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Lawlor: Eagles Defense Becoming A Special Group


When you think of the Bears, you think of great defense. They had the Monsters of the Midway back in the 1960s and then Buddy Ryan built his 46 Defense there in the 1980s and led them to a Super Bowl in 1985. The Eagles have had great defenses under Marion Campbell, Buddy Ryan, Bud Carson and Jim Johnson. When the Eagles and Bears got together on Sunday, it was only appropriate to see some great defense.

Unfortunately for the Bears, it was the Eagles who had the great defense.

Rarely can you say of a 31-3 game that it wasn't really that close, but that was the case on Sunday. Chicago was held to 140 yards of offense. They had negative yards rushing until a fourth quarter scramble by quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The running backs finished the game with -6 yards for the day. That is mind-blowing. Jordan Howard was third in the NFL in rushing going into the game. Rookie Tarik Cohen has been a dynamic playmaker this season. They couldn't do a thing against the Eagles.

Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and the rest of the defensive line dominated the battle up front. They pushed blockers backward. They shot gaps. It seemed like there were Eagles in the backfield on just about every running play. Unless you are Barry Sanders, life is going to be hard when a running back gets the ball and already has a defender bearing down on him.

With no run game to help out, the Bears turned to Trubisky, their talented rookie, to see what he could do with the passing game. Predictably, things did not go well. He was 17 for 33 for 147 yards. He wasn't efficient and he couldn't deliver big plays. He was also picked off twice. That's about the worst combination you can have from a quarterback.

It wasn't Trubisky's fault. He is a talented rookie. The problem is that the Eagles overwhelmed the Bears at the line of scrimmage and Chicago doesn't have good receivers right now. Eagles defensive backs were able to smother them in coverage. More than half of the offensive plays run by the Bears did not gain a single yard. Complete domination.

The Eagles defense has been red hot the last month or so. The last four opponents gained 238 yards or less. The last Eagles team to do that was the great Gang Green defense of 1991. The Eagles didn't allow a touchdown in either of the last two games. Partially aided by the bye week, the defense only gave up one touchdown in the entire month of November, and that came in the fourth quarter of a blowout.

I've seen the Eagles do some amazing things on defense over the years, but this group is proving to be pretty special.

This group has talent. Cox is the best defensive tackle in the league. Graham is incredibly disruptive off the edge. Vinny Curry and Tim Jernigan each lead the team with seven tackles-for-loss. Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks are athletic linebackers that can make plays all over the field. Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson have proven to be an outstanding trio of corners. Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod might be the best safety duo in the league.

This group has depth. Derek Barnett has 4.5 sacks and is in the backfield every single game. Chris Long has been outstanding this year. Beau Allen has done an excellent job as the top backup at defensive tackle. Rasul Douglas, Jaylen Watkins and Corey Graham offer depth and versatility in the secondary.

This group has great coaching. That's true in terms of scheme, player usage and fundamentals. You don't see a lot of confusion or blown assignments. That shows you the players know the scheme and what is required of them. This defense tackles really well. The coaches have worked on that since the spring.

I also think you have to give Schwartz a lot of credit for what he's done with his players. Kendricks is a good blitzer so Schwartz has let him do that. Jenkins is versatile so Schwartz has moved him around creatively. Graham is versatile so you see him moving inside in some pass rush packages.

The coaches are giving everyone a chance to contribute and the players are taking advantage of that.

Great defense is about 11 players playing together, functioning as one. This group has great chemistry. You see tremendous effort by everyone. Cox has more talent than Allen, but both give you the same effort when chasing plays down the field. That's a great sign. I think you can also see just how much these players love playing together. There is a lot of energy and emotion every single week.

It also helps that Carson Wentz and the offense score points. That allows the defense to play with the lead and dictate to offenses. That's what happened on Sunday. Wentz led the offense to a touchdown on the second drive and the team never looked back.

Wentz threw three touchdown passes, giving him 28 for the season. Zach Ertz caught 10 passes for 103 yards and a score. It was good to see him come alive after missing a game and not having much luck against Dallas. Nelson Agholor had a couple of highlight plays. He somersaulted into the end zone for one touchdown and then recovered a fumble on another play for a touchdown. That showed great awareness and effort. That's championship football.

The offensive line dominated the Bears and the Eagles were able to run for 176 yards. That keeps the chains moving and the clock running. Both of those factors help out the defense. The opponent can't do anything if they are on the sideline watching LeGarrette Blount run over people. I think even the Bears were impressed when they saw Blount hurdle a defender. That was fun.

The highlight of the game for me came on a punt return. The Bears had punted and the ball was bouncing. Watkins had been blocking someone and ended up on the ground. Kenjon Barner is the returner and it is his job to warn players if the ball gets near them. He saw the ball getting close to Watkins. Instead of just yelling, Barner ran over and dragged Watkins away from the ball. That was incredibly smart. That's championship football.

Doug Pederson and his staff do have some things to correct from this game. The Eagles fumbled the ball away four times. There were 11 penalties. The Eagles won the game by 28 and looked dominant, but they were too sloppy. You can't play that way against a good team and expect to win. Pederson and his staff will be preaching that message this week.

Wentz and the offense have gotten most of the hype this year, but the defense is starting to look special. They are sixth in yards allowed. They are third in points allowed. They remain number one against the run. They say defense wins championships. We might just find out.

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