By Ray Boyd
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — After year one of the Chip Kelly era, we all walked away with basically the same feeling. What an offense? The offense this upcoming season will look somewhat different, but they will still be rather potent on Sundays. For the Eagles to take a step forward, the defense has to rise to the occasion.
Year two under Kelly also means year two under Defensive Coordinator Billy Davis. Fans were introduced to a 3-4 defense last season that looked and operated mush differently than defenses they were used to.
That held true for many of the players as well, especially those who were holdovers from the prior coaching regime.
Last year Davis was introducing a new scheme to players that did not all fit into it. This year, Davis will have to reinforce the system and now that we all know what this offense is capable of, Davis will have to make sure that his unit does not cost the Eagles a shot at contending for a Super Bowl.
“I’m really excited about getting going in year two,” Davis told WIP Afternoons on Friday. “I love the fact that the conversations I’m having with each individual position group about the defense we’re light years ahead of where we were a year ago.”
LISTEN: Billy Davis on WIP Afternoons
Davis admitted that last season was a very slow a steady process. This year he was able to install the entire defense within a week of practices. The learning curve was evident for the Eagles defense at the beginning of the 2013 season.
Through the first four weeks of last season, the Eagles allowed 34.5 points per game. Through the remaining 12 weeks of the season, the defense allowed just 20.3 points per game. If Davis’ defense performs at a rate closer to the following 12 games, as opposed to the first four, the 2014 Eagles could be in for a special year.
To have that type of year, the players must feel comfortable in the system. It was evident that it took getting through some growing pains to reach that point last year, but this is a fresh season with a much better level of understanding.
One player who was around for the transition, Mychal Kendricks, understands the importance of comfort as he went from playing as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 to an inside linebacker in a 3-4. Too add on to that, Kendricks was coming out of playing the dreaded Wide-9 system where he was responsible for covering a lot of ground due to the rushing patterns of the defensive line.
“I’m not making any excuses, but that’s a very large area to cover,” Kendricks told WIP Afternoons. “We’re thankful for the defense we have now.”
Now that the defensive foundation has been laid, the Eagles will have to add some new wrinkles to it. The excuses go out the window when it comes to players not fitting the system because they are holdovers. The majority of key contributors will be returning players and they will be expected to take the defense to a new level this season.
“During the course of [last season] we added more and more defense and checks and audible systems,” Davis said. “We’ve added a lot in the off-season, we grew during last season and right now we’re at a place where we are much more dynamic and flexible and there’s more things in defensively schematically than we were even close to last year at this same time.”
The area most impacted by the introduction of the 3-4 was obviously the front seven. Davis spoke highly of one of his trench guys, Fletcher Cox, who will be the leader of the Eagles unit up front.
“He’s one of the few defensive lineman in the NFL that I really believe you can drop him into any system and he’s going to succeed,” Davis said of Cox. “Last year he was trying to wrap his mind around his new stance, his new keys, his new technique and now you have a very talented athlete who understands the scheme and the system.”
For the Eagles defense to succeed when it counts, Davis will have to have that same level of confidence in his players understanding throughout the entire unit. The more they understand, the more they can be unleashed to do things that last season they were not quite ready to do.
Davis touched on the fact that the Birds will be unleashing some new Blitz packages aimed at throwing multiple players at the quarterback with a focus on bringing him down to the ground or at least getting him off his spot and out of his rhythm. Players like Kendricks and Cox will play vital roles in this as well as veterans like Trent Cole and even rookie Marcus Smith. Davis admitted that the Eagles top pick is coming on slow, but that he is showing some flashes of great pass rushing every day in practice.
This is a unit that has everything you need. The front seven is athletic and has experience. The corners and the safeties are a revamped unit. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher performed above expectation on the outside and Brandon Boykin became a fan favorite for his stellar play in the slot.
The addition of Nolan Carroll gives the Eagles four solid corners and no excuses when it comes to going up against talented passing teams. Malcolm Jenkins has received rave reviews, especially from a leadership standpoint and his presence will hopefully raise the play of his fellow starting safety, whether it be Nate Allen or Earl Wolfe.
The Eagles were the fourth worst teams in terms of yards allowed and were right in the middle of the pack when it came down to points allowed per game. The defense better be ready to raise those rankings in 2014 because a top half of the league defense overall could send this team to a Super Bowl.
The pieces are there. The scheme is in place. The pressure is on them.
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