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Stronger Starts A Priority For The Defense

At the quarter-pole of the 2010 season, the Eagles defense is still a work in progress. We know the defense has tremendous speed, maybe more so than any defense in the Andy Reid era. We know about the defense's aggressiveness, ability to pressure the quarterback and their opportunistic style of play.

What remains to be seen is whether or not the defense can put a consistent performance together, week in and week out. In Jacksonville, the defense was dominant, only allowing 3 points to a Jaguars offense that looked lost for the better part of 60 minutes. But in all three other games this season, the defense has struggled coming out of the gate.

The Eagles have given up 12.5 points per game in the first half of games this season, as opposed to 7.3 points per game in the second half. While that difference doesn't seem like much in that context, consider this: if the Eagles gave up 12.5 points per half throughout the course of a game (and not just the first), the team would be giving up 25 points per game, which would rank 24th in the league.

If the contrary were true, and the Eagles gave up 7.3 points on average in both the first and second half, they would be allowing 14.6 points per game, which would rank sixth in the league. That's a difference of 18 spots in the NFL rankings for points allowed per game. Does it seem like a bigger difference now? Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott sure thinks so, and he spoke after the game Sunday about the importance of starting faster.

"(Washington) got the ball, I think at our 39-yard line to start the game," McDermott said. "We've got to come out and breathe fire regardless of where they get the ball and we didn't do that. We played on our heels and played passive and then we came out in the second half and played more aggressive, Eagles-style football. We've got to make sure we start fast."

Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley saw the Redskins run for 68 yards in the first half Sunday, when Washington had been averaging only 74.3 yards per game through the first three weeks of the season. Bradley explained that after halftime, the defense adjusted to the Redskins' game plan. Of course, the first-half damage was already done.

"I think we just went back to guys reading their keys," Bradley said. "We had a better idea of the runs they were going to do. We knew they were going to run a lot of play-action, but some of the counters had personnel we weren't expecting.

"That's part of the game. Once we did see everything, we did a better job of stopping it in the second half, but we dug too deep of a hole."

In today's NFL, no pattern goes unnoticed. Coaches spend days preparing for that week's opponent, and watch countless hours of game tape in the process. If you put something on film that can be used against you, your opponent will probably try and use it.

With that said, the Eagles defense has shown the NFL their tendency to start slow, giving opponents all the more reason to come out of the gates firing. Now, as cornerback Ellis Hobbs put it, it's up to the defense to reverse the trend.

"Anything you don't tighten down on that exposes itself early in the season, you're going to continually see," Hobbs said. "You've got to take it upon yourself as an individual, as a player, and then as a defense, to say that this is a weak spot of ours, and we've got to strengthen up."

-- Posted by Josh Goldman, 3:45 p.m., October 5

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