Philadelphia Eagles News

Defense Must Lead Way Down The Stretch

The memory of that Sunday night remains a painful one for the Eagles defense, a proud and talented group that New York pushed around to the tune of 219 rushing yards in a 36-31 Giants victory. New York's offensive line dominated, and as Jim Johnson watched the tape of the loss, he marveled at the Giants' group up front.

"That's the best offensive line we have faced this year," said Johnson.

Sunday brings another chance for the Eagles to establish something against the bruising Giants offense. The Eagles, said Johnson after the first meeting, schemed more for the New York passing game than its running game, and while there are no secrets divulged, it's safe to say that the Eagles have their eyes open now about just how good New York runs the football. In subsequent games against the Bengals, Ravens and Cardinals, Philadelphia's run defense was outstanding.

Playing at Giants Stadium is a different kind of a test, and a superb chance for the Eagles defense to seize the moment and lead the charge down the home stretch of this season.

This is going to be no easy task, as we know. Washington stacked the box with eight men and limited the Giants to 108 rushing yards on 35 carries. Without an explosive running game, the Giants relied on quarterback Eli Manning, and all he did was complete 21 of 34 passes for 305 passes and a touchdown. Manning looked great. He spread the ball around and, even without Plaxico Burress, gave his receivers chances to make plays.

The Giants opened with a 7-play, 71-yard drive for a touchdown, followed with a 59-yard drive for a field goal and then a 60-yard drive for a field goal and, just like that, New York led 13-0 and the crowd at FedEx Field was silent.

This is what the Giants do to defenses. They probe for weaknesses. They deal from strength behind that outstanding offensive line. They play with confidence in every phase of their attack, and they know that Manning is as good as any quarterback in the game right now.

What will Johnson design? He is going to have to be aggressive and attack the line of scrimmage. The Eagles can't allow running back Brandon Jacobs to pound away at the interior of the defense. The defense has to play in the Giants' backfield and force Manning to play as well as he did Sunday against Washington on third downs. And on the backside, the coverage has to be excellent. The cornerbacks have to get up in New York's receivers' faces and make plays.

Basically, the defense has to play its best game of the season. And then some.

Johnson's scheme against Arizona was outstanding. The Eagles eliminated any threat of Arizona's running game almost instantly and then teed off on quarterback Kurt Warner, smartly dropping linebackers into coverage early and taking away the middle of the field. The cornerbacks played with great confidence and the Eagles came up with three takeaways on interceptions.

It certainly helped that the Eagles started the game with a touchdown drive and then converted an interception with another touchdown. Playing with a 14-0 lead made so much of a difference. It is something the Eagles haven't had the luxury of owning much this season: A two-score lead early in the game.

The bye weekend is over. It was terrific. The Eagles have some injuries that welcomed the weekend off, and they have some players who had the chance to take a huge exhale to come back fresh for the four-game stretch run. The task ahead is arduous. Nobody is pretending otherwise. Nobody is looking ahead.

It make a playoff push, the Eagles need the defense to step forward and lead the way. It's December in the NFL. Defenses win games. The weather is more and more questionable and the games become uglier by the week.

For most of this season, the Eagles have played well on defense. One of their struggles came against the Giants, when the New York offensive line opened gaping holes and the running backs trampled their way to the big night.

Round 2 is on Sunday. New York is 11-1 and all but secured home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Giants are the best team in the NFL. Coming off an encouraging win over Arizona, the 6-5-1 Eagles are fighting for their post-season lives. To keep breathing, the defense has to be great against the toughest foe of them all.

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