Since before the season started, Billy Davis has cautioned that his defense would likely be a work-in-progress in Year 1.
A new scheme, a new staff and six new starters. Davis knew there would be hurdles and growing pains along the way. But now that the season is seven weeks old, there are signs of progress. Part of that is due to Davis gaining a better understanding of his players and how he goes about calling a game.
“I think I feel a lot more comfortable,” Davis said. “I think the players feel more comfortable in the calls. All of it is a growth that’s happening. I feel more comfortable. Knowing what the strengths and weaknesses of the individual players are now that we have almost half a season under our belt. So that’s growing. I think more importantly, we as a staff see the players understanding the concepts of the coverage, the techniques within the coverage and how they work with the concept. All of that is growing.”
The Eagles have limited opponents to 19.3 points per game in their last three contests. The Cowboys entered last week second in the NFL in scoring, but they managed just 17 points. The late, great Jim Johnson made 17 points or fewer his goal for the defense on any given week. Davis said the Eagles have adopted the same target.
"That's the goal we have," he said. "Seventeen will get you in the top 5 to 10 every time at the end of every season."
As for the players, they sense that Davis trusts them more now because fewer errors are showing up on tape.
"I think he's becoming more familiar with the players," said Cary Williams. "I think he's becoming more familiar with the guys that are out there. Some of the things that we like to do, some of the things that we're not necessarily good at. I think he's becoming more confident in what we can do."
Added Connor Barwin: "I can sense that he probably trusts us a little bit more because we're playing better and we're having a lot less mistakes."
There's still plenty of work to be done. Overall, the Eagles' defense is 29th in Football Outsiders' rankings. But Chip Kelly, the man who hired Davis, offered a ringing endorsement for the job he's done through the first seven games.
"When you watch him in the room with our defensive staff first and foremost and making sure that everybody understands, and then with our players, if he doesn't get his point across the first time, then he'll find another way to get his point across," Kelly said. "The interesting thing for me, and I'm really happy with how Billy has done it, is the defense we ran against the Cowboys is the same defense we ran at the beginning of the year when we were much maligned in terms of what are we doing and all those other things. But Billy has conviction in what he's doing. He's sound in how he approaches things.
"I think he has answers. If they're doing this, we need to do that. But he's also really in tune with where our players are and how much they can handle. A lot of times the answer is, hey, we should do this. But I don't know if our players are prepared to do that. ...He's a great communicator. He's a really, really smart guy, and I'm really happy we've got him right now."
WHAT YOU MISSED
"I didn't show up," says LeSean McCoy. More on the Eagles' RB and some All-22 analysis.
Kelly provides an update on Michael Vick, who participated fully during Wednesday's practice.
Kelly gets questioned, Nick Foles gets criticized in our national media roundup.
T-Mac looks at the unique relationship at corner between Williams and Bradley Fletcher.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
Chris Burke of SI.com has the Eagles 23rd in his power rankings:
Rookie Matt Barkley threw more interceptions in 20 passes Sunday (three) than Nick Foles and Michael Vick have fired all season in a combined 222 attempts (two).
Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com notes that the Eagles will have company if they plan on targeting a QB in next year's draft:
If the Eagles do indeed have their sights set on any of the aforementioned QBs, they are going to have plenty of competition from other teams around the league for a franchise QB. If the Eagles want to get their hands on "their guy," they're either going to have to give up a huge package of draft picks to go get him, or start losing... a lot.
We'll hear from Kelly, Vick and other players down at the NovaCare Complex. Plus Birds 24/7 radio on 97.5 The Fanatic. We'll be live at Smiths in Center City from 6 to 7.