Philadelphia Eagles Defense Transformation

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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

Philadelphia Eagles Defense Transformation

27-0. That’s a shutout folks. That’s something that has not happened for the Philadelphia Eagles for 18 years. Eagles defensive coordinator Jimmy Johnson never knew the feeling of the goose egg.

Some will look at the feat and move on, as one more “blip” in the Eagles season that has a little relevance, but not so much that is causes pause and wonderment.   Some will pause and pay homage to the event, as it is the NFL’s equivalent of the “no-hitter”.

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It will also fall to some as another memory of the rivalry of the New York Giants facing the Philadelphia Eagles.  The most unlikeliest of scenarios, where the Eagles defense would obliterate the Giants, while the offense returned to life behind the ankle breaking rushes of running back LeSean McCoy.

Eagles players reacted differently.  When Vinny Curry realized it was the first time in 18 years, he responded in typical MrGetFlee style: “Wow. I was only eight years old.”

Trent Cole, the veteran and historian of the Eagles defense, placed it into perspective by recalling it was an achievement that had always eluded Johnson.  “We came so close, but we never got it. I know it bothered him. He really wanted one.”

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2014 has been a mixed bag for this oft admonished defense.   Despite the team’s success, despite the team’s ability to come from behind or hold on for dear life, the victories that have piled up as high as any other team in the NFL left a hollow feeling in the stomachs of observers.   Either the team had a slow start, or could not put a team away.  Either the team struggled against unheralded quarterbacks or unheralded running backs.

After six games, far too many fans point to the game where NFL unfamiliar quarterbacks Kirk Cousins or Austin Davis seemed to light up the sky when they faced the Eagles.   Far too few fans  point to the games where the Eagles faced Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick, or Eli Manning get mention.  Although the Eagles offense is anything but sure handed, and ignoring the time of possession that seems meaningless to a Chip Kelly team, the Philadelphia Eagles are 5-1 at the bye week.

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  • Still, after all the short comings and near misses, after all the games have been played and all the plays have been added up, this defense has been a major contributor to the Eagles success.    How can it be that a defense with so many doubters can reach such heights?  What brought about this Eagles defense transformation?

    First and foremost the defense is still on a journey that began with the hiring of Billy Davis as the defensive coordinator.  What he inherited was a 4-3 defense that failed to tackle, failed to defend the pass, failed to stop the run, and had earned a reputation for quitting somewhere in 2012.    He immediately began to shake things up, converting to a 3-4 and placing virtually everyone on notice that every position was in open competition.    Next the Eagles cleared their defensive backfield of starters, signing cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, and safeties Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips.     The 3-4 scheme was new, so Davis had limits as to what he could ask of the players in their first year.   There was also the problem of personnel, having inherited many of the faces, some of the defensive assignments simply were too much to ask of the guys on the roster.  But the second year of this defense should find personnel and roles more closely aligned.

    "“I think the biggest thing you see is a year ago, you saw more assignment football.  Guys were studying hard to know their assignment, what was asked of them and they were trying real hard to get to their assignment and maybe not understanding their whole picture of how they exactly fit with their teammates and how it all came together. It’s a learning curve, and you’ve got to start at the bottom and learn yours first, and then you spread out and learn around yours.”"

    In 2014, with more talent at defensive backfield on the roster, the Eagles will likely show a dime package as well as the more familiar nickel. The Eagles will also mix up their blitz and pass rush duties to keep opposing quarterbacks guessing.