In The Wingheads Defense

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uDec 15, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; The Philadelphia Eagles defense looks on during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. The Vikings defeated the Eagles 48-30. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

In The Wingheads Defense

After some nice positive momentum in free agency, it seems the opinion of the  Philadelphia Eagles has taken a 180 degree turn.   Fans who were guarded are in outright despair.  Fans who were openly euphoric are now silent, or reluctantly hopeful of a good season.   But it’s time someone spoke up in the Wingheads Defense.

2013 was a season with three different chapters:  from the start of training camp and countless articles describing the carnival of tricks, music, and activity; to the “I TOLD you Chip Kelly would fail!” as the Eagles stumbled to a 3-5 record and appeared to be destined to another year of hoping they would put the pieces together for a successful season; and finally “Just a college offense”, when the Eagles ran a string of wins on way to a 7-1 second half of the season and completing the “worst to first” scenario that too few even dared to hope for..    In the memory deficient expectations of 2014, fans look at 2013 as one homogenous season.  It was one complete season yes, but the Eagles had markedly different levels of play in that one season.
What do I mean, and why should you care?  Let me break it down for you.

Oooh-Ahhhh!

The Eagles began the 2013 NFL season under new head coach Chip Kelly. and the nation’s attention turned towards the Eagles training camp.   With innovations implemented on nutrition, time management, and skill improvement, there were many articles written about the fun and newness of camp.  You can read more about training camp in a preview article here: (http://insidetheiggles.com/2014/03/17/training-eagles-to-fly-in-the-nfl/ ).

Sports writers were not given immediate access to the events, and so by the time access was granted, there was a large national audience which was extremely intrigued as to what all the fuss was about.  Players were mesmerized by the new techniques.  Loud music kept a fast paced rhythm.  Training aids focused players on specific football basic fundamentals.   Simultaneously training, and re-ranking 1st and 2nd and 3rd string squads ensured that everyone knew the plays and the level of proficiency.

The opening of training camp was, to nearly half of the team, turning the clock back to their rookie camp.   While the offense was learning new plays, the defense was struggling with a transition into a 3-4.   Complicating that with virtually an entirely brand new defensive secondary, and it was clear that the Eagles were in a race against time to build defensive proficiency as individuals, and to build defensive cohesive and resilience as a squad.    Early reports out of training camp indicated as such:   linebackers were out of position or simply bad at coverage, defensive backs looked confused in coverage.   Defensive linemen could turn a great play, but overpursue on the next snap.    Heading into the season, it was the general consensus that the Eagles would be playing high scoring games.

I TOLD You Chip Would Fail!

By season’s opener, the Eagles win over the defending NFC East division winners Washington Redskins made everyone sit up and take notice. But by week four, the team was reeling from three straight losses (all to eventual playoff teams it was later discovered) and starting quarterback Michael Vick went down to injury in the second quarter.   The team had a mere four games from starting quarterback Michael Vick, two games from then backup quarterback Nick Foles, and finally had to dig deep to get two games relying upon newly drafted Matt Barkley.    In the defensive backfield, defensive coordinator Billy Davis struggled to keep the same group on the field, with nagging injuries to both Patrick Chumg and to Brandon Fletcher impacting their playing time.    This was significant, because each week was a new week to build trust.   Trust on a young defense allows players to stay home and rely upon teammates to make plays.   With a new group each week, trust had to be relearned, with mixed results.  But something else was going on with the Eagles.  In losing 52-20 on the road to the NFL’s top offense Denver Broncos, the team did something it had never done in the prior two years.   Adversity brought the team together.     Since that loss to the Broncos, the defense would only allow more than 21 points in a game on one more occasion.  But at 3-5, and with injuries impacting two of the Eagles quarterbacks, a road trip to the suddenly dangerous Oakland Raiders seemed to be the last thing the Eagles needed.

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