PHILADELPHIA – Defense may or may not be extinct in the offense-driven NFL. That’s a discussion for another time. But until further notice, every team has to put 11 defensive players out on the field.
So they might as well try to be good. At least that’s how the Philadelphia Eagles are approaching things.
“We definitely have a personality in development right now,” cornerback Cary Williams said. “It’s still a little murky, but hopefully we can establish an identity that we can build on and play with confidence with.”
Coach Chip Kelly was asked if Sunday’s touchdown-fest between Dallas and Denver – coming a week after the Broncos scored 52 against the Eagles – represented a death knell for defense in the NFL.
“If you look at Tampa Bay's scores, I would say it’s not dead,” Kelly said. “They're 13-10, 16-14, 18-17, 23-3. I think that was a hell of a game [in Dallas], from what I understand. I didn't see it. But I don't think you can look at that one game and say that. I think there's some teams playing some really good defense right now.”
Tampa Bay happens to be the Eagles’ opponent this week. Kansas City’s defense is very good. Seattle and San Francisco and Houston play a little defense, as well.
But Philadelphia, a city with a proud tradition of great defenses, has been denied a truly imposing defense for five years. For the last three seasons, the Eagles have been downright terrible.
Williams, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Baltimore Ravens last season, has been part of an intimidating defense. That’s what he wants to see from his new teammates.
“I want to see a fearless defense, a feared defense,” Williams said. “When you mention the Eagles’ name, there’s guys that don’t want to get hit, guys that aren’t completing routes, guys that aren’t completing runs. That’s the kind of defense we’re working towards. It’s just a matter of time.”
The degree of difficulty was always going to be high for this team. A new defensive coordinator, Bill Davis, has changed from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 front. More than half the starting lineup is new. The early schedule provided a parade of talented, efficient, veteran quarterbacks capable of picking a team apart.
So it’s not surprising the Eagles have allowed the second-most yards and third-most points per game in the league – not with the likes of Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers and Alex Smith on the other side.
But this week, the schedule lets up a bit. Tampa Bay will start rookie Mike Glennon at quarterback. Good defenses beat rookie quarterbacks. Great ones feast on them. A week after intercepting Eli Manning three times, the Eagles' defense gets a chance to establish itself a little bit more.
“Their last game, they didn’t put too much on their quarterback,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “But they had a bye week, so they might have put some more wrinkles in. You’ve got to get pressure on him, got to get in his face. You’ve got to make the game hard for him.”
A big game against the winless Bucs could have two effects. It could help build the Eagles’ confidence, and it could put some doubt in the minds of future opponents. Williams sensed that when offenses lined up across from those Ravens defenses with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
"When you mention the name, a lot of people cringe," Williams said. "'We’ve got to run against these guys? They’re going to fly around, they’re going to hit, they’re going to tackle, they’re going to knock the ball out.' We put that on film."
It takes time to get to that level from where the Eagles were. There is plenty of film of quarterbacks carving them up. The Tampa Bay game gives them a perfect opportunity to turn things around, at least for a week.