Eagles Wake-Up Call: Defense Fuels First Win
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — DeMeco Ryans noticed it as soon as the week started. Despite the secondary’s up-and-down play in the first two games of the season, the inside linebacker was excited about what he saw.
“The difference from last week to this week? The focus and intensity in practice,” Ryans said. “There was a lot more energy, they were locked in and they studied hard this week.”
That mentality translated to the field yesterday as the Eagles won the turnover battle—and the game—for the first time this year. They intercepted three passes and forced one fumble, even though the Jets tallied just two giveaways in their first two games.
According to Malcolm Jenkins, the secondary’s success was propelled not only by their mentality, but also their emphasis on consistency.
“Being 0-2 helped [motivate us],” the safety said. “Guys started to recognize where we needed to improve. For us—especially in the secondary—it’s all about technique. Not just the first half, or the first three quarters, but the entire game. That was the focus all week.”
The defensive back who showed the most improvement played few snaps and was only on the field because Chris Maragos injured his left knee. As the Jets ran more four receiver formations, the Eagles played dime and inserted E.J. Biggers as the fifth defensive back and Eric Rowe as the sixth defensive back.
After New York drove down the field in the third quarter and into field goal range, the rookie intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick’s pass in the end zone.
“When you have someone like Eric Rowe who can go out there one-on-one and take away the deep ball, that’s huge. That allows us defensively to do so much,” Jenkins said. “If we want to take away Brandon Marshall and put a lot of attention on him, everybody else has got to hold up.”
The most impressive rookie, however, was inside linebacker Jordan Hicks. With Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks injured, the third-round pick from Texas tallied a team-high 10 tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery.
He also helped hold the Jets to less than three yards per carry, after New York averaged more than four yards a rush in their first two games.
“He did a really good job,” Ryans said. “He’s calm; the game isn’t too big for him. A lot of young guys, they make the game bigger and they get nervous. He’s relaxed and he plays like a veteran. It’s huge when you have your rookies step in and play like that.”
The defensive line continued to play well too, despite Cedric Thornton and Taylor Hart sitting out. Brandon Bair, who was inactive against Atlanta and Dallas, made his first career NFL start. He recorded four tackles and three pass deflections, including one that Hicks intercepted.
Bair and the defensive line benefited from the Eagles’ early success. Philadelphia’s number one defensive priority was stopping the run (second was limiting Marshall), which they rarely had to worry about because the Jets only carried the ball 16 times.
“Once we got ahead, we took them out of their game plan,” Bennie Logan said. “Once we caused turnovers, we turned them into a one dimensional team and forced them to pass the ball more than they wanted to.”
Fitzpatrick attempted 58 passes, completing 35 of them for 283 yards. He also threw two touchdowns and three interceptions. Because the Jets played from behind, they ran more four and five receiver sets than normal, giving Rowe a chance to play in dime.
Although he didn’t play many snaps, the defensive back explained that he benefited enormously from the time he did spend on the field.
“It’s a big boost of confidence because I really haven’t gotten a chance,” Rowe said. “The minute coach called my number, I was like, ‘Alright, man. This is it. It’s finally my time to get out there and show them what I got.’”
WHAT YOU MISSED
“Every week’s going to be kind of a street fight, and you’ve got to be prepared.” Chip Kelly’s post-game thoughts.
Ryan Mathews played well despite a turnover, and three other key takeaways from the Jets game.
Instant observations: What Tim saw in the Eagles’ first win of the season.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Darren Sproles tipped the game in the Eagles’ favor, writes Mike Sielski.
Sproles scored twice Sunday – the second time on a 1-yard dive that gave the Eagles a 24-0 lead – but it was his return touchdown that swung the game, and perhaps the Eagles’ season. It was the eighth return touchdown of his career, and the play was an indication of why Sproles, even at 32 years old and after 10 years in the league, still sends a current of excitement through his coaches and teammates when he catches a punt in the clear.
Based on his pregame homework, Sproles said, he knew that Jets punter Ryan Quigley tended to hit high, short punts. In turn, the Jets would be accustomed to covering those kinds of punts. So when he saw the ball leave Quigley’s right foot on a line-drive-like flight, Sproles knew he’d have a good opportunity for a big return, even though Quigley did manage to drive the ball near the Eagles’ sideline.
Ryan Mathews made a case that he’s Philadelphia’s best running back, says Reuben Frank.
Ryan Mathews had four carries and four yards to show for his first two games in an Eagles uniform.
Frustration? The former Pro Bowl running back says he didn’t feel it.
“I knew what I was signing up for when I signed here,” he said. “We’ve got DeMarco [Murray] and Sprolesy [Darren Sproles], two great running backs.
“I just had to wait for my turn. Wait for my number to be called.”
Chip Kelly will speak to the media at 1 p.m.