Lost in the abysmal performance from the Eagles' offense in their 17-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys was the underrated play of Philadelphia's defense. Prior to Sunday, the Cowboys were averaging 30.5 points per game, third best in the NFL. The Eagles were able to hold that impressive unit to a mere 17 points.
Chip praised the defensive unit after the game.
I thought our defense did an outstanding job all day.
I think we're really excited how our defense is playing. I just think overall through the course of the game, I thought they played with great effort. I thought they did a really good job against an explosive passing operation. Dez Bryant was out there and Jason Witten, Tony Romo is one of the top quarterbacks in this league. So I think our defense gave us some optimism at that point in time.
The numbers back up the story. Take a look at how the defense has stepped up in the last three games after a rough start to the season:
|Difference||- 15.3||- 83.1||- 31.3||- 48.1||+ 1|
Some will point to the fact that the Eagles' recent defensive success is due to them playing weaker offenses. There is some truth to this statement. The Giants and Buccaneers are among the bottom of the league in offensive rankings. Playing those kind of teams will surely boost the defensive numbers. The same can't be said about the Cowboys' offense. Their unit is legitimately good.
|Team||PPG (rank)||YPG (rank)||DVOA||DAVE|
|Washington||25.3 (10)||415.8 (4)||14||11|
|Chargers||24 (14)||402.9 (5)||4||3|
|Chiefs||24.1 (12)||330.7 (19)||18||19|
|Broncos||42.6 (1)||469.3 (1)||1||1|
|Giants||18 (27)||328.1 (22)||28||27|
|Buccaneers||14.5 (31)||297.8 (31)||29||30|
|Cowboys||28.6 (3)||352.4 (13)||8||14|
As you can see, the Eagles' defense played poorly to start the season but it wasn't helped by the fact they faced some of the league's best offenses.
Reasons for improvement, aside from facing weaker offensive opponents, are numerous. Bill Davis has seemed to settle in a little after a rough start. He drew up some nice blitzes against Dallas and kept Romo on his toes. Personnel changes, such as playing Vinny Curry more often, have helped as well. Other players are looking more comfortable in the defense. Nate Allen is playing decent after a tough start, and Fletcher Cox has been coming on strong at defensive end.
Davis said on Tuesday he feels more comfortable knowing the strengths and weaknesses of his players. He also said the players are getting more comfortable with the plays and concepts called. Davis also singled out ILB veteran DeMeco Ryans as a "calming presence" and the quarterback of the Eagles' defense. Ryans highlighted Philadelphia's strong defensive effort against the Cowboys with a sack and a timely interception.
There is still a lot of work to be done. While the improvement is real, the defense still has a long way to go before they are playing really well. Time and time again, I have described the Eagles' defense as a work in progress and that notion still holds true. The shift from the wide 9 4-3 to the 2 gap 3-4 wasn't going to take place without a tough transition. Plus, the team still lacks ideal talent in many areas. Upgrades could be made at nearly every position aside from defensive end. The defense still has a long way to go, but slowly and steadily they have been improving. It will be interesting to see if they can keep up the effort.