I'm in my office at the NovaCare Complex and Mike Quick stops by and sits down, and our conversation quickly turns to Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis. Quick is impressed. And he's got an analogy for the situation.
"He's like a boxer. You know how a boxer feels out his opponent for a few rounds, develops his strategy and then closes him down? That's Bill Davis," says Quick. "It's impressive to watch. The difference in this defense from last year, and the year before that, is kind of unbelievable."
While the Eagles' offense gets most of the national attention - and it's understandable and deserved, given that the Eagles rank first in the league in scoring and in yards gained per game - the defense has been the difference in a 2-0 start.
Davis' group kept the team in the game in Week 1 until the offense came alive, and while the 17-first-half points were too many, it could have been a whole lot worse. And then the defense pitched a shutout in the final two quarters and even chipped in with a quarterback sack, forced fumble and recovery for a touchdown to provide the final points in the 34-17 victory.
On Monday night against a Colts offense that is going to score a lot of points, the Eagles defense clamped down on quarterback Andrew Luck, limiting him to 172 passing yards and 5.1 yards per passing attempt, and had three clutch moments to lead the comeback victory. A forced fumble by Fletcher Cox and a fumble recovery by DeMeco Ryans led to a touchdown, a Malcolm Jenkins interception led to another and a three-and-out series stop against Luck late in the fourth quarter put the offense in position to win the game on Cody Parkey's field goal.
All of this is extremely encouraging, especially so when you consider this defense as a whole. The pieces still aren't entirely here for a team that plays a combination of 3-4 and 4-3 in its front seven. Depth is a question mark at linebacker, especially now with Mychal Kendricks a concern with a calf injury. The cornerbacks aren't of the "shut down" variety. The play at safety is much better with the addition of Jenkins, but hardly show stopping. The pass rush is not yet at the level to intimidate offenses and force them to make blocking adjustments.
The whole of this defense is much better than the individual parts, and that's a credit to Davis and his scheme and the way he teaches his players. Here are a couple of examples of why Davis is the best defensive coordinator this team has had since Jim Johnson and why he's someday going to be a strong candidate to be a head coach in the NFL.
Fletcher Cox is playing dominating football in his third NFL season. Cox showed glimpses of his ability as a rookie in a 4-3 front, and last year he had some moments as he transitioned to the 3-4. But he's been a man's man in the opening two weeks, and that's a direct compliment to Davis and defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro. They've pushed the right buttons on Cox, and they've improved his technique and now he's being talked about as a rising star, rather than as a "player on the spot" three seasons after the Eagles drafted him in the first round.
Who would have ever thought that Trent Cole would do what he's done as an outside linebacker after playing for eight seasons lined up with his hand on the ground as a defensive end? How many stories did we read that suggested that Cole was on the verge of being "washed up" in his new position? The skepticism was fair. Cole has become a vital part of this defense, at times standing up over the "open" (opposite side of where the tight end is aligned) end of the offensive formation and also digging in as a defensive end to rush the quarterback.
Those are just two examples of the work Davis has done. A third: Safety Nate Allen, who was as criticized as any Eagle by the fans just a couple of years ago. Now, with Davis playing to his strengths, Allen is doing a very solid job at safety.
Sunday the Eagles host Washington, and if Game 3 follows the early-season pattern, Davis' defense will give up some plays here and there early, and then figure out the Washington attack and make adjustments and clamp down in the second half. It's a winning formula for a defensive coordinator who deserves more attention for the 2-0 success the Eagles are having.