Wake-Up Call: Defense Regains Its Edge

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The consensus within the Cary Williams circle of trust was that the cornerback wasn’t playing with the same type of edge that he had in Baltimore. Sounds strange, seeing as the feisty corner always seems to be an inch away from throwing haymakers on the field, but this has more to do with what’s been going on between the whistles. His brother said something about it. His best friend. Even his pastor felt he needed to be a bit more ferocious.

But when his wife, Amanda, broached the subject, that was the tipping point.

“When my wife said it, it really kind of sunk in,” said Williams. “I listened because she has been following me for a long time and watching how I played, and she said I just didn’t have the same aggressiveness like how I used to,” said Williams. “I gave a bunch of excuses why, but then when I look in the mirror it just is what it is. I am what I put out there on the field.

“I just wanted to get back into character.”

The defense as a whole was trying to do the same thing. It had just been injected with a big dose of humility after allowing 48 points to the Matt Cassel-led Vikings, who were operating minus Adrian Peterson. Now they were up against the No. 2 scoring offense in the league, a group that Billy Davis afterwards described as “probably the most talented offense we’ve faced,” even above the Broncos. And the Bears, with a chance to clinch the NFC North, were motivated. The Eagles didn’t have as much on the line.  It appeared that Chicago owned both a personnel and psychological advantage.

Instead, it was the Eagles’ defense that dominated, limiting Chicago to 257 total yards and 11 points on the night.

Matt Forte, the No. 3 rusher in the league, was limited to 29 rushing yards. Alshon Jeffery (six catches, 76 yards) and Brandon Marshall (four catches, 36 yards, TD) were held in check by Williams and Bradley Fletcher, who were often locked up on the standout receivers one-on-one.

“Our corners stepped up on their own and handled them,” said Davis. “I had a lot of things in the plan, but as I watched it unfold and saw how the corners were holding up — and they really were holding up well — I let them out there on their own and they did the job, they did a great job tonight.”

The front seven generated pressure all night. Jay Cutler had been sacked just 13 times in nine starts coming in; the Eagles got him five times. Trent Cole had three of those. It was his third multi-sack performance in the last five weeks.

“I don’t think he realizes the type of energy and the type of charge he gives the offense when he makes those type of big-time plays on third down,” said Mychal Kendricks. “Or even us. When we see him make a play, we know, here’ s a guy, how many years he’s been playing, still doing what he’s doing, raising the bar every day. He just goes, man. I wouldn’t want to play with anybody else. That guy right there is a big part of this team.”

Cedric Thornton, a terror all night, forced a safety. Brandon Boykin, a week removed from suffering a concussion, returned a Cutler interception 54 yards for a touchdown. The 5-10 corner decided to celebrate by finger-rolling the ball through the uprights, but his lay-up attempt clanged off the bar and fell short. That was just about the only thing that went wrong for the Eagles’ defense.

One of the major questions coming out of the Vikings game was whether the performance in Minneapolis was an anomaly, or something more. The defense made a pretty strong case Sunday night that suggested last week was just a one-week downturn during an otherwise impressive stretch of ball. They got back into character.

“It’s a great sign,” said Davis. “It’s a testament to our leadership. Our leaders in the locker room are really doing a fantastic job keeping us on edge, keeping the guys ready, preparing as they are because they are the hardest workers. I think the leadership from a players’ standpoint really stepped up and made a difference this week.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Chip Kelly on playing the starters: “We’re from Philadelphia and we fight.”

Sheil provides his observations from the Eagles’ win over Chicago.

Sunday’s big showdown with Dallas has been flexed to Sunday night.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Reuben Frank on the impressive play of Nick Foles:

This is incredible: Donovan McNabb was a six-time Pro Bowl quarterback and is considered a borderline Hall of Famer. Yet he had only two seasons with more touchdown passes than Nick Foles has in the equivalent of 9½ games this year. In about 60 percent of a season, Foles’ 25 touchdown passes are sixth-most in franchise history. Insane. The five ahead of him: Sonny Jurgensen (32 in 1961), McNabb (31 in 2004), Randall Cunningham (30 in 1990), Norm Snead (29 in 1967) and Ron Jaworski (27 in 1980). Just insane.

Mike Sielski writes that Kelly’s gamble paid off in a big way.

Yes, the Eagles have wiped away the memory of that alarming loss last week in Minnesota, and regenerating some momentum and self-confidence in his own players would have been an obvious motivation for Kelly to treat Sunday’s game with the utmost importance. But whether he intended it to be or not, this performance had to be a powerful play on the Cowboys’ fragile collective psyche, too…

Now, instead of relaxing under the presumption that Kelly would make the safe and easy call to rest his starters, the Cowboys spent their Sunday night watching the Eagles play their most dominant and complete game of the season, never giving the Bears a chance to breathe.

COMING UP

Dallas week. We’ll talk to Kelly at 1.

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