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Can Defense Continue To Thrive?

Posted Sep 29, 2017

Beau Allen is using air quotes when he talks about backups. Not backups, says Allen. “Backups,” as in there really is no such thing in the NFL, as the Eagles are finding out with a defense that keeps on ticking in the face of some injuries threatening the foundation of the group ...

Beau Allen is using air quotes when he talks about backups. Not backups, says Allen. “Backups,” as in there really is no such thing in the NFL, as the Eagles are finding out with a defense that keeps on ticking in the face of some injuries threatening the foundation of the group.

“When you are a ‘backup’ all it means is that you’re working for more reps,” said Allen, expected to start on Sunday with Fletcher Cox out and, yes, using air quotes. “When you’re a ‘backup’ you don’t look at yourself that way. You look at yourself as a starter. You play. When you have your chance, you have to shine. That’s the way the thinking goes for a lot of the guys across our defense.

“We’ve had a lot of guys step up, especially last week with so many guys out against the Giants. I don’t think we even batted an eye. We had a group of guys come together and win the game, and that feels good.”

Allen has five starts at defensive tackle in his three-plus seasons here, including three last year. He’s got more explosiveness than you think, can penetrate and disrupt, and is expected to pair nicely with Tim Jernigan as Cox recovers from a calf injury.

Priority number one on Sunday is to stop the Los Angeles running game that features Melvin Gordon, and then number two is to get to quarterback Philip Rivers and move him out of his comfort zone. Stop the run. Get after Rivers.

Come home with a win.

“I think they’re going to come out and try to run the ball. I’m familiar with Gordon, having played with him at Wisconsin. We can’t give him a chance to get going. They tried to run against Kansas City and that’s what they like to do,” Allen said. “It will be a good challenge for us. This is an opportunity for me and I intend to take advantage of it. It feels good to be back and on the field.”

Allen missed the spring and most of Training Camp and the preseason recovering from a pectoral injury. His recovery comes at the right time for the Eagles, who face a tough situation with Cox out and with Destiny Vaeao sidelined for another week because of a wrist injury suffered in the win at Washington.

“We’re going to have guys step up and play,” Allen said. “That’s what this defense is all about.”

So far, that has, indeed, been the theme. Cornerback Ronald Darby has been out since the Washington game with his ankle injury. Safety Rodney McLeod missed last week with a hamstring injury, but is expected to return on Sunday. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks went out of Sunday’s win over the Giants with a sprained ankle and is on course to play in Los Angeles.

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The secondary will still be without safety Corey Graham and cornerback Jaylen Watkins, both of whom have hamstring injuries.

“The way the game is played now, it’s all about fresh bodies,” defensive end Chris Long said. “You have to have depth and we’ve shown that we do. Everybody is ready to play because, as we’ve seen, we’ve really needed everyone to step in and help.”

Last week, Najee Goode replaced Hicks and got the first extended reps at middle linebacker in his NFL career. Goode knows to always stay ready and be prepared for anything.

“You always prepare as if you’re starting,” Goode said. “That’s the mentality.”

Can the Eagles survive the loss of Cox, who has commanded double teams and whose presence has given his fellow linemen a chance to get into some one-on-one blocking opportunities? Who steps up and makes the big play on Sunday?

“We just have to play our game,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “Be ourselves. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves and in each other. I don’t think Beau has to go out there and try to play like Fletch. He just has to be himself and play his game.”

The Eagles have allowed 75 rushing yards per game, sixth best in the NFL. They have six takeaways, ranking fifth in the NFL in that category. The red zone defense has been excellent, highlighted by that goal-line stand last week against the Giants. Third downs have been solid, as the Eagles rank seventh in the NFL there.

So far, the Eagles have held up well. But this is a long road trip that marks the quarter pole of the regular season.

“Long way to go,” Long said. “The first thing you want to do is stop the run every week and we’ve done a good job with that so far. We’ve been able to get some pressure up front and our coverage on the back end has been good.

“All we can do is keep working hard Monday to Saturday and then go out and play hard each Sunday and take what we’ve learned during the week and apply it on gamedays. Keep playing hard and I think we’ll be fine.” 

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