In The Wingheads Defense

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Nov 3, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) and receiver Riley Cooper (14) celebrate after combining on a 17-yard touchdown play in the second quarter as Oakland Raiders safety Charles Woodson (24) watches at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Just A College Offense

By mid-point in the 2013 season, outside linebacker Trent Cole had not mustered a single sack. The team had only recorded three wins. Third round 2013 draft pick Bennie Logan had just been promoted to starting nose tackle to anchor the defense.  But despite the reassurance of coaches and players, the fan-base began to question the logic of hiring Chip Kelly. Perhaps, as some of the pre-season detractors had claimed, it was just a college offense that would not be effective against an NFL calibre defense. While Peyton Manning was tying records with seven TD passes against the Baltimore Ravens, the Eagles were struggling to get their defense off the field.   Oh, did I forget to mention one small detail?  Eagles quarterback Nick Foles was returning to the starting lineup to face the Oakland Raiders.

Suddenly, the lights went on.  An Eagles team that had seemed to forget one half of their assignments finally showed up and put together an impressive win on the road.   Impressive may be an understatement, as the Foles led passing attack put up seven touchdowns of their own to tie the NFL record as Denver had done so earlier in the season.

The Eagles would go on to win seven of their last eight games, and in the process average 33 points per game on offense, and  holding their opponents to  over 20 points per game.   Despite losing the playoff game, it was certainly a very winnable game.   And with the first “transition year” behind the team, the second year in this new scheme should go much more smoothly.

And that’s the rub.   To read articles who cite a high priced free agent as a reason to force the Eagles to make huge investments into that player, or to consider the team as a whole in 2013, when the second half was clearly more representative of the team, is a little puzzling.   The Eagles finished the 2013 season quite strong.     The run defense was solid, and will improve as the young Eagles defensive line matures and bulks up this off-season.   The pass defense has been reinforced with the release of safety Patrick Chung, the signing of cornerback Nolan Caroll and safety Malcolm Jenkins, and the competition for playing time from safety Chris Maragos and outside linebacker Bryan Braham.   To this, the Eagles will see the return of defensive end Joe Kruger, who was red-shirted and spent the year rehabbing and learning the defense.

The 2014 NFL draft will certainly have plenty of drama, hopes, frustrations, excitement and disappointments.  If recent trends develop, the team will find starters throughout the draft.   Unfortunately, this NFL draft is deep in some positions, but light in sure starter edge rushers and safeties – two positions the eagles are surely interested in addressing if the right value shows up when they have the opportunity to select.

But if value from another position appears?  It will be just fine.   This eagles team is more about a growing process,  building unity and cohesion, than it will ever be about one player.   It is about a coaching staff who do more than lip service about getting the most from their players.   They walk the walk.  2014 will be interesting to see how the team handles success.   Other teams have gone complacent, ending up the following year sub .500 and retooling.  But there are still players who are quite hungry on this Eagles squad.  DeMeco Ryans and Conner Barwin have reunited their former Texan defense as Eagles, and are huge keystones to a defense which should be judged as it trended in 2013, not as it started.

This Philadelphia team has finished retooling.   They are trending up.   Keep your heads up fans, or you’ll miss them.