The only statistic that truly matters is points, and if the Birds’ D does nothing else, it keeps adversaries off the scoreboard. Philly has not conceded more than 21 points to an opposing offense in six consecutive games and has done so only twice this season.
Clearly, the unit is better than advertised—and so too is Bill Davis for that matter.
Chip Kelly invited almost immediate criticism a few short weeks into his Eagles head coaching tenure with the appointment of Davis to the role of defensive coordinator. A longtime NFL assistant and linebackers coach, Davis held two prior coordinator jobs since 2005, neither stint lasting longer than two seasons.
Davis was a retread, and an unsuccessful one at that. There were name-candidates available, so why did Kelly settle on somebody he was inevitably going to replace two years later?
It would seem now Kelly and Davis are vindicated. Given how the defense performed last year—terribly—and the complicated transition from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 over the offseason, the effort has been better than it has any right to be, to say the least—and that’s framing it mildly.
The 2012 iteration of Philadelphia’s defense was the polar opposite of this year’s group. The Eagles did not allow fewer than 21 points in a game over their final 11 contests. They had 13 takeaways all of last season, this year they’re up to 17 through 10 contests. The turnaround is remarkable, especially considering the talent hasn’t changed that dramatically.
They may be in a new system, but Davis is working with a lot of the same personnel. Davis has 31-year-old and two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trent Cole thriving at the new position of outside linebacker. He has DeMeco Ryans finally playing at an All-Pro level again, three years removed from a career-threatening Achilles injury. He even has 2010 second-round pick and noted draft bust Nate Allen looking like a respectable NFL safety.
Davis is doing a better job of acclimating the organization’s free-agent signings to his scheme as well. Last season, the secondary was dysfunctional with stars like Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. This year they are getting by with the less-heralded Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher manning the corners.
Player development seems to be improving too. Davis is already getting more out of the 2012 draft class than the previous staff did. Interior linebacker Mychal Kendricks has three fumble recoveries, cornerback Brandon Boykin has three interceptions and defensive end Vinny Curry has four sacks after barely getting on the field a season ago—all three good for the clubhouse lead.
That growth is trickling down to the rookies. Defensive lineman Bennie Logan and safety Earl Wolff are both making major contributions in their first NFL seasons. Logan’s push for playing time was so strong, the front office traded nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga at the deadline, while Wolff wound up supplanting Patrick Chung for a starting a job.
This is all over the course of one season. Imagine where they could be next year with the addition of an elite pass-rusher or a nose tackle that can command a double-team at the line of scrimmage, or perhaps even a shutdown corner or playmaker at safety. Who knows what the draft and free agency will bring.
The focus is still on this season, though. Davis has built up quite a bit of credibility over a short period of time, but how his unit finishes will be a huge test.
The Eagles have six weeks to make a playoff run, and Nick Foles isn’t going to throw seven touchdown passes every week. That said, as long as Philadelphia continues to get consistently positive results from its defense, it should reach the postseason with ease.
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