PHILADELPHIA CBS) — Early last season, the Eagles’ defense was getting buried. Through the first two months, defensive coordinator Bill Davis remained calm amid the swirling storm of points and yards the Eagles were giving up. Davis maintained that it will take time for the players to adjust to his new system. He was right, they did.
Though the Eagles’ pass rush has been a target of concern as the 2014 season approaches—justifiably—there are certainly trends to like. For one, as Davis kept saying, the Eagles defense did improve.
More importantly, the pass rush improved. The Eagles had 37 sacks for minus-271 yards, and though it ranked 20th overall in the NFL last year, it was the best production of any team in the NFC East. Washington finished 21st in the NFL (36 sacks for minus-238 yards), while Dallas (minus-246 yards) and the Giants (minus-214 yards) were tied for 25th in the NFL with 34 sacks each. Now it’s not saying much, considering the Eagles are bigger and looking beyond the NFC East, but 21 of the Eagles’ 37 sacks came in November and December. That does say something.
The Eagles’ best month was December, during the most important time of the year, when they had month-highs of 13 sacks for minus-100 yards. The Eagles averaged 2.6 sacks in games key games Arizona, Detroit, Minnesota, Chicago and Dallas. Minnesota was the only team not in the playoff picture.
Through the first eight games in 2013, the Eagles were sitting at 3-5. They gave up 211 points and 3,186 yards, while scoring 176 points and garnering 3,205. In the second half of the season, the Eagles scored 266 points and accumulated 3,471 yards and gave up 171 points and 3,118 yards.
What obviously the Eagles are counting on is that production to carry over into this year. Even with the tepid pass rush, the Eagles’ secondary was exemplary, finishing tied for fourth overall in the NFL in passes defended (92) with Denver—and that was with Patrick Chung.
Nose tackle Bennie Logan played a big role in that move forward. The third-round pick out of LSU started the last eight games of the year. In those games, the Eagles were 7-1. He’s packed on 15 pounds to his 6-foot-2, 315-pound frame, and though he was pushed around in the wildcard playoff loss to New Orleans, that may have had more to do with schematics and the openings Saints’ coach Sean Payton saw in the Eagles’ defense than it did with Logan.
“I spoke to a lot of guys on the Eagles since the playoff game and they thought we were going to pass the ball a lot,” said Saints’ five-time Pro Bowler Jahri Evans said. “We actually came out and ran the ball well. We saw a little gap in the Eagles’ defense, depending on how they were shifted or lined up, that if the [quarterback sneak] presented itself, we were going to take it. They gave us that play in crucial times in a couple of third-and-shorts. The line got low and Drew went right behind us.”
Evans said Logan played a nice game. The Eagles’ inability to stop the Saints on quarterback sneaks was more schematic than personnel based.
“It was an alignment, and sometimes when we get to the line, we have two or three plays called,” Evans said. “It was alignment deal that we saw and they played it every time. They kind of caught on a little bit, but we were still able to get the first downs. It was an alignment deal that we attacked, and it worked.”
With an additional year together, Logan, starting at nose tackle from the beginning, next to left end Cedric Thornton and right end Fletcher Cox, the addition of veteran free safety Malcolm Jenkins and the hopeful health of second-year safety Earl Wolff, the Eagles’ defense may be the deciding factor between them just winning the NFC East and going no further, or playing into January.
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