There are times when you’re listening to Merrill Reese calling an Eagles game on the radio and things are not going so well— then you hear that unmistakable voice of Reese as he describes the turnaround moment in the fortune of the game: “The Eagles defense is coming alive!”
Coming alive as a defense with a game-changing effect usualy means some choice moments of creating pressure on an opponent’s offense, such as a key 3-and-out series or a sack or a turnover, which either stops the green bleeding or breaks the will of the opponent.
The better teams in Eagles history have had that “defense is coming alive” moment as a trademark in most of their wins. We had lost a little of that spirit here recently until Bill Davis arrived in Philly last season and put together a defense which, although certainly not a juggernaut, began to give us some “coming alive” moments.
Davis talked to Les Bowen (Daily News and philly.com) last week, and in case you missed his interview with Bowen, here are some of the key points he made:
1. The defense will improve in 2014 because the coaches and players are more familiar with the system and with each other;
2. The defense will function better as a unit because more personnel have been acquired specifically to play the 3-4, 2-gap style Davis prefers;
3. Davis thinks the defense will benefit by the addition of Malcolm Jenkins as a signal-caller from the safety position.
‘”The safeties in our defense are really mirror images of each other, and they’re our quarterbacks,” Davis said, as part of explaining why Jenkins was the guy he wanted, instead of someone with a higher profile. “Anytime we split the safeties, they’re the quarterback of their side. When we have the middle of the field closed, or one in the post, then the guy that comes down has got a lot of coverage responsibility. We stay in our base package more than most against three wide receiver personnel packages, which means a safety must come down and handle a wide receiver, more times in zone than in man, but in man, if I ask him to, he should be able to. So, the football intelligence, the leadership that Malcolm – we did a lot of background work on all these guys – Malcolm brings a lot of leadership. He brings a lot of hard work on his own. They have meetings already without us, which is a great sign.”‘
‘”These guys get together, they watch film, they’ve got a hundred questions when we start meetings, which are all signs that the guys are doing their work. When they start taking ownership of it, the defense will be on its way,” he said.’
‘”I know the pass defense – there’s a lot of things that go into that, pass rush, and the coverage and the understanding, and passing things off together. We grew in that area as the season went on,” Davis said. “We added some personnel in that area. I think the communication is going to take another step forward, having a year under our belt.”‘
‘Asked about not being able to add that dominant pass rusher that would automatically make the Eagles’ coverages effective, Davis said: “I think we’ll take small steps going forward, and I think collectively, the understanding will help us get team sacks. The team’s defense has got to improve. I think if you improve the team defense, invariably, somebody’s sack numbers go through the roof.”‘
Les Bowen got a lot of information from Bill Davis in that interview. The one thing I get from it is the feeling of confidence from Davis— he showed it after that 52-20 beatdown by Denver last year, too. He told us then it wasn’t as bad as it looked, that there was stuff hidden in the tape that gave him confidence his guys were going to get a lot better.
I’m starting to believe in Bill Davis. And somewhere in the cool June night I can hear the faint echo of an old radio signal bouncing off a tin roof across the old valley. It sounds like “Eagles defense is coming alive…”