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In, ahem, defense of the Eagles' defense

10/3/2013

PHILADELPHIA -- First, imagine Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis as a guy hired to repair a badly leaking roof. Now imagine that, as he's hammering nails into shingles, Hurricane Peyton sweeps through and blows the whole roof away.

Standing in the wreckage of a 52-20 loss, it's hard to remember just how the job was coming along before the storm hit.

For answers, and for a shred of hope for the 2013 Eagles defense, let's go back to the previous game against the Kansas City Chiefs. That night, there were real signs of progress for Davis' defense. Indeed, it was the Eagles offense that bears more of the responsibility for that 26-16 loss.

The offense gave up an interception return for a touchdown, turned the ball over four other times, gave the Chiefs great field position and scored only 16 points.

The defense held the Chiefs to one touchdown and four field goals despite the short field, sacked Alex Smith five times and generally played pretty well.

You might argue the Chiefs could have added points if they hadn't become more interested in holding on to the ball and running down the clock. The counterargument is they were able to do that largely because the Eagles offense didn't score enough to put pressure on the Chiefs.

The one glaring defensive issue was exploited by Smith's short passes to Donnie Avery. The Eagles' inability to cover or tackle Avery allowed him to turn dinks and dunks into gains of 51 (on third-and-5), 26 (on third-and-19), 23 (on second-and-14), 15 (on third-and-15) and 15 (on third-and-10).

"We gave up those third-and-15's and we missed tackles on that," linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. "Taking away those big third-down plays, that would just be clutch for us."

That is unacceptable, obviously. But if you freeze-frame the defense right there, you have a picture of a unit that made huge strides in four days after the 33-30 loss to San Diego. There was work to be done, but much was accomplished.

Then came Peyton Manning.

"We threw the best plan that we believed would throw them off and slow them down," Davis said. "And it didn't."

So here's the thing: If you accept that Manning is simply playing some of the greatest football in history right now (hint: he is), then the Chiefs game provides the more accurate gauge of the Eagles defense. It has been badly beaten by Manning and Philip Rivers, who are among the top three in the NFL in getting rid of the ball quickly.

The Eagles were competitive against mere mortal quarterbacks Smith and Robert Griffin III. Where Eli Manning fits on that continuum is a debate for another time, but he has been very beatable this year -- due in large part to a poor offensive line and slapdash running game.

"He is not doing what his brother is doing," Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. "I can tell you that much."

There is the risk that Denver exposed every flaw in the Eagles' personnel and scheme for the rest of the NFL to study. But that risk is offset by the fact that few teams have the talent to do what Denver is doing.

"It's a copycat league," safety Earl Wolff said, "so Eli might try doing the same thing. He's a great quarterback, capable of making big plays."

Nevertheless, the Eagles defense has a real chance this week to resume the progress it made against Kansas City. A chance. That's more than the Eagles had in Denver.