Eagles' defense bends, doesn't break
All those yards the Philadelphia Eagles give up aren't translating into points for the opponents.
The numbers say the Eagles have the NFL's third-worst defense in total yards, allowing 398.1 per game. Only Minnesota (401.2) and Dallas (426.8) give up more. But points determine the winner and the Eagles are keeping teams out of the end zone.
Since Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos scored 52 points against Philadelphia in Week 4 - 38 of those came against the defense, 14 against special teams - the Eagles haven't allowed more than 21 points nine straight games. That's the longest streak in the league and the longest for the team since an 18-game stretch in 2001, including playoffs.
Overall, the Eagles have held opponents to 21 points or less in 11 of 13 games this year, which is tied with Carolina for most this season.
''I thought we had enough talent on the defensive side of the ball to be good, and it was just a matter of everybody getting an understanding of what we're trying to do,'' coach Chip Kelly said Wednesday. ''So I was confident in this group coming out of camp. I've been confident with them all along and I think it's shown.''
It took players a while to adjust to defensive coordinator Billy Davis and his 3-4 system. Players like Trent Cole and Brandon Graham had to switch positions from defensive end to linebacker. Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Patrick Chung and Conor Barwin had to adjust to a new team. Rookies Bennie Logan and Earl Wolff needed to get acclimated to playing in the NFL.
''We are nowhere near where we want to be yet as a defense,'' Davis said. ''It's such a collective team game. But as defensive coaches, we're looking at what we're teaching and what we're coaching, is it growing, is it getting better, and what we saw in that Denver game is it was, although we weren't playing the overall defense we wanted to play at that point. But there was enough little things that were moving forward that we were encouraged by.''
The Eagles allowed 27.5 points over the first four games. Over the past nine games, that total drops to 18.1 points. They forced 2.8 punts per game in the first four, 5.9 in the last nine. Quarterbacks had a 107.2 rating against Philadelphia in the first month, 71.7 since the loss to the Broncos.
They haven't allowed any points on the opening drive in the last eight games, and have held opponents to under 100 yards rushing in seven of the last nine.
''I think each week it's grown a little bit,'' Davis said. ''We're staying the course as a defensive staff with what we're asking them to do, the way we're asking them to practice and the techniques in the individual period, from how we meet, for when we meet, and how long we meet, the little things that we demand of them, and that is really what's showing up on Sunday game tape.''
Teams have accumulated yards against Philadelphia for a couple reasons. Kelly's up-tempo offense scores so quickly that the defense is on the field a lot. The Eagles are last in time of possession, so no other defense plays more.
But the Eagles are clamping down inside the red zone and forcing turnovers. They've allowed just four touchdowns in the last 15 times opponents have reached their 20, and they have five red-zone takeaways.
Still, Davis isn't satisfied.
''I know the red zone is solid right now, but it can be better,'' he said. ''There's so many little things that we can communicate better in our fundamentals. There's just so much growth out there. Our run defense is getting better and better each week. Keeping the deep balls and the big extra yardage plays off of us is getting better as we go. But we're nowhere near the top of the NFL with a lot of those statistics, so you can always grow. The points allowed is the number one thing we're focused on, and we'll continue to drive that down lower and lower in the next three weeks.''
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