Once More, Eagles' Defense Looks Like Biggest Strength

Carson Wentz and the Eagles' offense gave up the football. And the defense got it right back. 

That was the theme of Thursday night. 

For as much as the Eagles' first-team offense struggled in the 20-16 preseason win over the Bills at the Linc, the Eagles' first-team defense was impenetrable. 

"I think, obviously, it's still early and it's hard to say," middle linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "But I think we're definitely further along than we were last year as a benchmark. Just the fact that it's Year 2 in this defense. We're learning the little things and figuring out how to do this thing well and play together and really be able to make plays in the scheme."

The Eagles' first-team defense didn't give up any points Thursday night and forced turnovers on two of the Bills' first four drives (see 10 observations). Mychal Kendricks had his second interception this preseason and Ronald Darby picked off his first pass with his new team. 

Even when the first-team defense came out, Jim Schwartz's second unit didn't let up either. By the time Bills starter Tyrod Taylor left the game late in the second quarter, the Bills had just 86 yards on 29 plays and had put just three points on the board. 

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"It definitely wasn't the performance that I would like to put on," Taylor said. "It was a performance for the offense, as a team, that we didn't want to put on."

The Eagles deserve plenty of credit for the Bills' struggles Thursday night. Perhaps no one more than Fletcher Cox and his fellow defensive linemen. While they didn't put up big numbers on the stat sheet, the front four had another good game. 

It's still early in this whole process, but head coach Doug Pederson believes the defensive line can be the strength of the defense in 2017. 

"I do," Pederson said. "I think you saw it tonight all the way to the end of the game. The rush is there and pushing the pocket. I'm just, again, just with the rotation that we're doing, keeping those guys fresh, and keeping eight guys rolling in there like we do with that first unit, I think it's going to be the strength of the defense and obviously, that's part of [Schwartz's] scheme. Get pressure with four, and then obviously guard with seven."

While Schwartz's defense is largely predicated on getting pressure with his front four, the DC did dial up some effective blitzes Thursday night (see Instant Replay)

Early in the game, he sent safety Rodney McLeod, who was able to get a hand on the football and tip it to Kendricks, who pulled in the interception. A little while later, Kendricks blitzed and picked up a sack. 

At times last season Schwartz did blitz. But he did it sparingly and mostly used zone blitzes. 

"I mean, I think it's one of those things that, with today especially, it will really be the flow of zone coverage and timing blitzes, and I think effective blitzing is probably the way we want to do it," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "We don't want to get blitz happy. The timing of them is very important and I thought [Schwartz] did a good job with that today. So I think we'll find our flow as to what we do best, but I think we want to get after quarterbacks when we can."

Speaking of getting after quarterbacks, rookie Derek Barnett picked up his third sack in two preseason games (see Grading the Win). He was an extremely productive player at Tennessee and is looking like he'll be pretty productive in the NFL, too. It might be hard to keep him off the field as a rookie. 

The Eagles are notably deeper on defense this season. Hicks gave credit to the front office for bringing in the talent. 

"It's going to be fun," Hicks said when asked if he's looking forward to seeing what the defense looks like on opening day. "We've got a lot of confidence in where we're at and the guys we have, so we're definitely building this thing." 

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