Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Philadelphia Eagles had a very successful season offensively in 2013. And while the Philadelphia defense received much of the criticism for the loss against New Orleans in the NFC Divisional Round, 2013 was a season that had to be viewed as a tremendous success for Defensive Coordinator Billy Davis. Expectations were non-existent after the members of the “Dream Team” secondary were discarded and the team switched schemes. After a season in which the Eagles held 11 of their final 12 regular season opponents to 21 points or fewer, there’s optimism that the Eagles could have as dynamic of a defense as they do on offense. Perhaps even more exciting for this Eagles fan is that training camp will provide the defense with an opportunity to practice against one of the top offenses in 2013, with a desired interest in improving against the pass.
“I don’t get no respect, no respect at all”
Last season, the Philadelphia defense held opposing rushing attacks to under 100 yards in all but six games. Of those six games, the Eagles lost four (all to 2013 playoff participants). It’s a step in the right direction for the Eagles playing in the smash-mouth NFC to have an improving rush defense from everyone in the front seven. Big things are expected of third year lineman Fletcher Cox as well as run-stuffer Cedric Thornton. For all the horrible linebacker play we’ve grown accustomed to by the Eagles, last season the Eagles were amongst the best run stopping linebackers in football. And while much of the attention is on rookie linebacker Marcus Smith’s pass rush, he sets the edge in run defense and can eventually contribute as a three-down linebacker.
Defensive Front Seven
“Come on, Ty, you’re an ace. Everybody knows it”
As good as the Eagles defense has been at stopping the run, of the past six Super Bowl winners, only two (Seattle and Pittsburgh) have been in the top ten at stopping the run. Three of the past six (Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay) all led the league in DVOA pass defense according to Footballoutsiders.com. In a league that is quickly resembling arena football, it’s imperative of a defense to rush the quarterback and create opportunities for the secondary to be more aggressive. The aforementioned linebacker corps not only defended against the rush well, but also accounted for six of the Philadelphia defense’s 19 interceptions.
Entering 2014, Fletcher Cox and Trent Cole are looking to be two of the three members of the Philadelphia defense that could start on defense in three consecutive seasons. To put that in perspective, the Seattle Seahawks have had three of their four defensive linemen starting for at least three consecutive seasons. The Eagles are hoping that their young line remains cohesive and as effective as they were in the 2nd half of the season. With Marcus Smith joining the team, the Eagles will be able to rotate fresh pass rushers late in games and late into the season. Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry, and Cedric Thornton all possess the ability to create something special for the Eagles. If Joe Kruger can regain his health, there will be a bevy of options to attack opposing quarterbacks.
“When I get in an elevator, the operator takes one look and says, ‘Basement?’”
When a defense gives up 100 combined points in just two games, you’re not going respect from anyone. Even worse for the Philadelphia defense was that despite having an offense that threw for 4,110 yards, the Eagles for the season were out-gained in passing yards by over 500 yards. Many jokes have been at the expense of players like safeties Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, and in some regards Colt Anderson, but statistics can be an evil tool in sports journalism. The Oakland Raiders gained the most yards from scrimmage against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013 despite being blown out 49-20 in Oakland.
What do all of these stats mean when predicting the fate of the 2014 secondary? The performance against quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints in the playoffs surely gave reason to take those numbers with a grain of salt. At this point, the Philadelphia defense is shaping up to have familiar faces at cornerback, and could have a highly underrated back-end at safety. Suffice to say it’s very clear that Chip Kelly wanted to push the incumbent members of the back-end of the Philadelphia defense by pursuing both safety Malcolm Jenkins and corner Nolan Carroll early in free agency. The addition of those two players along with the upside of Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, and Cary Williams, gives the Eagles a powerful weapon against what is now a pass-happy league.