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Resiliency Becoming Trademark Of Defense

Posted Dec 8, 2013

For the ninth-straight game, the Eagles defense allowed 21 points or fewer, and the unit’s performance against an explosive Lions offense was its best to date, giving up just 228 total yards and eight points, both season lows.

Things did not look promising early on, as the Lions were able to move the ball with relative ease even in the hellacious snowstorm despite a number of fumbled snaps. Running back Reggie Bush re-aggravated his calf injury in warmups and did not play, so it was up to Joique Bell and Theo Riddick to shoulder the load on the ground. Despite neither rushing for more than 8 yards on a single carry, they were able to grind out yards and move the chains. The Lions also had success throwing the ball, completing a long pass to Calvin Johnson in the first quarter to get in the red zone, as well as a few short swing passes to Bell out of the backfield, which he then took upfield for extra yardage.

The defense, as it has all season, found a way to stand strong in the red zone and keep the score close until the offense could get going. Twice they forced Bell to fumble the ball with the Lions in striking distance, recovering each time. The only touchdown the defense allowed came after Nick Foles’ first interception of the season which set up the Lions with first-and-10 at the Eagles’ 20-yard line.

“It’s a strong belief in the team and a strong belief in each other, a trust,” said linebacker Connor Barwin, who forced one of the fumbles. “I think it comes from the leadership, from (head coach) Chip (Kelly) and the rest of the coaches, not leaving anywhere for excuses to creep up into your mindset. It’s just the way we think and the way we handle ourselves.”

Strangely, the Lions moved the ball much better during the blizzard and then stalled after the skies cleared, accumulating only 67 total yards and three first downs in the second half. All their second-half scoring came courtesy of Jeremy Ross, who returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns.

“It was a great collective team effort,” cornerback Cary Williams said. “It started with the guys up front, those guys handling their business up front first and foremost, not allowing (quarterback Matthew Stafford) to step into the throws. Then it’s the secondary going out there and doing our job, making sure we stay over the top. I’m disappointed that I gave up that deep ball in the middle, but for the most part we held them, and I’m very proud of the team and very proud of what the coaching staff has done to get us to this point. But like I’ve said many times before, this is not a situation where we want to get complacent. We want to continue to make strides and get better each and every week.”

Perhaps most incredible of all is how the Eagles shut down Calvin Johnson, the most dangerous wide receiver in the league. The secondary held him to a total of just three receptions for 49 yards and one catch for 9 yards in the second half. Williams and Bradley Fletcher both had their opportunities to match up against Johnson, with the former getting the assignment most of the time. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis called primarily for just straight man coverage, only sporadically sprinkling in safety help over the top.

“The corners did a great job, and the safeties too when they were on (Johnson),” Davis said. “The corners did a great job of being on him. It’s a pretty difficult task. Moving forward is a lot easier in those conditions than moving forwards, and our (defensive backs) were more in harm’s way, I thought, than if it had been a better surface. …. We played back off a little farther to make sure we were safe and didn’t slip and give up a big (play) because of our footing. It was a challenge and our corners did a great job.

The conditions helped the Eagles in that Davis didn’t have to double-cover Johnson on too many snaps.

“Not a whole lot,” Davis said. “We did some (bracketing). The conditions helped with that a lot. Sometimes they were going to run the ball a little more than throw when the wind was bad. We just moved (the coverage) around, gave some help sometimes but more times than not we did not give him help – just our corners were on him.”

The Eagles did not register a sack and pressure was hard to generate due to a lack of traction on the field, but the pass defense, which came into the game ranked last in the NFL in yards allowed per game, managed to hold Stafford to just 10-for-25 for 148 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions.

Overall, it was a day to forget for Stafford, who fumbled the snap five times over the course of the game, losing only the last one – which proved most costly – when the Lions were down 28-20 but at the Eagles’ 24-yard line with under 7:30 left and threatening to score. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks recovered the fumble, and six plays later running back Chris Polk ran untouched up the middle for a 38-yard touchdown to ice the victory.

The Eagles are riding a five-game winning streak and a wave of momentum entering the final three weeks of the season. With the defense at its peak, playing with a tremendous amount of confidence and showing the ability to shut down a prolific offense, the sky’s the limit for this team.

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