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Defense Must Lead Way In Playoffs

Posted Dec 31, 2017

This magnificent 2017 regular season ended with temperatures in the teens, quite the contrast to when the Eagles began the home portion of the schedule with temperatures in the high 90s on a day that ended with Jake Elliott’s improbable 61-yard field goal that beat the New York Giants and launched a nine-game winning streak ...

This magnificent 2017 regular season ended with temperatures in the teens, quite the contrast to when the Eagles began the home portion of the schedule with temperatures in the high 90s on a day that ended with Jake Elliott’s improbable 61-yard field goal that beat the New York Giants and launched a nine-game winning streak.

Sunday’s 6-0 loss to Dallas tarnishes nothing from the 13-3 season. The Eagles played the starting offense for a quarter against the Cowboys and really got nothing going. A Torrey Smith drop marred the first possession and quarterback Nick Foles and his offensive mates couldn’t put anything together after that and then turned the game over to second-year man Nate Sudfeld, who quarterbacked behind a makeshift offensive line and reserves receivers and backs.

If anything, what emerged from this game, and the one before it – the 19-10 win over Oakland – was a reminder of just how good this defense can be. The Eagles were lights out defensively in the win over the Raiders and then they limited the Dallas offense for all but a single touchdown, even with a mostly backup defense on the field.

And it makes you think: Can the Eagles' defense carry this team in the postseason? Defense still wins championships, after all, and the Eagles have, for the most part, been pretty darn good on that side of the ball all year. Good enough to lead the way in two weeks when the playoffs arrive?

“We’ve got the chance to be very special,” safety Rodney McLeod said. “We showed flashes of that throughout the season and we got back on track last game and this game. Obviously, a lot of starters didn’t play so it was good to get our second-string and our third-string guys some experience because we’re going to need everybody going down the stretch. It was good to see those guys go out and battle.”

What’s critical for the Eagles is how they handle the next two weeks. Head coach Doug Pederson will keep his players around, rather than give them a full week away from the NovaCare Complex. Tight end Zach Ertz said he thinks the environment “will be like Training Camp, so we have to be sharp in practice and carry it over to the playoffs.”

As the Eagles work out kinks with the offense, which has struggled the last two weeks, the defense has come a long way after some road struggles in Seattle, Los Angeles, and New York. The formula is there for the Eagles to play dominating defense at Lincoln Financial Field.

“We have the pieces and we’ve grown together this season. It’s going to be exciting to do it at home and have our crowd behind us,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “Everything changes in the playoffs. Every play can mean the difference between a win and the end of the season. The intensity changes. It’s a lot of fun.”

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The Eagles have the components to play championship defense, starting with a front four that is going to be a matchup problem for every offensive blocking scheme. With Cox and Tim Jernigan inside, and with a deep group of pass rushers on the edges, the Eagles will cause havoc. They will go after offenses with that front and have the ability to play coverage on the back end.

Dannell Ellerbe is the starter at middle linebacker and at 6-1, 245 pounds he’s a physical thumper who will help the run defense in the postseason. The linebackers are really playing outstanding football and give the Eagles strength at the position.

McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins have been terrific together the last two seasons and the cornerbacks are well equipped to play against every group of receivers. Patrick Robinson in the slot is the right complement to outside starters Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills.

“It comes down to the little things in the playoffs and you get ready to excel right now with the way you prepare,” defensive end Chris Long said. “That’s the benefit of having the bye week. We have more time to prepare. Then we need to go out and play our best football. That’s what it really comes down to. We have the pieces here to be a great defense and at times this season we’ve played at that level.

“We want to put it all together in the playoffs. This is when it counts.”

An important two weeks are ahead. The Eagles are going into the playoffs with roster that, while missing some hugely key pieces, will be healthy otherwise. In two weeks, it’s “go” time. And the defense, after 16 games, is good enough to lead the way in the postseason. That’s good to know in an NFC playoff environment that is wide open and extremely competitive.

“We all know what we can accomplish with this defense,” Cox said. “I feel great about where we are. Once the playoffs start, we’re going to be there and we’re going to be ready to play our best football.”

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