Cornerback Cary Williams spoke of the defense needing to find an attitude and form an identity. Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers was Williams' inaugural game as an Eagle and, thus, his first chance to practice what he preached earlier in the week. He did not shy away from confrontation, upping the ante on chippiness early as he got into a shoving match with wide receiver Steve Smith after the whistle during the first drive.
"Football, that's all it was," Williams said of the mini-skirmish. "Just two football players, competitors. That's just what it was, two guys competing."
Coming back from a hamstring injury, Williams drew the difficult task of matching up one-on-one with the Panthers' star All-Pro receiver. He played a lot of off coverage, but still was able to hold Smith to just three catches for 34 yards. Despite his play, Williams admitted he still does not fully trust his hamstring, is not at peak performance and has lots of room for improvement overall.
"I think I was a little bit timid," Williams said. "I didn't want to necessarily test my hamstring too much today, but I definitely want to take it one day at a time and try to improve and continue to get healthy each and every day. Hopefully, against the Jaguars I can come out there and play the way I want to play and be more aggressive, come in and out of breaks the way I want to. I was playing a little bit off this time, just trying to really get through the game because I didn't want any setbacks. I felt like my leg feels a lot better than it did, but it's not necessarily where I want to be at. Once you're out there, there are no excuses, and I'm not making any, but I feel like I could be more aggressive. I definitely wasn't as aggressive as I normally am during the game."
Feelings of hesitance aside, Williams had a key pass breakup on third down to force a field goal, was not afraid to stick his nose into the action near the line of scrimmage and had moments where he flashed his trademark tackling ability. There was a subtle play from Williams that stood out and encapsulated the discipline from the defense as a whole. On a first-and-10 in the second quarter, running back DeAngelo Williams broke outside to his left and tried to get to the edge. Cary Williams maintained outside leverage and containment instead of taking a poor angle in pursuit and forced the runner to turn back inside, where outside linebacker Trent Cole smothered him for just a 5-yard gain. Without Williams funneling the run back inside, it would have certainly resulted in a long gain down the sideline.
Williams is a Super Bowl champion and came from a culture in Baltimore that prided itself on a fierce, tough, ferocious defense. Recent struggles aside, Philadelphia has long been known for sporting that same style of defense, and defensive coordinator Bill Davis and his players have made no secret that is the type of identity that needs to be re-established. Thursday night against the Panthers was an encouraging step in that direction.
"I think we played well today as a unit," Williams said immediately after the game. "I think we showed some good things today. We're far from where we want to be, we still have to take it one day at a time and continue to get better. Tonight, we got better. … We still have a long way to go. We still have some improvements to make. We're going to continue to do it, just have to take it one day at a time."
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