When we step back and consider what the Eagles accomplished with a defense that was, for all intents and purposes, constructed on the fly in the months after Chip Kelly became head coach, you understand just how remarkable the job coordinator Bill Davis, his defensive staff, and the players, was for that single season.
The defense jelled enough to play, for a long stretch of the season, just about as well as any defense in the league. The points allowed were moderate. The takeaways came at opportune moments. The effort and the commitment -- unquestioned.
Davis and his staff proved to be outstanding communicators and teachers. The future, then, is bright for that side of the football. There are some pieces around which to build -- namely, the young front and some veterans in their primes scattered throughout the defense -- and there is also the understanding that the Eagles need more, more, more to bring the defense to the desired level.
The rallying cry from the fans and the media after Seattle's romp through the 2013 season and in Super Bowl 48, is to emulate what the Seahawks did and bring the Eagles to that level in an instant.
It's not going to be so easy, folks.
Seattle spent years building the defense. The Eagles are still relatively early in the process. Patience, please.
This isn't meant to suggest that the Eagles will stay stagnant on defense. To the contrary, actually. The expectation here is that the defense will be addressed significantly in the months ahead, both in free agency and in the draft and through any means possible. General manager Howie Roseman isn't going to limit his aim to that side of the ball, of course, but he knows the defense needs upgrades.
In fact, the Eagles could take a steady step forward if they can find a way to add punch to the pass rush. Maybe not a haymaker-kind of punch, but more weapons, more options, more threats. If there was one thing lacking on a defense that generally played well against the run, did a solid job of limiting big plays and was solid for the most part in the red zone, it was the inconsistency in the pass rush.
Not until Trent Cole got it going with seven sacks in the second half of the season did the defense reach the level of "playoff caliber" in 2013. Pressure, of course, is not all about quarterback sacks, but they sure do help. Making a quarterback move off of his spot is one thing, and caving in the offensive line and squeezing the pocket is helpful, but nothing makes more of an impact than getting up and into a quarterback's grill, hitting him, and having him look for the pass rush even when it's not there.
So how do the Eagles add to the pass rush? Some of it is going to have to come from the growth of young players like Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, Mychal Kendricks and those returning players who are now ingrained with Davis' scheme. And some will likely come from any additions the Eagles make in the course of building the roster for 2014.
How much of a priority is a premier pass rusher for the Eagles? Is there one who will be available to the Eagles in free agency? What does the 22nd pick in the first round of May's draft mean for the Eagles? What, exactly, would fit the scheme here?
If the Eagles are able to acquire a big-time pass rusher, or two, or three, geez, think of the difference it makes for a defense. A great pass rush makes the cornerbacks better. It makes safeties faster. A great pass rush upends the rhythm of a quarterback. The pass rush, when it is effective, changes everything for a defense.
The Eagles aren't alone in their desire to get more from the pass rush. Every team wants more pass rushers. Every team is in the hunt for a player or two or three to dominate off the edge and change the dynamic of the offensive blocking scheme.
You see it here, with this defense, just how much a game-changing pass rusher would impact the group's performance. At some point in the course of the development of the D, the pass rush has to become more consistent and powerful. Once a defense dominates at the line of scrimmage, the ripple effect is what makes the 11 on that side of the ball special.