After a shaky start to the 2013 season, the Eagles defense has made quite the turnaround. While allowing 29.25 points per game during the Eagles' 1-3 start, Bill Davis' unit experienced its fair share of growing pains. In the last eight games, however, the Eagles are the only team in the NFL to have not allowed more than 21 points in a game. Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Davis cited the unit's chemistry, both on and off the field, as one of the biggest reasons for their recent success.
"Chemistry is a very tough thing to build, and you never know when you're going to have it and when you don't," said Davis. "You put a bunch of different players together, and you're always hoping that the chemistry is a good one, and we're very fortunate right now that we've got great chemistry going on defensively. They guys work hard, they enjoy practicing with each other, they enjoy working out with each other, and they enjoy each other's success on game day.
"There is no I or me in this group, it's just that everybody is playing to be successful as a defense, not individually. It's fun to be around. These guys have great chemistry right now. You can't coach chemistry. It happens or it doesn't happen, and we're very fortunate that it's happening."
That developing sense of comfort has definitely served the defense well, but that side of the ball has also gotten a big boost from their front four as of late, especially the last time out against Arizona. Playing against a talented group of Detroit Lions receivers this week, the Eagles will once again need to generate a strong pass rush from their front four.
"The three- and four-man rush did do a nice job this week," said Davis. "We've had some of that in spurts in the past, but I'd say that it's a true statement that last week our three and four-man pressure got a little bit more than it had.
"The math alone – when you send more than four, you are weakening your coverage. When you drop more than you usually drop and you only rush three, well now all of a sudden you're weakening your rush. You're always moving the numbers around. I'd love a three-man rush to be honest with you. If the three-man rush can get there, that's the perfect world … You'd rather not have to have the extra rushers. You'd rather have your coverage plus get your pressure."
According to Davis, the improvement of the four-man rush speaks volume to the depth of the defensive line.
"I think that the guys keep getting better and better as the weeks go on," Davis said. "(Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro and (assistant defensive line coach) Erik (Chinander) do a great job with working that and the guys are fresh. They're rolling them in so that everybody gets the different one-on-ones. I think the stunts are being executed at a higher level right now, because the guys have been with each other and doing it full speed for a while, and they're healthy, so guys are lining up next to the same guys, and that helps continuity."
The next big hurdle for Davis and company is figuring out how to be more consistent on third-and-long situations, which has been a challenge all season long. While Davis has seen his defense get better in most areas, he wants to see his players be more affective at getting off of the field.
"It's upsetting to be honest with you," Davis said. "That's advantage defense, and we should be making those plays. The third and fours or threes and fives are where they should be getting them, but the third-and-long (plays) are plays where we have the advantage and we need to hold onto it and get ourselves off of the field.
"I've gone back and forth from max-dropping like I did on that particular play and trying to mix it up to where we are keeping them off-balance, but right now the execution of those third-and-longs has got to increase, because third down really is a turnover down. It's when we turn the ball back over to our offense and let them do their thing. Just like we emphasize the turnovers, our third-and-long has got to get better."
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