Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has said all the right things about working together and remaining patient and measuring progress on a day-to-day basis. The Eagles, though, need to be better on defense starting Sunday against the Giants than they've been in the opening four games of the season, and they know that.
So what can be done? The Eagles can tweak the scheme, but the truth is that the coaches add to the X's and O's each week. They can change up their coverages in the course of the game and hope they catch a quarterback unaware.
They can change personnel in and out, but they are already playing most of their pieces and the results are the results.
In truth, these growing pains were expected. The Eagles knew going in that by bringing in a new coaching staff, then changing from a 4-3 front to a 3-4 front, and then adding a handful of players in free agency that they would have a long learning curve.
And so here we are. We're learning. We're learning that offenses are completing too many passes, converting too many third downs and scoring too many points against the Eagles defense. To win on Sunday at MetLife Stadium and to get into the thick of things in the NFC East -- an Eagles win and a Dallas loss to Denver means the Eagles are tied for first in the division -- the defense must do its part.
What has been interesting as we observe the defense is to try to figure out the philosophy of Davis and Kelly. Do the Eagles ultimately want to be a blitz defense that lives on high risks and high rewards? Do they want to mix it up?
The realities are far more complicated, of course. Kelly offered some sense of the approach on Monday at his day-after press conference. He doesn't want offenses to go over the top on his defense. He wants offenses to earn their yards.
"I think it depends; if you're going to throw the ball down in front of us, we have to rally up, we have to tackle you and we have to make you drive the field a little bit about, and I think that's what we are trying to do now," said Kelly. "We want to be in our zones, deep to short and make sure we have 11 guys running to the football and hopefully we can get a little bit of pressure on the quarterback and not let him throw an accurate ball that's a catchable, runnable-type play."
The key, then, is to rally to the football a whole lot better than the defense has done. The Eagles want more pressure up front, and Davis is working every day on that. The tackling must improve, no question. Somehow, the Eagles have to get their hands on the football and create positive field position for the offense.
But if you think the Eagles are going to tear it all up and start new, now, that's not going to happen. The improvement must come from within -- from the coaches and the players here -- and accumulate throughout the remainder of the season.
What happened in Denver is that the Eagles were undone by a world-class quarterback and an offense that is playing brilliant football. The Broncos shredded the defense, particularly in a lights-out third quarter.
That performance was quickly placed in the rear-view mirror as the Giants game came into focus on Monday. And while the Giants are struggling in a huge way on offense, having all kinds of problems at the line of scrimmage, turning the ball over a lot, and not scoring enough points, we know that quarterback Eli Manning can get the ball out quickly to receivers like Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks and Reuben Randle and cause a lot of problems.
Will the Eagles give those receivers a cushion, rather than show some bump-and-run looks? Can the front -- the Eagles show a lot of four-man fronts now, so the question of 3-4 vs. 4-3 doesn't seem nearly as drastic as it did months ago -- get to Manning against an injury-ravaged offensive line?
How can the defense get its hands on the football?
This is a critical spot for the defense. An NFC East game is here and the Eagles need a win and the defense needs a strong performance. What changes does Davis make? How can this defense make a necessary step forward?
Most important: How will the defense look toward the end of the season when the players have a full understanding of the defense and the coaches have a complete understanding of the abilities of the roster?
At the moment, and that's all we have now, the focus is in New York and the defense and the idea that Kelly wants his defense to keep the play in front of them and then go to the football. All 11 players on the field.
"You have to make tackles, yeah," said Kelly. "But you've got to defend something. And right now, I know we are real adamant about not giving up X-plays (deep throws) and not getting the ball thrown over our head."
Against New York, an offense that when it's clicking is as dangerous as any in the NFL, the defense must come out ahead by not allowing the Giants to get behind the coverage.