ABOVE PHOTO: Eagles middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans has been the anchor of an improving defense.
(Photo by Webster Riddick.)
By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
Eagles’ linebacker Mychal Kendricks was a rookie when the Eagles struggled through last year’s 4-12 season in which the defense blew games late in the fourth quarter or just got outright blown off the field. Quarterbacks like Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Washington’s Robert Griffin III had field days carving up the Birds defense.
Through it all, Kendricks said the veterans kept telling him this wasn’t always going to be the case and that better days had to be around the corner.
“Some of the veterans told me ‘this is not the league, we’re supposed to be winning and having fun,” Kendrick recalled. “You’re supposed to win something. I just felt that morale was at an all-time low …This year I think this is what the league is supposed to be about.”
That’s because the Eagles defense has been a much better place than it was last year. Since a 52-20 loss to the Denver Broncos, the Eagles defense has not allowed a team to score more than 21 points. While they are not going to remind anyone just yet of the 1985 Chicago Bears or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, they have been a team that seems to get better with each game and they’re a lot better than they were last season.
“Everybody is comfortable with what they’re doing,” said Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans. “Everybody knows their role. Everybody knows where they’re supposed to be and when they’re supposed to be doing it. Guys are flying around and having fun playing the game. That’s the difference.”
Ryans came up big against Green Bay with 11 solo tackles (13 overall), including two for a loss of yardage and he also had an interception. Defensive coordinator Billy Davis said Ryans is doing a good job of quarterbacking the defense.
“DeMeco is the leader of our defense. He’s having an outstanding Pro Bowl year and we couldn’t be happier with everything DeMeco is doing for us,” Davis said. “He gets us in the best defense possible, and as the season has gone on we as a staff have gotten more and more comfortable in his ability to put us in good situations. He’s done a great job playing the middle linebacker position, between tackle to tackle, he is a force. Whether it’s crossing routes or his inside run game that he’s tackling. He had one of the best form tackles I’ve seen in a long time last week.”
In the Eagles 27-13 win over the Green Bay Packers, the defense came up with another big effort. They held the Packers to under 100 yards rushing and they forced two interceptions. The Birds managed to do it despite injuries to Kendricks and safety Earl Wolff. Najee Goode, who nearly had a pick-six and cornerback Roc Carmichael also played well for the Eagles.
The Birds secondary, which got burned for the big play quite often last season, has done a better job of limiting the big play and they’ve done a good job of tackling. Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin, who leads the team with three interceptions, said the loud music played during practice has helped the secondary do a better job of communicating with each other.
“I think what helps that is the music. That’s huge for us because the defensive backs have to over-communicate so when we get in the game it’s automatic. We’ve been working on that since whenever OTAs starting, so it’s second nature now,” Boykin said. “You have to focus on the play while other stuff is going on around you. When you get in a real environment, it’s easy.”
On the defensive line, the Birds got a solid effort from defensive tackle Vinny Curry, who seems to be getting better every time he’s on the field. Against the Packers, he had three tackles and had the lone Eagles sack in the game. Head coach Chip Kelly said Curry is getting better with each game.
“I think he’s getting better at just overall run defense,” Kelly said. “But in the run game itself, you know, I think Vinny is starting to get better and better. It was his best game against the run this week.”
The Eagles defense has just 20 sacks in 10 games, but Davis said his squad has done a good job in putting pressure on the quarterback and making them uncomfortable in the pocket.
“Even though the sack numbers aren’t as high as we would like, but there’s pressures, there’s batted balls, there’s errant throws sometimes, just a matter of keeping the quarterback uncomfortable, and that ball that looks ugly was a bad pass had a lot to do with a throwing lane being clogged up or an arm up in the face or not having a clean lane to see in,” Davis said.