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Learning Game: Skins Vital For D

Posted Sep 5, 2013

The Eagles have two new starters on the line, a revamped set of linebackers and an overhauled secondary learning a defensive scheme together. How quickly can the defense pull things together in 2013? ...

Monday night isn't all about how the Eagles play against quarterback Robert Griffin III, because the Redskins have as balanced and complete an offense as any on this season's schedule. Washington runs the football extremely well, and then destroys defenses using play-action fakes and a potent passing game over the top.

So how does coordinator Bill Davis feel about his group? He pulls no punches.

"I'm very anxious for the Redskins to show us who we are and where we are," he said. "It is going to be ‑‑ I don't know what's coming. The truth will be at the end of that game, we will know defensively how far along we are.

"We're coming up against a top rushing offense in the NFL last year, fifth in scoring, one of the top offenses out there.  They are very talented across the board.  They played all 16 games together last year which is a huge advantage to play in a system, and we have to face that, and we have got to face it using an overhauled defense with new techniques that we have taught."

Bottom line: There may be a learning curve here. It's just the way it has to be and Davis, who certainly wants immediate success, goes into the opener with a bit of a blind spot.

"Wherever we start against Washington, good or bad or somewhere in the middle, it has to continue to get better by the 16th game," said Davis. "This season has got to be about this defense getting to where everybody wants it to be, and really, what I say by the Washington game is our starting point and I don't know where along the scale we are, but wherever that is, that's the ground level, and we have got to take it a lot higher than it is, even if that's a great game against Washington.

"I think no matter how you break it, there's no excuses involved, there's no -- we are at stage one of a coaching staff of a scheme and of a major overhaul, of a defense."

How does Stage 1 handle RGIII and the balanced offensive attack? The Eagles need to try to take Griffin out of his comfort zone, a place he was in far too often last season. Griffin completed 30 of 39 passes for 398 yards and 6 touchdowns in two wins over the Eagles in 2012. He had time to set up and throw. Washington's running game was dominating.

The Eagles were a step behind on defense.

"The fact that he can move like he does and can run makes him that much more difficult," said safety Nate Allen. "You want to get to him, put pressure on him, but you don't want Griffin to get out of the pocket. That's where he does his most damage."

The Eagles have to be more worried about what they're doing rather than what the Redskins will do. It's difficult to put all of the moving pieces in the right places for 65 to 70 plays a game against a team that has all of its parts together for a second consecutive season.

The preseason revealed some concerns about the defense -- notably some gaps in communication, missed tackles and coverage mistakes -- and Davis understands that when Monday arrives, everything counts. Everything is going to be magnified. Mistakes will be especially costly.

"I think we have had a good week of work and we have more to do," said Allen. "We have to be sound in our assignments and communicate on every play."

Allen's situation is among the questions with the defense. While he will start, Allen could see some split duty with Earl Wolff at the safety spot alongside Patrick Chung. Neither Allen nor Wolff stepped up and outright claimed the job in the preseason, so both will have their chances in the opener on Monday.

A safety is particularly challenged against Washington. "Disciplined" is the word most often used in the locker room: The safeties have to help against Washington's tremendous running game, but must also make sure not to get sucked in against the play-action game so Griffin doesn't go over the top for a touchdown.

What do we know about the defense? We know we have questions. Heck, the coaches have questions. Everyone is in a period of discovery here. We begin to find out the truth on Monday, against a terrific Redskins offense.

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