Eagles' Defense Excelling in Every Way Through 2 Games

CHICAGO — They’re also doing some pretty special things on the other side of the football.

Two games into the 2016 season, record-setting Carson Wentz is the big story for the Eagles, but their defense so far has been lights out, limiting the Browns and Bears to an NFL-low 17 points in two games.

The Eagles improved to 2-0 Monday night with a 29-14 win over the Bears at Soldier Field, with one of the Bears' touchdowns coming on a punt return.

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So far, the Eagles have allowed just two offensive touchdowns, haven’t allowed a second-half touchdown, and for just the fourth time in franchise history they haven’t given up a passing touchdown in their first two games.

“Just everybody practicing at a high level and then just carrying it over to the game,” safety Rodney McLeod said. “I think everybody’s held accountable on this defense, which is what you need, and everybody just plays hard, man.

“We do make mistakes, but we make up for it by effort and everybody playing hard all the time and just going out there and doing what we're supposed to do, which is making plays.”

Two games in, the Eagles are:

• 4th in the NFL in yards allowed 
• 5th in passing yards allowed
• 9th in rushing yards allowed
• 5th in sack percentage
• 4th in first downs allowed
• 7th on third down
• 3rd in takeaways
• 5th in the red zone, and
• 1st with just 8½ points allowed per game

Remarkable stuff considering this was the NFL's 30th-ranked defense last year, the Eagles’ last year under Chip Kelly and Bill Davis.

"Guys are just out there playing 100 percent each and every play and knowing they have to do it for 60 minutes," cornerback Jalen Mills said.

"We're just out there putting their full effort out there regardless of any situation. We gave up a couple big plays — for sure the deep pass that was on me — but guys aren't getting worried when something doesn't go our way. We forget about it, just go out for the next play and playing sound technique.

"We're not really focused on any hype, we’re just here to play football."

What’s been most encouraging is that the Eagles in both games have gotten stronger as the game has gone on.

The Browns got a field goal on their first second-half drive — the only points the defense has allowed after halftime.

Neither opposing quarterback the Eagles have faced so far has even survived the second half. This defensive line has been as ferocious as expected pressuring and hitting the quarterback, the linebackers have been sound and productive, and the undermanned back end has held up so far. 

“I think a defense should always get better as the game gets on because you learn what they’re trying to do, you make some adjustments, you start to feel out the guys you’re going against,” Connor Barwin said. “And I feel like we’ve been doing that.”

A far cry from the Kelly Era, when the defense often collapsed late in games after playing 35 to 40 minutes.

The Eagles allowed the sixth-most second-half points in the NFL during Kelly’s three seasons.

“Our motor just keeps running,” McLeod said. “Nobody’s wearing down. Everybody is playing just as hard at the end of the game as they are at the beginning of the game.”

A big part of that is the offense is building double-digit leads, forcing teams to throw. That plays right into the hands of the defensive line, which has been teeing off after halftime.

The Eagles have faced 12 second-half drives and they’ve ended like this: field goal, safety, punt, punt, punt, downs, downs, fumble, punt, interception, fumble, downs.

“Just getting comfortable maybe,” linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “Make them one-dimensional by stopping the run, and our offense does a great job putting points on the board and special teams giving us field position, and by the time it gets later in the game they’ve got to throw the ball because they’re down.

“When we know you’re going to throw, that’s when we’re coming for you.”

The task gets harder Sunday, when the Eagles face the 2-0 Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger at the Linc.

But so far, this defense has been a revelation under new coordinator Jim Schwartz.

“And we can get a lot better,” said Mills, who rebounded from a rough start Monday night to play very well in his first significant NFL playing time.

“I don’t think this defense has a ceiling. As hard as we work? As hard as we practice? We have a mindset that, ‘OK, this is just practice, but we’re attacking it like we have a game each day.’”

Schwartz is the Eagles’ sixth defensive coordinator in the last nine years. The Eagles have really been searching for the right guy since the tragic death of Jim Johnson after the 2008 season.

It’s only two games. But it’s hard not to be excited by where this group is.

“We knew coming into it we were going to be a great defense,” McLeod said. “Obviously we’ve got to keep playing well and keep stacking games together, but our coaching staff does a great job getting us ready throughout the week and when we get out here, we feel really prepared.

“We all knew this was an attacking defense so the fact that all these turnovers and sacks and everything are coming, we’re not surprised. This is what we expected to be.” 

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