Eagles defense bounces back from year to forget

BY foxsports • September 21, 2012

With a lineup featuring a Pro Bowl tailback, world class speed at receiver, the NFL's hottest tight end and Michael Vick under center, one would think the offense has carried the Eagles to a 2-0 start.

Not the case.

A refurbished, revitalized defense has led Philadelphia to its best start since the Super Bowl season of 2004. A year after some highly publicized defensive struggles, the Eagles, featuring six new starters and rookies in three key spots, rank No. 4 in the NFC in yards allowed and No. 2 with 33 points allowed.

Quite a turnaround. After all, last year, the Eagles ranked 22nd in points allowed, 29th in yards allowed and had just four wins 12 games into the season.

''There were a lot of changes,'' defensive end Jason Babin said. ''And I think they were all for the good, as we can look at now.

In the season opener - a 17-16 win over the Browns - the Eagles allowed only three field goals, all following turnovers. Those drives were short - 26, 19 and 18 yards - and were viewed as defensive victories.

In the home opener against the Ravens - a 24-23 win - the Eagles allowed touchdowns on two of Baltimore's first four drives, then held the Ravens to three field goals in the final 38 minutes.

''I like the attitude,'' said linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who had an interception and a sack vs. the Ravens. ''One thing about playing defense, you have to have the right attitude, and this group has it. It's encouraging to see where we are now and potentially where we can go because we can still get a lot better.

''We can still find a way to create more turnovers and find a way to score on defense. I want this defense to be known as a great defense, and we've got to do all that, force turnovers and score, to be known as a truly great defense.''

In last year's first 12 games, the Eagles allowed 33 touchdowns and lost five games they led after three quarters. Since losing to the Patriots and Seahawks in a five-day span by a combined 69-34, though, the Eagles are 6-0, bridging this season with last, allowing just seven touchdowns along the way.

What changed?

''Finishing,'' defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. ''Learning how to finish. I think that's the single most important thing.

''We knew we were better than that. You look at the games we had - Arizona, San Francisco, Atlanta - we had a lot of good teams down late and we could have finished them off. But we didn't do it. We knew we were a better team than what we showed, a way better team, and it was just a matter of learning how to finish and learning how to win.''

Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said he believes that if the Eagles practice fast and tough, they'll play fast and tough.

So far, so good and it has allowed Vick and his offensive mates - running back LeSean McCoy, receiver DeSean Jackson and tight end Brent Celek - to seal victories late in games.

''The thing is the fundamentals,'' Castillo said. ''The guys practicing harder and faster than anybody in the NFL - it's a rehearsal for Sunday. We try to get all our work done during the week so then come Sunday, (it) becomes natural.''

A win at Arizona (2-0) Sunday would give the Eagles a seven-game winning streak - their longest in eight years.

''We all run to the ball, we're all trying to make that play, and I really like that enthusiasm that we get from each other,'' linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. ''We feed off each other, we really do. That's my favorite part of the defense. One person makes the play, we all make the play.''


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