JACKSONVILLE -- It would be patently unfair and untrue for anyone to issue absolutes about the Eagles after two games, but is certainly understandable to expect the defense to begin to assert itself in Week 3 against the Jaguars. While the defense has played well in spurts and has actually dominated at times, it has also allowed far too many big plays and points to suit coordinator Sean McDermott.
With Stewart Bradley in the lineup and a healthy crew ready to go, the Eagles need to start establishing their identity. Jacksonville's offense has been inconsistent through two weeks -- a very strong first game in a Week 1 win against Denver and then a terrible, turnover-plagued outing last Sunday in San Diego.
The Jags aren't terribly complicated on offense. They want to put the ball in the hands of running back Maurice Jones-Drew and then have everything work off the running game. Quarterback David Garrard can be deadly with the play-action passing game. The Eagles have to cover a couple of good wide receivers in Mike Sims-Walker and Mike Thomas, as well as tight end Marcedes Lewis. Nothing exotic about the scheme, so the Eagles have to win the man-on-man battle.
No way. Nothing has been easy for the defense through two games. The Eagles have been way too inconsistent and, truthfully, they looked quite out of sorts minus Bradley last week in Detroit. Can one player make that much of a difference?
The Eagles won't say it out loud, because they like backup Omar Gaither, but Bradley's physical play and ability to run sideline to sideline sets him apart from most of the middle linebackers in the league. Without him, the run defense suffers and the blitz game isn't as effective. To stop Jacksonville, the Eagles need to excel in both areas.
I know that all of this week has been about Vick Mania, and that is very much understood. It is a great, great story and, clearly, one that has captured the national spotlight. Head coach Andy Reid made a move to stay with Vick that has a profound impact on the team this year and that could very well impact the franchise for years to come.
Obviously, we're all going to be on the edge of our seats watching Vick operate the offense, watching the offensive line fend off a pretty good Jaguars pass rush and any anticipated blitzes and generally seeing how that side of the ball comes together after last week's outstanding performance.
But this game is more about the defense for me. I want to see a new-look group start to gain some consistency. There are a lot of things to like about the defense so far. Rookies Brandon Graham and Nate Allen belong, and both have bright, bright futures. Juqua Parker has been a force. Trent Cole is a disruptive player on every snap. The cornerbacks have played well, and Asante Samuel is really on top of his game to the point where teams aren't throwing much in his direction.
The rotation has worked well up front and the Eagles are finding that they have some depth throughout.
But the Eagles need more on defense. They need to play a great 60 minutes of football, starting in Jacksonville. The task is very straightforward: Contain Jones-Drew and get after Garrard and don't let the Jaguars receivers catch jump balls down the field.
The defense, then, needs to win this game, a tough one on the road. It is time to gain some trust in the Eagles, some knowledge of what this team is really all about. And while we have a sense that the offense is explosive and that, despite so many mistakes, it has still averaged 27 points per game in two weeks, we don't know how good the defense truly can be.
The defense must step up and win this game. It is a group effort, of course, and all phases -- certainly the up-and-down special teams are in the spotlight, too -- must contribute. But my sense is that this is going to be a defensive game. And for the Eagles to win, a group in search of some answers must find some in Week 3.