For the third time in four games, the Eagles defense has been asked to step in and preserve a narrow lead. And for the third time in four games, the defense has done just that. With Sunday night's 19-17 victory over the New York Giants, the Eagles defenders are hoping to change perceptions about their group.
"We want to be the identity of this team," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said after the game Sunday. "We want teams to know that when they come in here they're facing some tough people. We want them to know that. Regardless of if they get a little bit here or there, we're going to keep fighting. We're not backing down from anything."
So far, Jenkins has been a man of his word. The Eagles rank seventh in total defense and eighth against the pass. But what really makes them stand out is their ability to shut teams down when it matters most. Sunday night marked the first time this season an opposing team has found the end zone in the second half against the Eagles.
Playing like that takes more than familiarity and cohesion – it takes pride.
"It shows a lot of character, for us as a team and especially the defense," safety Nate Allen said. "We know when the game is on the line and we have to go back out there for two minutes, it's in our hands and we have to make the play. Again, fortunately, we were able to make the play."
The strength of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo's defense has been the linemen. The Giants were keenly aware of this, and kept extra blockers in to negate the Eagles' pass rush. So while the defense did not register a sack Sunday night, they were effective, even if that success can't be measured in numbers.
Because of the overall talent on the Eagles defense, the Giants were forced to, as defensive end Jason Babin put it, "pick (their) poison." Leaving extra blockers in took away potential weapons for quarterback Eli Manning, which created opportunities for the secondary.
So when the clock was winding down at the end of the game and the Giants were driving down the field, the Eagles defense needed to lock down the game by any means necessary.
"It was intense that last drive," said rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin. "We knew it was going to kind of come down to us making plays in the secondary. So for us to be able to hold our own and make a couple of big plays, it definitely contributed to us winning."
Statistically Manning had his worst outing of the season, completing a season-low 57.1 percent of his passes. His 86.3 percent passer rating was also his lowest of the year. And most importantly, the Eagles are now 3-1 and sitting atop the NFC East.
Making crucial stops and decisive plays has quickly become the calling card of this Eagles defense. And if they have their way, that won't stop any time soon.
"It's a will to win," said linebacker DeMeco Ryans. "That's one thing about it. No one ever gets too down. Everybody continues to fight to the end. We're always in it. Everybody's looking to make that play to put us over the top and win the game, so that's one great quality that this team has."
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