Defensive Turnaround at Heart of Eagles' Late-season Surge

LANDOVER, Md. – All of a sudden, a defense that was struggling has become a strength of this football team.

The Eagles finished the regular season with a record-setting defensive performance against the Redskins in a game they had to win.

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Yeah, it was the Redskins. Yeah, it was Josh Johnson.  

Still … "Any time you get a shutout, that's a big deal in this league," Malcolm Jenkins said.

He's right.

Let's take a look at how thorough the Eagles' domination of the Redskins was in their 24-0 win at FedEx Field Sunday:

The Eagles:

• Held the Redskins to 89 total yards of offense, their fewest in a game since 1961 and their fewest at home since 1956.

• Limited future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson - who had a 90-yard TD against them earlier this year - to a career-low zero rushing yards on four carries.

• Held the Skins to 0-for-9 on third down and only allowed three plays longer than nine yards.

• Recorded their first shutout of the Redskins since 1980 and only their second since 1950. 

• Didn't allow the Redskins across midfield until the fourth quarter.

Nick Foles has certainly revived the Eagles' offense since replacing Carson Wentz, but the turnaround the defense has made has been just as dramatic.

I think we found the cadence and found our rhythm," Jenkins said. "This is what we expected. We are where we are expected to be, where we set out (for). The journey hasn't been how we drew it up, per se, but this is where we expected to be. I don't think anyone is surprised by the results. We have really just put our heads down and went to work the past month and gotten the results that we want.

Coming out of New Orleans six weeks ago, the Eagles were 20th in the NFL in points allowed.

They finished 12th.

A lot went into this turnaround.

The Eagles began tackling much better and playing the run much better. Michael Bennett really emerged as a force rushing the passer after a slow start. Rasul Douglas made huge strides and solidified one of the corner spots. Rookie Avonte Maddox emerged as a force in the secondary. Turnovers began piling up (nine in the last six games after seven in the first 10 games).

I think we found it, man," linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill said. "We really found our identity this year and not relying on last year. We found the chemistry, we found the trust in each other, we found the drive. It was always there, but we just had to find it. And once it started clicking it's hard to stop. I said early in the year once we start clicking on all cylinders it's going to be hard to stop us.

Jenkins, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are the only defenders that started all 16 games, and Cox and Jenkins in particular have been remarkably consistent and productive with all kinds of chaos swirling around them.

They are true leaders and true stars. 

The glue that held the defense together through injuries, losing streaks and that ugly 48-7 loss in New Orleans.

"It was just everybody learning to trust each other," Graham said. "Just one of those things where everything's just coming together at the right time, and we're enjoying this wave right now."

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was forced to use 35 different players on defense, including 25 starters and 10 different cornerbacks alone.

While the calls for Schwartz to be fired grew louder and louder, Schwartz was working to get the thing turned around.

"We know who we are and who we got in this locker room," Jenkins said. "We know that regardless of who's out there, we had an opportunity.

"It was just about figuring out from a coaching standpoint, about the schemes – how to put players in the right position, young players getting a little bit more experience, older players and playmakers making plays for the team, kind of lifting us up and bringing that energy and getting back to having fun. 

"And we've seen that, especially late in the year and kind of having that last push. And fate takes care of the rest."

It's all about playing your best when the games matter the most, and there's no question the Eagles' defense goes into Chicago doing exactly that.

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