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Monday, September 2, 2013
How good does Eagles' defense need to be?

By Phil Sheridan

It was just a passing comment by Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, but it caught my ear. Maybe because it echoes something that I’ve written about quite a bit over the past few years -- defense is dead in the NFL.

First, the comment. The question was about whether the Eagles have enough talent and depth on defense to win in Chip Kelly’s first season.

“It’s funny,” Roseman said. “I go back and think about how much respect you have for the San Francisco 49ers and their defense. Then you look at the playoffs and it’s a league where teams are scoring a lot of points.”

The Niners had the No. 3 ranked defense based on yardage allowed (294.4) in the regular season last year. They were fourth against the pass (200.2) and fourth against the run (94.2). They allowed just 17.1 points per game, second lowest in the NFL.

In three postseason games, the Niners allowed 29.6 points and 398.7 total yards per game. That’s two touchdowns and over 100 more yards.

Roseman wasn’t criticizing the 49ers, who are in the mix to return to the Super Bowl this season. He was simply pointing out that the formula for NFL success has changed radically. There’s a reason the Eagles hired Oregon’s offensive innovator, Chip Kelly, over Seattle’s defensive mind, Gus Bradley.

You can’t ignore defense entirely, of course. That isn’t the point, either. But the Eagles believe Kelly can unleash an offense that will run 75 plays per game, wear opponents down with its fast pace and put up a lot of points. The defense is obviously well behind on the development curve, but in the NFL in 2013, that is much better than the other way around.

What the Eagles do need from their defense is the occasional big play: a defensive touchdown here, a short field thanks to a turnover there. New England gave up almost 400 yards a game in the regular season, but created 41 turnovers. The Giants surrendered 383.4 yards, but forced 35 turnovers.

The Eagles? They intercepted just eight passes and recovered five opponent fumbles.

So there is plenty of room for improvement without reaching the heights of the 1991 Eagles or 2000 Ravens. These Eagles are a long way from that. But if they can just make some progress there, the hope is that the offense can pull the defense along.