The Eagles reached a new low Sunday. The 226 yards of offense by the Denver Broncos is the lowest total allowed by the Eagles' defense this season.
The Broncos entered Week 9 with the top-ranked defense in the NFL, and a reputation as arguably the best unit in the league. But the only dominant defense that showed up at Lincoln Financial Field was the Eagles' in a lopsided 51-23 victory (see breakdown).
You think they wanted to make a statement?
"They always don't give us the credit, but we have to go out there and keep putting people on notice that the Eagles are new and improved," Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said.
No doubt about it.
“We're obviously a defense that's kind of on the rise when it comes to notoriety and what we're doing," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "We're improving week in and week out, but coming into this game, all we heard about was the Broncos defense, and they're coming to our house.”
The beating was worse than the final score might indicate. It was 44-9 when the Broncos scored their first touchdown with 9:45 remaining in the fourth quarter, while their vaunted defense tacked on seven points with a fumble return for a touchdown against the Eagles' second-string offense.
Outside of garbage time, the Broncos offense managed to get in range for three field goals.
Denver finished with 14 first downs, averaged 3.8 yards per play and committed two turnovers.
“We still have a couple holes that we could fill," Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said. "I think we had one run that got out on us a little bit — maybe like eight, nine yards — a couple pass plays.”
For the record, the Broncos' longest run went for nine yards, and that accounted for a quarter of their production on the ground — 35 yards on 19 carries. The 1.8 average per attempt was another low for the Eagles' defense in 2017.
“We knew they would have to protect their quarterback, and the only way they could do that was trying to run the ball, so we knew we had to come off the bus stopping the run," Jenkins said. "We snuffed that out very early.”
The Eagles were second to only Denver in run defense but will move into No. 1 after this performance. Opponents are gaining just 66.4 yards per game.
“We pretty much have that mentality in our mind where we know you're not going to run the ball," Bradham said. "So you might as well get ready to get one-dimensional, ready to pass the ball — and I hope you're ready for our D-line to come after you.”
A one-dimensional Broncos offense was no threat with Brock Osweiler under center. Making his first start at quarterback this season, Osweiler completed 50 percent of his passes for 5.5 yards per attempt with one touchdown, three sacks and two interceptions.
It was a scenario that's become familiar to the Eagles. Shut down the run. Build a lead. Force the other team to put the ball in the air (see observations).
"When they did have to drop back and pass, we had people in the quarterback's face," Jenkins said. "We have guys on the back end that can make plays. That always plays into our advantage when teams have to play us one-handed, and that's really been the formula all year.
"Stop the run. Make people pass the ball against us. Guys in the back end are making plays on the ball. Our front is getting pressure, getting sacks.
“If we can continue, that formula puts us in a great spot for every game.”
It was another statement by this defense and a once-maligned secondary, juxtaposed with the star-studded "No Fly Zone" in Denver that surrendered four touchdown passes (see report card).
“They talk a lot about their secondary, and they're a good group, but we felt like we've been good up to this date," Eagles safety Rodney McLeod said.
"We've been playing well, we've been getting turnovers, and so we wanted to go out there and show what we're about.”
The Eagles entered the week ranked 27th against the pass, though are likely to improve after the effort Sunday. Still, the secondary's numbers, and really the defense's numbers as a whole, don't lend the appearance of one of the NFL's best units.
“We always felt we were the top defense and we honestly felt we were a little disrespected," Bradham said. "All the talk, everybody saying they had the best defense. Every week we want to show we have the best defense, but this week there was a little bit extra fuel added to the fire.”
Slapping around an Osweiler-led Broncos offense might not change many minds. And as much as the Eagles wanted to send a message to the rest of the league, it doesn't much matter, either.
“We don't really care where people put us or rank us," Eagles defensive end Chris Long said. "We just know that if you have to play us, it's going to be a full 60-minute game and you're going to have to earn it.”
Or put another way, the Eagles have amassed an 8-1 record for the season as they head into the bye week. Every member of this defense to a man will take that over fancy-sounding nickames and national recognition.
“We are out here trying to get these wins," Graham said. "That's all we focus on.”