also means getting nastier and more intimidating. The rest of the world may be reacting to Sherman’s behavior, but Seahawks fans are celebrating a trip to the Super Bowl.

“In order to get any type of respect, you have to do it consecutively and consistently,” Williams said. “As far as I’m concerned, we made great progress. We’re not necessarily perfect. We’re not necessarily the greatest defense. We still have some work to do.”

Philadelphia Eagles season wrap-up

January, 8, 2014
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 11
Preseason Power Ranking: 25

Biggest surprise: Easy. Nick Foles. He started six games as a rookie in 2012, winning one of them and pretty much disappearing amid the debris of a 4-12 season. He seemed like a terrible fit for new coach Chip Kelly's offense, especially in contrast to the mobile Michael Vick. When Vick pulled a hamstring, Foles seized the starting job with epic numbers: 119.2 passer rating (third best all time), 27 touchdowns and two interceptions (best ratio ever). Foles won eight of his 10 starts and led the Eagles to the NFC East championship. Anyone who says they saw Foles' season coming is fibbing.

Biggest disappointment: The outcome of Saturday night's playoff game against New Orleans -- which says something about how thoroughly Kelly changed the culture here. No one expected the Eagles to win their division and reach the playoffs, but once they did, plenty of people expected them to win the first-round home game. But LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, didn't have his best game, and the Saints caught the Eagles off guard by running the ball so much themselves. The Eagles appeared capable of beating almost anyone, including the Saints, which made the loss hard to swallow.

Biggest need: Defensive difference-makers, especially in the secondary. The cornerbacks were solid and improved steadily by season's end, but a shutdown corner or legitimate playmaking safety would help a lot. A close second would be a pass-rushing threat, preferably from the outside. Trent Cole had a good year making the transition from defensive end to linebacker, but he's not going to play forever. Funny: For the midseason version of this, I listed quarterback as the biggest need. That's how shocking Foles' performance was.

Team MVP: LeSean McCoy led the NFL in rushing and in total yards from scrimmage, setting Eagles franchise records in both categories. No one could argue with you if you named McCoy MVP of the team, or even of the NFC. But McCoy was the running back when the Eagles were 3-5 at the midway point. It wasn't until Foles took over the starting quarterback spot that the Eagles began winning games. That seems like the very definition of "most valuable." Nevertheless, the Eagles' first NFL rushing title since Steve Van Buren probably earns McCoy the team MVP award.

 

PHILADELPHIA -- If you’re looking for signs the Eagles can handle New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, you won’t find much comfort in Sunday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Tight end Jason Witten caught 12 passes for 135 yards in a game the Eagles hung on to win, 24-22.
Graham is bigger (6-foot-7), faster and just plain better than Witten at this point in his career. But Witten is probably not the best precedent for gauging the Eagles’ ability to cover Graham. Wide receivers like Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson are.

"I think Witten had a great game the other night on us, but he's a great player," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "He's a Pro Bowl player and he's going to make those plays. The first game, he didn't have so much but we kind of shifted where we were helping different places, put a little more help on Dez (Bryant). You move it around and great players play great, especially this time of the year when it's playoff football."

In other words, Davis focused on defending Bryant and running back DeMarco Murray. That left Witten more space to operate. The Saints present a number of challenges, but Graham is a lot closer to the top of the list of priorities.

"He's the No. 1 target they have and he's been their most consistent target," Davis said. "He's a big, athletic tight end, catches everything thrown near him. They move him all over the place so it's tough to practice and get a bead on how to help guys on him."

Against those big wide receivers, the Eagles were far from perfect, but they did limit the damage. And that will likely be their approach with Graham. It wouldn’t be surprising if Davis used linebacker Connor Barwin as he did against Fitzgerald and other big wideouts. Barwin would line up at cornerback and jam the receiver, trying to throw him off his route and disrupt his timing. Usually, a defensive back would then pick the receiver up.

Considering how quickly quarterback Drew Brees makes his first read and gets the ball out, that could be enough to get him looking away from Graham at least some of the time.

"It’s a big thing, messing up that timing between he and his receivers," linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. "With that quick release that he has, it’s going to be huge."

New England used cornerback Aqib Talib to follow Graham all over the field. Davis has not used his corners that way all season. Cary Williams is on the right side and Bradley Fletcher is on the left. It seems unlikely Davis would ask them to change up at this late date.

But it wouldn’t be shocking if Barwin, Kendricks and Trent Cole played Graham physically at the line and then a safety or nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin took over. Boykin can run with anyone, but he gives up nine inches to Graham. That requires a different solution.

"Jump," Kendricks said. "You’re playing ball, man. You’ve just got to go for it. That factor’s not going to change. You’ve got to study him and his routes and attack his hands."
PHILADELPHIA -- Cary Williams realized he had a problem when he began to hear the same thing from the most important people in his life.

The Eagles cornerback heard from his brother and his best friend. His longtime pastor expressed his concern. And finally, when his wife Amanda confronted him about the issue, Williams knew it was time to face the truth.

He was being too darn nice.

"When my wife said it, it really kind of sunk in," Williams said. "I had to listen. She's been following for a long time and watching when I played. She said I just didn't have the same aggressiveness I used to."

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia's Cary Williams
AP Photo/Michael PerezCary Williams and the Eagles won the NFC East in 2013 despite allowing the most passing yards per game in the NFL.
The Williams they knew had a mean streak -- on the football field, that is. Williams is a doting husband and father off the field. On it, he has an edge. Or at least he did when he was playing with the Baltimore Ravens. Since signing with the Eagles as a free agent this year, Williams' inner circle noticed a change in his on-field demeanor.

"I gave a bunch of excuses why," Williams said. "When I looked in the mirror, it is what it is. I am what I put out on the field. I just wanted to come out and play with aggressiveness and a passion for the game. You have to have that type of nastiness to you, to a degree."

If the words of his wife and family and friends didn't do it, then the Eagles' 48-30 loss in Minnesota would have. The secondary, including Williams, was beaten up and down the field by Vikings receiver Greg Jennings and his cohorts.

With Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery of the Chicago Bears coming to town, Williams knew it was time.

"I had to get back in character," he said.

And he did. The whole secondary played with an aggressiveness and physicality that was missing from the Minnesota game. Williams broke up two passes intended for Marshall. The second was an especially physical play that had Marshall looking at Williams like he'd gone crazy.

"Our corners challenged them," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "Our corners stepped up on their own and handled them. I had a lot of things in the plan, but as I watched it unfold and saw how the corners were holding up -- and they really were holding up well -- I left them out there on their own. They did a great job."

Williams and Bradley Fletcher seem better against bigger, more physical receivers. That's not a bad thing with Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys coming up this Sunday. Bryant is a favorite target of Tony Romo, but with Romo reportedly sidelined, he may be even more of a security blanket for backup quarterback Kyle Orton. He's the kind of receiver who can catch balls thrown near him, even if he's covered.

That will require Williams to stay in character.

"People were telling me I'm not the same guy I was in Baltimore, with the ferociousness," Williams said. "When they said that, I had to change the perception. Hopefully, I did."

He did it by being the nasty, aggressive Williams -- the one his wife and pastor want him to be.

PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly became the Eagles' head coach in January. He might have become Philadelphia's head coach Sunday night.

At about 4 p.m. ET, the Dallas Cowboys beat Washington with a late comeback, robbing the Eagles of a chance to clinch the division against the Chicago Bears. By about 9 p.m., the Eagles had a 21-0 lead on their way to a dominating 54-11 victory over a team that had its own division title on the line.

All that speculation about resting starters for the must-win game in Dallas next Sunday? Forget about it.

"Very simply, we're from Philadelphia and we fight," Kelly said. "If there's a game on, we're playing. End of story. And all this stuff about backing in, not worrying, all these other things, I have no idea.

"So many scenarios. What if there's a tie when we go play Dallas next week and we gave a game away last week? If we're going to line up and kick off, tell us what time to show up and we'll be there."

If there aren't “We're from Philadelphia and we fight” T-shirts rolling off a silk-screen machine somewhere, someone is missing a golden opportunity.

Kelly's demeanor might have been different if one of his key players had been injured. But that didn't happen. Even better, the players who might have been candidates for the injury-avoidance program were the ones who delivered the biggest momentum-building performances of the game.

LeSean McCoy ran for 133 yards and two touchdowns to retain his place atop the NFL rushing leaders list and position himself to break Wilbert Montgomery's franchise record for yards in a season next week. McCoy needs just 37 yards to break the mark of 1,512 yards.

Quarterback Nick Foles was nearly perfect, completing 21 of 25 passes (84 percent) for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Coming off an inconsistent performance against the Vikings, Foles now goes to Dallas with a hot hand.

“I'm just excited to play another game,” Foles said. “I know what's on the line. Everybody knows what's on the line. I'm excited for the opportunity.”

Trent Cole, the oldest player on the Eagles' defense, sacked Jay Cutler on the Bears' third play from scrimmage, setting a tone and forcing the Bears to punt. Cole had three sacks, his most in a game in three years.

“I was very excited for this game,” Cole said. “This is just the start. Coming off a loss like that, it's good for confidence in the team. This does build momentum for us going into Dallas. That's the start of our playoffs right there.”

Kelly convinced his team to treat this as a big game. The way his players responded has to be considered a good sign as they prepare for the franchise's biggest game since a playoff loss to Green Bay here after the 2011 season.

“It's going to be the biggest show on earth,” Cole said. “It's going to be a circus down there, like always.”

“This is what we want,” said linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who sacked Cutler twice and forced a fumble. “We're on the biggest stage. We're in Dallas' stadium, which is a great place to play. We're excited.”

Not only did the Eagles not want to sit this one out, veterans were volunteering for hazardous duty. With key special teamers Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson sidelined by injuries, starting cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher were covering kickoffs -- as if holding receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in check wasn't enough to worry about.

“Whatever it takes, man,” Williams said. “No 'I' in 'team.' Coach needed me to do that, then dang it, I'm going to do it. It didn't matter. It was a great game plan we had in place. There were a lot of DBs out there. It didn't bother us, because the game was so significant. We wanted to get back to winning ways.”

Fletcher forced Bears kickoff returner Devin Hester to fumble in the first quarter. Williams recovered, giving the Eagles the ball at the Chicago 39.

“That's what we do,” nickel corner and special-teams regular Brandon Boykin said. “That's our personality. The starters on kickoffs, that's the want-to, that's the attitude of our team. Get the job done no matter who's out there.”

The Eagles scored on McCoy's 1-yard run five plays later, their second touchdown in 2 minutes, 10 seconds. It was 14-0, and the Eagles were on their way.

It was hard to believe they were the same players who got crushed by the Vikings the week before.

“Redeeming ourselves,” Boykin said. “That was huge, man. It was a great team win. Knowing where we are, knowing our possibilities, we wanted to come out and get our momentum rolling again. Especially at home, Sunday night football. There's nothing better.”

It's also hard to believe this is the same Eagles offense that failed to score a touchdown against the Cowboys here in the teams' first meeting this season. That was Oct. 20. The Eagles lost the next week to the Giants, falling to 3-5 at the midway point of the season.

They are 6-1 since then, with the only loss that mystifying game in Minnesota.

“We stumbled when we were in Minnesota,” Kelly said. “Minnesota beat us and played better than us that day. But we weren't going to let Minnesota beat us twice.”

Now the task is not letting Dallas beat them twice. Win next week, and they earn the No. 3 seed in the NFC. For Kelly, it also would mean eliminating the rival Cowboys. There's no better way to win over Eagles fans.

“One down, one to go,” Kelly said.

Eagles' defense regroups for Bears

December, 17, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- Coming off a game in which his defense gave up 48 points and lost three more defensive backs to injuries, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis called Sunday’s visit from the Chicago Bears “our biggest challenge of the season.”

That’s quite a distinction, considering the Eagles have faced Peyton Manning (allowing 52 points), Philip Rivers (33 points), Jamaal Charles (26 points), Larry Fitzgerald (21 points) and Calvin Johnson (20 snow-covered points).

But Davis was taking in all the factors: A game with enormous playoff implications for the Bears and possibly the Eagles; quarterback Jay Cutler and his array of weapons, including Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte, and a secondary thrown into disarray by injuries and poor performance.

“Chicago might be one of the most talented offenses we face,” Davis said. “They’re obviously in the top five in scoring. They’ve got the big, physical Pro Bowl receivers – two of them. They’ve got a tight end who’s a big, athletic pass receiving tight end. The running back is as rounded as any running back we’ve faced.”

That would sound daunting coming off the nine consecutive games in which the Eagles' defense held the opposing team to 21 points or fewer. Coming off Sunday’s debacle in Minnesota, and dealing with the smoking ruins of his secondary, you can see why Davis is concerned.

Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin, who leads the team with four interceptions, has a concussion. His availability will be determined by the NFL concussion protocol. He would be replaced by safety Patrick Chung or cornerback Roc Carmichael, or a combination of both.

Davis may get rookie safety Earl Wolff back after a five-week absence due a knee injury. But Davis said Wolff will have to “crawl” back into the lineup before he’s completely back to where he was in early November.

Wolff’s replacement, the veteran Chung, was benched in favor of Kurt Coleman. Davis revealed Tuesday that decision was made before the game.

“Pat and Kurt knew we were rotating every two series,” Davis said. “Now we were rotating because Patrick is in a little bit of a slump. We were prepared in practice, we were 50/50 with the reps. That wasn’t something that was a knee-jerk reaction.”

Coleman injured his hamstring and spent the second half in the locker room getting treatment. Colt Anderson, who plays mostly special teams, injured his knee while pressed into service on defense.

Davis said Wolff and Coleman are “day to day,” while Anderson is “more week to week.”

And those are just the injured players. Davis also has to regroup with starting cornerbacks, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, who are coming off their worst performance since the Denver game. Safety Nate Allen earned the distinction of being the least-bad defensive back of the day for the Eagles.

“It is a well-rounded offense that’s coming at us,” Davis said. “We had a bad day in Minnesota. They’re in the right mindset. Nobody’s pouting about last week. We accepted it, we owned up to it, we talked about the mistakes. Now we’re going forward and we’re going to attack Chicago with everything we have.”
PHILADELPHIA -- It was funny but totally understandable.

A week ago, as he prepared for the Arizona Cardinals, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis declared Larry Fitzgerald “probably still the best receiver in the league.” A week later, Davis was asked about Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, this week’s challenge for the Eagles defense.

“Well, he's 6-foot-5 and his range, he's got a huge vertical,” Davis said. “So his radius, his catch radius, is second to none. There are similar players that are big bodied, go up and get the ball away from their body. They snatch it well out of the air. Fitzgerald is one of the top in the NFL, but Calvin is the best when you watch him game in and game out, what he does and what he can do at that size/speed ratio. He’s the best.”

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
AP Photo/James D. SmithEagles defenders will be facing another daunting test on Sunday in Lions WR Calvin Johnson.
You can’t blame Davis for being haunted by the video he’s studying in a given week, even if it means Brandon Marshall will likely be the best receiver in the league while the Eagles are preparing for the Bears in a few weeks.

There are pluses and minuses to facing Fitzgerald and Johnson in consecutive weeks. Preparing and dealing with Fitzgerald can help the Eagles defenders be ready for the challenge of dealing with Johnson. On the other hand, Davis’ scheme for dealing with big, talented wideouts is right there on Sunday’s game tape for the Lions staff to dissect.

“There will be some carryover,” outside linebacker Connor Barwin said. “We installed some certain things for big, productive receivers like Fitz. There will obviously be some carryover this week. But it’s not all going to be the same.”

So how did Davis defend Fitzgerald? Let’s just say it took a village. If teams with a shutdown corner try to match him on Johnson all over the field, Davis took the opposite approach. Nine different Eagles had primary coverage on Fitzgerald during the course of the game. Along with the obvious guys -- defensive backs Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Nate Allen and Patrick Chung -- Davis had all four of his linebackers cover Fitzgerald at different times.

Barwin, especially, lined up across from Fitzgerald as a cornerback. Usually, he was in the slot, but on a couple plays Barwin was basically an outside corner. His job was to jam Fitzgerald, disrupt his route and his timing, then usually give him up to a defensive back.

Trent Cole did surprisingly well on the few times he dropped into coverage with Fitzgerald. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks ran with him on several plays down the middle before quarterback Carson Palmer found Fitzgerald for a first-down completion in the fourth quarter.

Williams slapped one ball away as Fitzgerald attempted to catch it. Fletcher and Allen did a good job limiting his yardage on quick outs. Boykin made the single biggest play, leaping to bat a pass away in the end zone just before the Cardinals’ final touchdown. Chung blanketed Fitzgerald in the end zone on the play in which Roc Carmichael drew a pass interference call at the 1-yard line.

Fitzgerald’s biggest play, of course, was his 43-yard touchdown catch on a third-and-20 play. Boykin had excellent coverage on the play, but he and Chung collided just as the ball arrived. They went down in a heap, allowing Fitzgerald to sprint the last 26 yards untouched.

Palmer threw the ball 41 times. He targeted Fitzgerald eight times, completing five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. That’s not exactly shutting a receiver down, but if the Eagles can limit Johnson to that kind of damage, they’ll have a very real chance of beating Detroit. Johnson is that good.

“The combination of his size and his speed and explosiveness, I don’t think there’s anybody else like that in this league,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “He can just go get the football.”

In other words, Johnson is the best there is. This week, at least.
Trent Cole AP Photo/Michael PerezTrent Cole accounted for two of the Eagles five sacks on Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer.


PHILADELPHIA -- It is all about offense in the NFL, right up until the moment your defense is on the field trying to protect a fourth-quarter lead.

Offense drives fantasy leagues. Offense benefits from virtually every change in the league's rules. Offense gets head coaches like Chip Kelly their jobs.

In the Eagles' past two games, Kelly's potent offense put 24 points on the scoreboard to build big leads. And then, when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, Kelly's offense stood helpless on the sideline and hoped the defense would save the day.

"We'll take it," outside linebacker Trent Cole said. "We'll take it all day. It doesn't matter what the situation is. If it's on us, we're going to go out there and do what we have to do. It doesn't matter if they back us up on the 5-yard line. We have to go out there and stop them."

The Eagles stopped Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals one last time Sunday to preserve a 24-21 victory. It was the second home win in a row for Philadelphia and the second in which a big second-half lead was in peril in the final minutes.

"I thought the defense literally won the game today," wide receiver Jason Avant said. "To stop a team that was that hot, that had scored a couple touchdowns back to back and to hold them -- what was that a three-and-out? A four-and-out? That's a great job."

It was a great job that left the Eagles at 7-5, tied with Dallas for first place in the NFC East and solidly in the wild-card race. It also establishes the Eagles as one of the more complete teams in the NFC. They may not belong with elite teams such as Seattle and New Orleans, but they have rallied from a 3-5 midseason record with a big-play offense, solid special teams and an increasingly effective defense.

That plays very well in Philadelphia, where fans appreciate a well-executed touchdown throw, but where defense really gets the adrenalin flowing. As bad as the previous two years were here, the worst of it was watching soft, passionless defense by men wearing the uniform of Reggie White, Brian Dawkins and Bill Bergey.

"This is Eagles football," Cole said after getting to Palmer for two of the Eagles' five sacks. "This is the Eagles football that I know. Being here for nine years, this is how we always did it. And we always won in the Linc. We protected our house."

After losing 10 consecutive games in Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles now have a two-game winning streak here (and four games overall). After getting crushed 52-20 in Denver on Sept. 29, they haven't allowed more than 21 points in their past eight games.

"The guys scrapped and fought and got turnovers and pressured the quarterback," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "Our defensive line stepped up and got all kinds of pressure on the quarterback. Our coverage was tight. At the end of the day, we had three more points than they did."

They had 17 more points in the third quarter. Two weeks ago, against Washington, the Eagles had a 24-0 lead in the fourth quarter. Both times, the offense ground to a halt. Kelly's play calling grew conservative and the opposing defense responded by playing with more intensity.

The NFL is all about offense, so there's only so long a defense can hold an opponent in check. Washington scored two touchdowns on fluky plays, made two-point conversions and closed to within 24-16 before Brandon Boykin's interception ended the potential game-tying drive.

After turning the ball over and making other costly mistakes early, Arizona got its offense going for two touchdown drives to make it 24-21 with 4:45 left in the fourth quarter.

Two Arizona defensive penalties gave the Eagles a first down -- and negated what would have been a game-turning interception by Patrick Peterson -- but the offense couldn't run the clock to the two-minute warning. Arizona took over at its own 10 with 2:03 left and two timeouts.

"Against that stout defensive line, it's tough to line up and run the football on them," Kelly said. "It's a good group over there. So again, it's something we need to continue to work on and we've got to get better at."

Until then, it comes down to the defense. For the second game in a row, the defense held. This time, cornerback Bradley Fletcher broke up a fourth-down pass intended for Michael Floyd. There was contact, but Fletcher escaped without drawing a flag.

"It's a timing deal," Fletcher said, "and I was able to do that. We had a blitz on and I was holding my inside leverage and my ground. There was some contact at the break point, and I went and made a play."

It may not be the easiest way to win, but enduring these situations can make the Eagles defense only stronger as the playoff race tightens.

"I like those moments," cornerback Cary Williams said. "It's kind of a bittersweet situation. You never want to be put in those situations, but if you are, you want to play to the best of your ability. It was a great opportunity for us to go out there. We handled our business. We continue to get better in those scenarios. I think the sky's the limit for the defense."

And that defense makes the Eagles a legitimate contender, even in a league that is all about the offense.

Good health a good sign for Eagles

November, 29, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- As expected, the Eagles will go into Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals with only one notable injury. Safety Earl Wolff, who hyperextended his right knee in Green Bay Nov. 10, was listed as out on the team’s Friday injury report.

The relative health of the Eagles in Week 13 could have a significant impact on the NFC East race. The Eagles (6-5) are a half-game behind the Dallas Cowboys, who beat Oakland 31-24 on Thanksgiving Day to get to 7-5.

But Dallas was without three defensive starters – cornerback Morris Claiborne and linebackers Sean Lee and Justin Durant – for that game. They have been without defensive end Anthony Spencer all season. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who has missed three games, played after saying he is at “97 percent” healthy.

The Eagles and Cowboys meet in the season finale on Dec. 29. Between now and then, the Eagles face Arizona (7-4), Detroit (7-5), Minnesota (2-8-1) and Chicago (6-5). Dallas plays Chicago, Green Bay (5-6-1) and Washington (3-8). The strength of schedule and chance to play the Eagles at home would slightly favor the Cowboys.

But the battle of attrition seems to give the Eagles an edge.

“When you have starters with games lost, I think it’s always a difficult deal, just because of the preparation part of it and getting guys ready to play in games,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “It’s a huge thing for us, not only in the (offensive) line but a lot of our positions because we haven’t lost many guys, especially starters to injuries that have had them out. It’s really helped us.”

Wolff, safety Patrick Chung, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, linebacker Mychal Kendricks and quarterbacks Michael Vick and Nick Foles are the only starters to miss games with in-season injuries. That’s a total of 14 games missed by starters (Wolff replaced Chung as a starter while he was out with a shoulder injury).

Chung has returned to the lineup to replace Wolff. Fletcher (pectoral muscle) and Kendricks (knee) are expected to return to their spots Sunday.

The Eagles lost three players, including starting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, to ACL tears early in training camp. They have not placed a player on injured reserve since the season began.

Rapid Reaction: Philadelphia Eagles

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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PHILADELPHIA -- A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles24-16 victory over the Washington Redskins:

What it means: The Eagles are in first place in the NFC East and, at 6-5, above .500 for the first time since Week 1. They also put a merciful end to their franchise-record 10-game losing streak at home. The game also represented the third strong performance in a row for Nick Foles, making it very unlikely coach Chip Kelly will go back to Michael Vick when Vick fully recovers from his hamstring injury. The Eagles swept Washington, taking big leads in both games and then white-knuckling at the end. Brandon Boykin's end zone interception preserved the victory for the Eagles.

McCoy, for real: The Eagles got a scare late in the first half when running back LeSean McCoy clutched his right hamstring after a run. McCoy went to the locker room for the last few minutes of the second quarter. He returned after halftime, however, and surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season. McCoy finished with 77 yards on 20 carries. He had two 1-yard rushing touchdowns.

Stock watch: Rising: Bill Davis. The Eagles' defensive coordinator had an excellent scheme and called a great game against Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris. Since that terrible 52-20 loss in Denver, the Eagles haven't allowed an opponent to score more than 21 points. If the offense had been effective in two home losses against the Cowboys and Giants, the Eagles could easily be at 8-3 with a seven-game winning streak. Davis has the players buying into, and really starting to thrive in, his 3-4 defense. Griffin made things interesting at the end, but Davis' defense ultimately held.

What’s next: The Eagles go into their bye week with a three-game winning streak. When they come back, they have back-to-back home games against Arizona (Dec. 1) and Detroit (Dec. 8). The late bye should help a handful of players with nagging injuries to heal, including left tackle Jason Peters, cornerback Bradley Fletcher and linebacker Mychal Kendricks.

Eagles without three defensive starters

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles will be without three injured defensive starters in Sunday's game against Washington.

Linebacker Mychal Kendricks and rookie safety Earl Wolff are inactive after injuring knees in last week's game in Green Bay. Najee Goode will start at Kendricks' inside linebacker spot. It will be worth watching to see if he is used to shadow Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, as Kendricks likely would have been. Veteran Patrick Chung, who began the season in the starting lineup, will play in place of Wolff.

Cornerback Bradley Fletcher will miss his second game after injuring a pectoral muscle in Oakland two weeks ago. Fletcher missed a game earlier in the season with a concussion. Roc Carmichael will start in his place. Carmichael played well last week. Fletcher's absence has a domino effect, however. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis had Cary Williams in single coverage more often against the Packers, and that made him a bit of a target.

Left tackle Jason Peters, who has a number of nagging injuries including quadriceps and pectoral injuries, is active and will start.

Eagles could be without four starters

November, 15, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- Three Philadelphia Eagles starters, not counting quarterback Michael Vick, are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against Washington.

Left tackle Jason Peters has been playing with a list of nicks, led by quadriceps and pectoral muscle injuries. It wouldn’t be surprising if he played, but the Eagles could also choose to sit him out this week and give him an extra week of rest with the bye week looming. Allen Barbre, who played well in relief of Peters last week, would start if Peters can’t go.

Ponder
Peters
Linebacker Mychal Kendricks (knee) seemed like a long shot to play. The questionable status, which signifies a 50-percent chance to play, is actually more positive than expected. Najee Goode would play in place of Kendricks, who would otherwise be the leading candidate to shadow Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Cornerback Bradley Fletcher (pectoral) was questionable last week as well, and did not play in Green Bay. Roc Carmichael filled in for him.

As expected, safety Earl Wolff (hyperextended right knee) is out. Patrick Chung, the starter going into the season, will step back into the lineup. Linebacker/special teamer Jake Knott is also out with a hamstring injury.

Chung (shoulder), defensive end Cedric Thornton (knee), tight end Brent Celek (hip), and wide receiver Riley Cooper (knee) were listed as probable.

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 10

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
8:00
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Taking a look at four storylines from the Philadelphia Eagles' 27-13 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Nick Foles is flirting with history. Foles has thrown 16 touchdown passes this season without an interception. That would've tied the NFL record set in 1960 by Milt Plum, except that Peyton Manning already broke that 53-year-old mark this season. Manning threw 20 touchdowns before throwing a pick.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesNick Foles has thrown 10 touchdown passes and no picks in the Eagles' past two games.
What's even more compelling is that Foles isn't being extra cautious. In fact, his receivers say that he's trusting them and throwing the ball out where they can get it. That raises the degree of difficulty on the no-pick streak.

“Nick does a great job protecting the football,” coach Chip Kelly said. “He hasn't thrown an interception. He doesn't really make egregious mistakes. If he misses, he may not be as accurate on the throw. He's got a good grasp and command of what we're doing.”

Foles put two strong games together. After his rough outing against Dallas, Foles needed to prove he could be consistent. Check that box.

His numbers in the past two games combined: 34-of-46 (73.9 percent) for 634 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. Foles has a passer rating of 155.3 for the two games.

“We just have to keep moving, but I felt good out there,” Foles said. “Receivers were making some good plays and helping me out.”

Does that mean he will be the starting quarterback if Michael Vick is healthy? It's a question Kelly won't answer. Until Vick is 100 percent, it's a question Kelly doesn't have to answer.

Tempo works both ways. The Eagles have done a better job maintaining Kelly's high-tempo offense. But in some ways, their ability to run a slow-it-down offense has been just as important at times. In the fourth quarters of wins in Tampa Bay and Green Bay, the Eagles drained the clock by methodically running the ball.

“You're in a game, it's a couple-score game,” Kelly said. “Even if we did turn the ball back over, hopefully there's not a lot of time left on the clock. Everybody knew what was happening. Everybody knew we were running it. It's something to build upon. We feel comfortable it's something we're getting better with.”

LeSean McCoy ran the ball nine times for 50 yards in the Eagles' last drive, which took up the final 9:32 of the game. Foles ran for a first down. Bryce Brown mixed in a couple of runs for 11 yards.

“That's what championship teams have to be able to do,” wide receiver Riley Cooper said.

The Ouch Department was extra busy. The Eagles went into the game without starting cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who injured a pectoral muscle last week. They lost two more defensive starters, linebacker Mychal Kendricks and safety Earl Wolff, plus offensive tackle Jason Peters -- all in the first half.

“I think it speaks a lot about the depth,” Kelly said. “You have to have it. It's a tough, hard-nosed, physical game and everybody needs to be ready to play at any point in time. I thought the guys that stepped up and came in did a really nice job.”

Cornerback Roc Carmichael, linebacker Najee Goode and safety Patrick Chung helped the defense hold the Packers to 13 points. Allen Barbre replaced Peters at left tackle.

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