No drama, just dramatic improvement for D

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
8:00
AM ET
PHILADELPHIA -- In the movie version, there would be a big dramatic scene, with Bill Davis or one of his Eagles' defensive players making the kind of cinematic speech that winds up being played on the big screens in arenas and stadiums.

That would be more exciting than the truth of the matter. In the days after they were embarrassed 52-20 in Denver, the Philadelphia Eagles defense didn't have an emotional meeting. There was no fire from Davis or head coach Chip Kelly, no brimstone from DeMeco Ryans or Trent Cole. There was just a process, and a commitment to it.

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesDeMeco Ryans and the Eagles defense have not allowed a team to score more than 21 points in six game since the loss to Denver.
"Everybody bought into the system early," Ryans said. "It was just a matter of continuing to do the same things and get better at what we were doing. It was new to all of us, so all of us were trying to kind of find our way. Now I feel like everyone is comfortable with what we're doing, everybody knows their role and guys are able to play fast."

A team can go either way after a game like that, especially when many of the players had been through the miseries of a 4-12 season. This Eagles team, especially its defense, figured out a way to dig in and get better.

Ryans touched on one of the key reasons. Davis brought a new system, radically different from the 4-3 scheme the Eagles had run forever, and different even from the 3-4 style Ryans and Connor Barwin had played in Houston. The players were smart enough to know it wasn't going to be an instant success.

"I knew it was going to take time," Barwin said. "I knew Billy's background and I respected him and what he's done. But I knew it was going to take time just because you had six new starters. You had four or five coaches who had never worked together on the defensive side of the ball. So if you were paying attention, you knew it would take time for this to jell all together."

Watching the Denver game, it seemed that jelling might take a century or two. But the Eagles have played six games since then. They have not allowed more than 21 points in any of them. They have created 12 turnovers after getting a total of five in the first four games. The young defensive line is evolving into a force, and Ryans is playing better than an Eagles linebacker has in a long time.

These aren't the scary Eagles of the Reggie White era, or the Ravens or Steelers defenses that carried teams to championships. Not yet. But at least you can see how they might get there. After two years of slapstick defense, these Eagles tackle soundly, tighten up in the red zone and are starting to make some big hits and big plays.

"It's been kind of our theme to get better every week," Barwin said. "If we can keep that theme going, the results are going to show up."

Washington presents an interesting challenge. With Robert Griffin III playing more like he did as a breathtaking rookie, and with Alfred Morris chasing LeSean McCoy among the NFL rushing leaders, the Eagles' commitment to stopping the run and forcing teams to be one-dimensional will be tested.

The Eagles figure to be without linebacker Mychal Kendricks, the likeliest player to be assigned to mirror Griffin. That will make Davis' job a bit tougher, but at least he has reason to believe the players can carry out his schemes now.

"The more familiarity our coaches have with our players, our players have with our coaches, they keep going on a weekly basis, and we have improved," Kelly said. "And that's what we stressed since Day 1 here. And I know we can get better. I think they know they can get better."

It might make for a boring movie, but the Eagles' steady process is creating some exciting defensive football.

Phil Sheridan

ESPN Philadelphia Eagles reporter

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