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Ups And Downs For Starting Defense

Posted Aug 8, 2014

CHICAGO – The Eagles’ first-team defense had an encouraging, albeit imperfect, debut performance in the Eagles’ 34-28 loss to the Chicago Bears on Friday night. As a unit, the starting defense played two series – one impressive three-and-out followed by a dissatisfying, penalty-riddled 69-yard touchdown drive for the Bears.

Of course, all preseason caveats apply. The respective game plans were vanilla, defensive coordinator Bill Davis was playing straight-up coverages that would allow him to evaluate talent and, after all, this was the first live action since the 2013 season.

“I did blitz, I sent some (five-man rushes), a lot of it was in the run game,” Davis said. “But in the third downs and in the passing situations, we were trying to get our pass rush evaluated and our coverage evaluated. There were some good things there and there were some bad. There were way too many passing yards again. They had some big plays.”

There were no surprises personnel-wise along the first-team defense, as Nate Allen got the start at safety alongside Malcolm Jenkins and Damion Square started at nose tackle in place of the injured Bennie Logan.

After Nick Foles threw an interception on the first offensive possession, the Eagles' defense began their year backed up at their own 24-yard-line. They held firm with a three-and-out, forcing a Robbie Gould field goal attempt that would be blocked by Square.

The second defensive possession, though, had its fair share of sloppiness. The Bears converted three third downs on the drive, including a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jay Cutler to tight end Zach Miller, and the Eagles were penalized twice.

On the plus side, Matt Forte ran three times against the starting defense and totaled -5 yards.

“The run-game defense really was solid,” Davis said. “I know they threw a lot more than they ran, but when they ran the guys were really playing some nice two-gap in there, we were fitting well in the run game, and that was encouraging. We have to fix some stuff in the back half of the passing game, and most of it came in the second half.”

Allen, meanwhile, was the only starter to play beyond the first two series, as he partnered with Earl Wolff in the second quarter. Allen took advantage, robbing Jordan Palmer for a nice interception and setting up a Matthew Tucker touchdown run.

“Always good to get our hands on the ball, regardless of if it’s preseason or not,” Allen said with a smile. “I’m optimistic about being here. I don’t know, like I say, nothing’s ever set in stone, I’ll play ball any chance I get and any time I’m out there I’ll make as many plays as I can.”

In the end, even among the veterans there were varying takes on the relative importance of the night’s performance.

“I think the preseason gives you an opportunity to hone in on your skills and your techniques,” said cornerback Cary Williams. “You want to be fundamentally sound in the preseason so those things will carry over in the regular season in those tough situations when you’re tired or exhausted and you might not be 100 percent in a particular game. So you want to be able to fall back on those key things, on those fundamentals.

“We got our hands on the ball from the secondary. We also did pretty well against the run early on. We also flew around the ball. That’s one thing I would say we did a good job on. Towards the end, we weren’t necessarily that perfect, but it’s something that we can work on and it’s something we can build on for next week.”

Linebacker DeMeco Ryans, meanwhile, had a much more matter-of-fact take on the night.

“That’s what the preseason is for, guys are working on getting lined up, working on getting live action for the first time,” Ryans said, “so I don’t look much into it. There’s not much carryover into the season. I’ve been on teams where we won every game and felt good (and didn’t have a good season) and then lost all of them and had a good year. So it’s really not that big a deal. It’s just coming out, knocking the cobwebs off a little bit, getting back into the flow of playing a game. When the season starts, it’s a totally different game.”

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