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Eagles Stepping Up On Corners

Posted Oct 23, 2013

The day he joined the Eagles and then met the media, Bradley Fletcher promised to be aggressive, and to "make plays" as the defense rebuilt a secondary in need of major help ...

Adding Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher in free agency way, way back in March was a radical change to a secondary that in 2012 permitted a franchise-worst 33 touchdown passes. The Eagles needed players who were going to be physical and who were going to buy in when the coaches demanded toughness and aggressiveness.

Enter Williams, fresh off a Super Bowl win with Baltimore, and Fletcher, who battled injuries during his four years in St. Louis, to the defensive mix.

"When I got here they told me the idea for the defense was to be aggressive and to get after it, get the football," said Fletcher. "I liked the sound of that. Having the chance to come here and play, it's worked out pretty well for me. I think things are coming along fine."

They sure are. The defense has tightened the screws on opposing passing games after some early-season troubles and, in fact, has allowed 21 or fewer points in each of the last three games.

It's a small sample, of course, but it represents great progress. The defense was, quite frankly, all over the place going through growing pains in the preseason and in the opening four games of the regular season. Starting with the Giants game three weeks ago, though, the defense made adjustments, got on the same page, and started having results.

There were three interceptions in the fourth quarter against Eli Manning and New York in a 36-21 victory. Then Bradley's interception and a key fourth-quarter stop highlighted by Connor Barwin's quarterback sack helped the Eagles limit Tampa Bay to three second-half points in a 31-20 win.

On Sunday against one of the premier passing games in the NFL, the Eagles held Dallas to 17 points.

Keying the improvement has been the play of Fletcher and Williams, and the continued outstanding play of slot cornerback Brandon Boykin.

"We're working at it, challenging receivers and making them earn their yards and plays," said Williams. "I think we have a lot of confidence. That comes from communicating and from having some success.

"We knew it was going to take some time, but it's coming now. Every day we're a little bit better in practice and that is carrying over to the games."

Williams and Fletcher bring what the Eagles wanted -- two big bodies who are athletic, smart and tough. Neither backs down in the face of the steady stream of outstanding receivers on the other side of the ball each week. Neither is fazed by a completion, or a mistake, or a play that goes the other way.

"You know the offense is going to make some plays," said Fletcher. "That's the nature of this game. Every week, it's going to be tough out there."

Neither Williams, who has seven passes defensed, nor Fletcher, who has 11, has backed down from that challenge. Williams spoke in training camp of establishing "toughness" within the Eagles' defense and over time that has materialized. He is a scrappy player, a prideful man, and his mentality has rubbed off on the rest of the defense.

Fletcher is the quiet sort who goes out and does his job and speaks softly when the media approach.

The mix is a good one, with a huge hand for Boykin, the do-everything second-year player who is one of the "glue" players on this team.

Sunday is another challenge, with a superb cast of Giants receivers in town. Boykin has the assignment of Cruz when the latter lines up in the slot, and both Williams and Fletcher will see some of Cruz, and Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle for a New York passing game that remains lethal, despite the Giants' 1-6 start to the season.

In that matchup three weeks ago, the Giants went after the secondary, and they went deep. Eleven times Eli Manning tested the coverage down the field, testing the corners and the safeties.

The Eagles held up to the assault, for the most part.

"I think that's the way they play," said Williams. "They have great receivers and Eli is going to throw it down the field and try to make big plays, try to be explosive. We are preparing for a busy day."

That's nothing unusual for the corners, though. They've held up through the rough moments early, and the rewards are being paid now. The play of Williams and Fletcher, integral in the defensive overhaul, has been hugely important in the vast improvement coordinator Bill Davis has overseen.

In this pass-happy NFL, every team has great receivers. And it's impossible to double team everyone. So the corners are required to step up, and they have for the Eagles.


"There is really not a choice. You can only double one of the weapons," said Davis. "So you have to step up and say, hey, you other guys have to handle your man. Or you play some zones and we mixed in our zones and our mans.

"But when a team like the Giants or the Cowboys that have these multiple pass receiving weapons, there are guys that have hard downs, and just have to step up and play. And our guys did a nice job of doing that."

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