Maybe it happens on Sunday. Maybe the Raiders get their offensive line troubles fixed and put together a strong showing. Maybe it happens a week later when the Eagles play at Washington. Surely, the November 1 clash against the Giants will give the Eagles what it truly needs to get a feel for the defense: A well-rounded attack to test every aspect of Sean McDermott's group.
Back in Week 2, the Saints had a great second half of offense against the Eagles defense and raised all kinds of alarms. Lost in the hub-bub was a strong performance in the first half by the defense, an encouraging effort against a very powerful offense. Then the Eagles turned the ball over, made some mistakes and put the defense in a hole.
Since then, the Eagles defense really hasn't been challenged, at least to the point where we know what the Eagles can do and what weaknesses it has. Kansas City? The Chiefs had nothing to offer. Tampa Bay? Josh Johnson ran around and made some plays with his legs and his arm, and the Bucs moved the football a little bit. But the Eagles had a lead and the defense played blitzball and, well, did you come out of that game with a good feel for the defense?
We need to know. There are so many questions about the defense that an offense like Oakland is going to have trouble putting up enough challenges to answer. Don't you kind of have an idea of what McDermott is going to order? If the Eagles don't stack the box and blitz the line of scrimmage, I will be shocked.
Certainly, the Eagles respect the young talent the Raiders have. But the Oakland receivers are so raw, and quarterback JaMarcus Russell is still learning the way, and the offensive line has been riddled by injuries and the matchup seems tilted in the Eagles' favor.
Sunday gives us a chance to see how much quicker and effective Jeremiah Trotter will be in his second game. And it is a chance to gauge Macho Harris -- who, I will say, seems to have really worked hard not only at the mental side of things but at building up some bulk very early in his career -- and watch him grow into the job.
The defense has good numbers through four games. Those stats don't mean much when three of the games came against Carolina, Kansas City and Tampa Bay. Those are three of the worst offenses in the league. The Eagles dominated all three. So ...
I'm expecting the defense to be excellent when the meat of the schedule arrives, but there are some areas of concern. Trotter's presence helps inside against the run, if he plays well. The pass rush has been pretty darn good, and Trent Cole is off to a Pro Bowl start. Tackles Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson have been terrific and Darren Howard and Victor Abiamiri, along with the underrated Juqua Parker, have played well through the first quarter of the season.
Soon, though, the schedule has the Giants, the Falcons, the Chargers and the Bears on the other sideline. The Cowboys are there, too, and I'm convinced Dallas remains a dangerous offense despite its early struggles.
First things first, though. The Eagles have business to take care of on Sunday. They can't take the Raiders lightly, and they won't. This is a critical win to have, to build up a three-game winning streak, to keep the pressure on the Giants in the NFC East.
One of the big unknowns out there revolves around this defense. Not McDermott, necessarily, who has demonstrated a good feel for the timing and the rhythm of the game. He is aggressive and daring and smart and the defense is in good hands. But what about the personnel? If the Eagles had Stewart Bradley in the middle, there would be fewer concerns. Omar Gaither has had a couple of fantastic games against Kansas City and Tampa Bay, but can he hold up against the physical NFC East?
Harris is a rookie and should be applauded for his rise, but he is going to make mistakes and the Eagles have to find a way to minimize the learning process.
The D is a work in progress. Each week, they grow together a little bit more. Oakland is next and all the focus is there. Sometime very soon, though, maybe even on Sunday, the defense will get its litmus test and know for sure how good it is going into the stretch run of the season.