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Spadaro: 'It's really on us,' says Eagles defense

Josh Sweat
Josh Sweat

To a veteran like defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, the questions he hears every week at his NovaCare Complex are the same. He is inevitably asked about the Eagles' defense and whatever opponent they are playing that week, and Cox has a consistent response.

"It's about us and what we do to execute the defense," Cox says each week. "It's really on us. I believe that. We know what we have in our room, so we have to work together and go out and do our jobs."

That is, in a nutshell, the mantra of the Eagles' defense. They knew coming into the season that they would have some positions to replace given the departure of some key starters from the 2022 team via free agency. There is always a succession plan in place for the team, but in some cases, it just doesn't follow the exact blueprint.

This season has been one of those instances.

In many respects, Executive Vice President/General Manager Howie Roseman has had to buffer the defensive roster on the fly. He brought in linebacker Zach Cunningham with Training Camp in full flight. Nickel cornerback Bradley Roby joined the roster a few weeks into the regular season off the streets. Safety Kevin Byard was acquired in a trade with Tennessee just before the league's trade deadline in October.

All three have played key parts in the team's 9-1 campaign, and others have jumped into the mix in non-traditional ways. Linebacker Nicholas Morrow signed with the Eagles in free agency, but then didn't make the initial 53-man roster and spent the first weekend of the season on the practice squad and at home changing his newborn's diapers. Cornerback Eli Ricks was signed following the 2023 NFL Draft and has ended up playing significant snaps.

Know your role and be a star in it.

"It's the next-man-up thing for us," Morrow said. "I know that for me, the guys have always been helpful and they want me to play well because it's good for the entire team. We put the team first, so that's the mentality around here."

Throughout the season, the defense has been described as a "work in progress," and that doesn't change after Monday night's strong performance against Kansas City. The Eagles shut out the Chiefs in the second half, held them to 32 rushing yards in those final two quarters, had two takeaways in the red zone, and limited superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes to 177 passing yards and a 71.6 passer rating on 43 passing attempts.

"My first two games here, as far as a secondary, we didn't play our best ball. I think coming into this game and the way the game kind of went, I think it's the belief and the resiliency of this team where we say, 'Hey, no matter what type of adversity we're faced with, we're going to fight through it,'" Byard said. "For the defense to get a shutout in the second half, and the offense coming on late there, that's the definition of a team victory."

That's the definition of a team defense, which the Eagles most certainly are. By the middle of the day on Tuesday – prior to that, actually – they had moved past the Monday night win and trained their focus on Buffalo and the Bills' high-powered and balanced offense led by quarterback Josh Allen, wide receiver Stefon Diggs, and running back James Cook.

Another challenge awaits. The Eagles must rise to the moment to get to 10-1 in the all-important chase for the No. 1 seed in the NFC postseason.

And it all comes down to, as Cox says over and over, "what the Eagles do and how we handle our business."

It's as simple as that in the very complicated minefield of the NFL.

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