Philadelphia Eagles News

Defense Has Challenge Ahead Vs. Denver

It is clear, as each week arrives, that the Eagles' defense has put together a pretty darn good season through 14 games. A lot of sacks. A lot of takeaways. Fine play against the run, and a solid performance where it counts the most: On the scoreboard.

When Denver comes to town on Sunday, the Broncos bring a terrific tandem at wide receiver in Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, a rock 'em, sock 'em twosome at running back in rookie Knowshon Moreno and former Eagle Correll Buckhalter (should his ankle be healthy enough to play), a good receiving threat at tight end (Tony Scheffler) and a quarterback in Kyle Orton who has completed 62.4 percent of his passes for nearly 3,200 yards.

And yet the Broncos have scored a shade under 20 points a game and have lost 6 of their last 8 games following a 6-0 start to the 2009 season?

What gives?

I can tell you that the Eagles are giving the Broncos the utmost respect, largely because of the big-play skills of Marshall and Royal -- who is also an excellent return man -- he has one kickoff return and one punt return for scores this year -- and the historically-proven ability, no matter who is carrying the football, of Denver's ground game.

The Eagles defense, which produced four takeaways in the win over San Francisco, has to do it again on Sunday to keep the winning going here. And they know, to a man, that it won't be easy.

What is this Eagles defense? How ready is the defense for the playoffs, when points are more difficult to score, when the teams that win are usually the ones that get the key stops at the most important moments of the game? Are the Eagles good enough -- with a linebacker group that seems to change every week, with a safety group that is using so many different combinations, with a front four that is paced by Trent Cole and his relentless pursuit of the ball and still hoping for another consistent force to emerge?

Offense is the darling of the water-cooler talk these days, and the Eagles have been piling up the points at a franchise-record pace. This group is a great show to watch, a sprint race on every possession. Through 14 games, it is much easier to define the offense than it is to get a really, really good grip on the defense.

Why? Maybe because McDermott has moved so many pieces around each week. He has been bold in his use of personnel and in his X's and O's and he has created pressure from some unique and out-of-the-box thinking. This is, no question, a high-tempo defense. And at times the defense has played very, very well.

And at times, not so well.

Against a finesse, fast, quick-strike Denver offense that is playing for its post-season life, the Eagles have to make sure they match up well where the Broncos are strong, and where they aren't strong.

The most fascinating player on Denver's offense is Marshall, a one-man wrecking crew who is both fast and physical. He is tall enough to give Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown fits. He is fast enough to get down the field. And Marshall wants the ball, needs the ball and with Denver in a must-win situation, likely to have a lot of passes thrown his way.

Royal is in the DeSean Jackson mold, a second-year player who came right into the league with both guns firing. Royal moves around the formation and is a quick bugger with great hands and tremendous explosiveness.

Up front, Cole has to be big once again, operating against one of the premier left tackles in the game in Ryan Clady. It all starts there for the Eagles. If Cole can create some of his usual havoc, everything else falls into place.

This is just one of those meandering rambles. The Eagles are 10-4 and in a good place. They've won five straight games. This is a very good football team.

But while I have a strong understanding of the offense and what the Eagles are going to do from one week to the next -- can't wait, by the way, to see how the Eagles game plan against the NFL's leader in sacks, Elvis Dumervil -- the feeling isn't quite there for the defense and I'm not sure why. The Eagles have been reasonably consistent. They have a good, young coordinator in McDermott, who has impressed everyone. The defensive coaching staff works as hard as any group in the league. There are certifiable standouts on this side of the ball -- Cole, Samuel, Brown, maybe even tackles Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley -- and great, hungry depth.

I'm asking for everything, and I know it. I want the moon, the stars and the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff picture. First things first, though: Let's see the defense make another stand against Denver and provide another layer of confidence as the Eagles creep one step closer to the post-season action.

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