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Defense Takes Steps Forward

Posted Sep 20, 2013

Before kickoff on Thursday night against the Chiefs, Eagles Hall of Fame safety Brian Dawkins offered words of encouragement for strong safety Nate Allen. Nothing rah-rah. Dawkins just gave a few pointers and told him to trust his eyes.

After a rough game last Sunday against the Chargers, Allen had five tackles, a sack and a pass deflection in a much improved performance.

"We had to bounce back after that performance we had last week," Allen said.

Allen wasn't the only one who struggled against the Chargers. Far from it. The Eagles allowed 33 points and 539 yards of total offense to San Diego.

On Thursday night, the defense kept the Eagles in the game despite five turnovers by the offense and special teams. The Eagles allowed just one touchdown in the red zone on six opportunities. The Chiefs entered the game successfully converting each of their first five red zone chances of the season. The Chiefs only converted 33 percent of their third-down opportunities. In all, the defense only allowed 19 points as the Chiefs scored on a pick-six early in the first quarter.

LB DeMeco Ryans

However, it wasn't enough. The Chiefs came to Lincoln Financial Field and escaped with a 26-16 victory. As good as the Eagles defense was, they were not able to get off the field when it mattered most in the fourth quarter. LeSean McCoy scored on a 41-yard touchdown run to bring the Eagles within seven with 11:36 remaining. Wide receiver Dexter McCluster muffed the ensuing kickoff and the Chiefs were buried at their own 5-yard line.

On first down, safety Earl Wolff, who rotated in the game with Allen, snuffed out a screen to running back Jamaal Charles for a short 3-yard gain. Linebacker Brandon Graham followed that up with his first sack of the season. The momentum swung clearly in the direction of the Eagles. The 69,000-plus in attendance felt that the Eagles were about to take control.

The Chiefs had other plans. Wide receiver Donnie Avery lined up in the slot and ran a dig route. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith threw the ball and Allen dove to make the pass breakup, but just missed. Avery gained 15 yards and the first down. It was a play the Chiefs ran numerous times throughout the game as Avery caught seven passes (on seven targets) for 141 yards. Avery converted four third downs.

"We knew we needed that one," Allen said. "Just to get off the field that series, that drive, get off the field as fast as we could and get the ball back in the offense's hands. As a defense, you have to get off on the big third-down plays and get ball back in the offense's hands as fast as you can, especially in a situation like that."

Kansas City milked 8:15 off the clock and padded its lead with a 38-yard Ryan Succop field goal for the game's final points.

"We had them right where we (wanted), they just made a play. They made a play," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "I felt like we played solid all night, but when we needed to make a stop they got us on a play."

The Chiefs' average starting field position was their own 43-yard line. In addition to the favorable starting point, the defense was out on the field for just over 39 minutes. On top of that, it was the Eagles' third game in 11 days. Head coach Chip Kelly noticed the improved effort and said the offense kept the defense on the field too long Thursday.

“I think our defense has always played with great effort," Kelly said. "They're starting to get familiar with each other it's the same thing. We've got a lot of new players over there, new faces and a brand new scheme. They're starting to get comfortable with it but the one thing I've told them and told them since we started, if you play with great effort, good things will happen to you. I thought they did play with great effort. I thought they did a better job on some of those third and longs that we gave up. Again, I look at them in the fourth quarter, and I think a lot of it has to do with us offensively not doing our job and keeping them out there way too much."

The players refused to make any excuses for the end result, but with 10 days to prepare for their next game - in Denver - there are aspects of the performance the team can build upon.

"I know the Chargers game was tough. We came out and rebounded and played a lot better on defense," linebacker Connor Barwin said. "There's a couple of plays that we want back, but there's a lot of positives we can take from this."

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