Last Sunday, Chip Kelly and the Eagles stood outside in the blizzard-like conditions at Lincoln Financial Field as they dealt with both the elements and the Detroit Lions. As for defensive coordinator Bill Davis, he was up in the coaches' box, safe and sound.
"It was a little warm," Davis joked at the start of his Tuesday press conference. "It was toasty up there."
All jokes aside, Davis and his coaching staff actually did have to brave the elements from high above the playing field. Though they were able to stay out of the snow, it was just about impossible to see any of the action at field-level.
"You really couldn't see the jersey numbers," Davis said. "The personnel groupings were a little bit challenging, to see who was running on or off the field, because you couldn't see jersey numbers. They weren't doing a lot of different personnel groupings, but you could not see up there."
With the defensive coaches at a disadvantage, the Eagles players relied heavily on the fundamentals that they have been learning all season long, something that greatly impressed Davis in the Eagles 34-20 victory over Detroit.
"One of things that we were most proud of as a staff was the fact that our players didn't focus on the conditions, they kind of went back to their training," Davis explained. "Our defensive line did a great job using technique with their feet underneath them, with their cleats in the ground, and the linebackers did also. Everybody went back to the fundamentals and said 'Okay, we know the footing isn't great, let's see if we can make the most out of it.' The linebackers really used good footwork and the defensive backs were playing out of their pedal. Everybody kind of fell back to the technique and their training when the weather went like that. It helped us stop the big plays."
The Eagles have now gone nine straight games without allowing the opposing team to score more than 21 points, going 7-2 since Week 4. The streak started a week after the team's 52-20 loss to Denver. A few days later, Davis asked people to trust him that the defense was coming along. It now appears that he was right.
"We are nowhere near where we want to be yet as a defense, but all we were talking about was that the techniques that we were talking about on a play-in and play-out basis- the footwork, the alignment, the hand-placement, are they improving each week?" Davis said. "Now the results come out differently every game- it's such a collective team game- but as the defensive coaches, we're looking at what we're teaching and what we're coaching, and is it growing? Is it getting better? What we saw in that Denver game is that it was, but we weren't playing the overall defense that we wanted to play at that point, but there were enough little things that were moving forward that we were encouraged by."
"Each week it's grown a little bit. It hasn't grown a lot in any one week. It's just grown a little bit, and we're just staying the course as a defensive staff with what we're asking them to do, the way we're asking them to practice the techniques in the individual period, from how we meet, when we meet and how long we meet, the little things that we demand of them and work at is really what's showing up on Sunday game tape. We're just staying the course and we're getting a little bit better at a time, but we're nowhere close to where we want to be or need to be."
Davis' defense deserves a lot of credit for the team's recent five-game winning streak. For a group that went through wholesale changes in both personnel and scheme this past offseason, the progress from day one until now is undeniable. Even with that said, there are still things that Davis believes need to be improved, and Sunday's game against Minnesota will present another opportunity to get better.
"I think our third down has to improve, and I know the red zone is solid right now, but it can be better," Davis said. "I'm disappointed that we gave up the touchdown after the turnover the other night. There are so many things that we can communicate better on, that we can be better in our fundamentals- there's just so much growth out there. Our run defense is getting better and better every week. Keeping the deep balls and extra yardage plays off of us is getting better and better as we go, but we're nowhere near the top of the NFL with a lot of those statistics, so you can always grow.
"The points allowed is the number one thing that we're focused on, and we'll continue to drive that down lower and lower, and the next three weeks we've got some of the top offenses in the NFL in terms of scoring coming our way. We have a heck of a challenge with the Minnesota Vikings and that scoring offense."
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