Eagles Wake-Up Call: Davis’ Dominant Defense
Here the Eagles stand, seven weeks into the season, atop the mountain that is the NFC East. Though they’re only 3-3 with a losing division record, they would still make the playoffs if the season ended today.
Not because of Sam Bradford. Or DeMarco Murray. Or even Chip Kelly. But, surprisingly, because of Billy Davis and his defense previously thought to contain some misfits.
Instead of playing down to preseason expectations, the Eagles have allowed only 18.3 points per game (sixth in the NFL) and forced 16 turnovers (second). That trend continued last night as the defense tallied three takeaways and limited the New York Giants — whose previous season-low was 20 — to just seven points.
One of those turnovers was a pick-six by Nolan Carroll, which helped ignite the Eagles’ 27-7 win.
“We have this outlook that we have to win on defense,” said Walter Thurmond, who’s tied for fourth in the NFL with three interceptions. “It’s no disrespect to the offense, but we just have this mindset. I think that’s what allows us to be great.”
The Eagles’ defense didn’t appear to be great, however, early on against the Giants. New York easily traveled 80 yards in eight plays to open the game with a touchdown, and appeared ready to repeat that result in their second series.
As the Giants traversed 40 yards in eight plays to Philadelphia’s 23-yard-line, the Eagles seemed poised to go down by two scores. Then, DeMeco Ryans intercepted Eli Manning’s pass intended for Larry Donnell.
Instead of being 23 yards away from a 14-0 deficit, the Eagles took advantage of the turnover and tied the game at seven apiece.
“That might have been the key point,” Davis said. “That was a wild play. DeMeco kind of turned everything for us on that play.”
In New York’s next drive, they again crossed midfield. This time, however, the Eagles didn’t allow the Giants to get one yard on second, third or fourth down to reach the 40-yard line.
Four plays into New York’s next series, Carroll intercepted Manning’s pass and returned it 17 yards for his first-career pick-six. The Giants had already run the concept where the slot receiver runs a flat route and the outside receiver runs a quick slant.
This time, instead of staying in man-to-man, Carroll and Malcolm Jenkins passed the receivers off to each other.
“We had to get up there and challenge the receivers,” Carroll said. “[Manning] was getting the ball out quick because a lot of teams were just playing zone and sitting back and letting those guys work in space. We knew coming in that we would have to press those guys at the line, challenge them, take the timing off their routes, and let Eli hold the ball a little bit.”
Outside of catching the 13-yard touchdown pass on the first drive of the game, Odell Beckham Jr. was relatively quiet, catching seven passes for 61 yards. The Eagles allowed zero ‘X’ plays — as New York’s longest completion was 17 yards — and zero catches by the Giants’ star receiver in the second half.
According to Jenkins, the Eagles often used two defenders to cover Beckham, whether it was bracketing him or providing safety help over the top.
“When you got a player that’s playing like he is and getting the amount of targets he gets, you got to take him out of the game,” Jenkins said. “We wanted to make them beat us with other players. That’s where he won this game, is with the ability for the other guys to win one-on-one matchups.”
The Eagles won those individual battles on all three levels. The defensive backs often did a good job of covering New York’s receivers one-on-one, allowing Davis to roll his secondary’s coverage to Beckham.
The defensive line also sacked Manning three times — nearly doubling the quarterback’s season total — and consistently stopped the run with a split-safety scheme. This freed up Davis to dedicate all of his defensive backs to preventing the pass, which he typically did through man-to-man coverages because Manning has previously carved up zones.
“We mixed it up with some man and zone that we haven’t run all season,” Thurmond said. “That was a really good look for us because [Manning] didn’t know where he was going with the ball and held onto it a little longer. Our front was able to get a rush on [Manning]. I think we did a really good job of disguising our coverages and not letting him get a tip on what we were running.”
Although Davis did a phenomenal job of putting his players in a position to be successful, they not only performed their responsibilities, but they often went above and beyond. According to Jenkins, it’s unacceptable to tackle the ball-carrier without trying to force a fumble — as he did in the second quarter.
The Eagles rank 15th in the NFL in yards allowed per game — partially because of how much they’re on the field due to the inept offense — but negate that by forcing turnovers.
“Collectively as a group, from the day they reported in the offseason, we said it’s all about the ball,” Davis said. “We put a huge focus on the ball and getting turnovers and how to get them. We practiced them and tracked them. The more you keep it on the front of their mind, the more likely you are to get them.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
“I thought they were outstanding.” Chip Kelly lauded his impenetrable defensive unit after another great outing.
A passable offensive line gave Sam Bradford enough time to play better than he did Monday night, and other observations in Four Downs.
“Billy Davis’ defense stole the show.” Tim’s instant observations from the Eagles’ 27-7 win over the Giants.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
A resurgent Riley Cooper played a big role for the second week in a row, writes Marc Narducci.
Whether Cooper approaches the statistics of his career season in 2013 remains to be seen. That season, Cooper had 47 receptions for 835 yards and eight touchdowns.
Last year he had 55 receptions for 577 yards and three touchdowns. With starting receiver Nelson Agholor out with an ankle injury, the Eagles needed another receiving threat.
In this game, Cooper pitched in, having the most receiving yards of any Eagle.
Ten observations from the Eagles’ win, including a meditation on Sam Bradford‘s weak performance, from Reuben Frank.
I really felt like Bradford was going to light up the NFL’s worst pass defense Monday night. After the way he played the second half against the Saints, I thought he was ready to finally put together a full 60-minute game.
But, man, I did not like what I saw. He just seemed to regress dramatically, throwing wildly, putting the ball up for grabs, looking skittish in the pocket. We’re six weeks in now, and he has yet to put together a complete game. He came into the season with the fourth-best interception ratio in NFL history, but three more Monday night gives him nine this year.
Chip Kelly will address the media at 1 p.m.