We all saw last Sunday what’s possible when the Eagles’ defense plays at a high level in all phases.
Their first shutout in 18 years.
Now the goal becomes a little harder.
Do it all the time.
“Every week we ask ourselves, ‘How can we get more consistent?’” Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. “It was a great game defensively. It all came together. But can we sustain it? Can we repeat it? Can we do it for four quarters?”
Consistency has certainly been elusive for the Eagles’ defense this year.
They held the Jaguars to three points over the final 50 minutes on opening day, then allowed 26 or more points in four straight games for only the fifth time in franchise history (but the second time in two years).
Then came that 27-0 win over the Giants going into the bye, the Eagles’ first shutout since 1996.
“We got a shutout, we set the bar high for ourselves,” linebacker Brandon Graham said. “Now let’s go see if we can do it again. When you start something you’ve got to finish it.
“Our goal is to hold teams to 17 points and under. We do that, we should win the game.”
But the Eagles have held only the Jaguars and Giants to 17 or fewer points this year, and those teams rank 32nd and 22nd in the league in offense.
It was about this time last year that the Eagles’ defense really got rolling. From early October through mid-December, they held nine straight opponents to 21 or fewer points, at one point limiting four of five to 17 or fewer.
Sixteen teams – half the league – have held three or more opponents to 17 or fewer points so far this year. The Colts, Ravens and Cards – who the Eagles face Sunday – have held four teams to 17 or fewer points, and the Lions have held five.
So the shutout was great. But that consistency the Eagles seek remains elusive.
“I think we’re pretty far from being where we want to be,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “As we continue to grow in our understanding of our scheme and our understanding of our roles and how to best execute that, the sky’s the limit.
“When we can have everybody doing their job on every play, on every down, it becomes harder for offenses to beat us, and when we play as a team, you see different guys sacrificing themselves so that other guys can make plays, it makes our defense that much better.
“You’ve got guys taking on two blockers, and that’s keeping our backers clean. You’ve got pass rushers not being selfish and keeping the pocket integrity so you don’t get the quarterback leaking out, and that’s giving us time on the back end. You’ve got guys pressing when they’re supposed to press, and that gives our D-line that extra step they need to get to the quarterback, and it all just plays hand in hand and when you got guys buying into their job and how it fits all together, I think we just continue to get better.
“We’re far from where we see this thing going, but we’re definitely going in the right direction.”
Even with the shutout, the Eagles’ per-game rankings remain 24th in yards allowed, 23rd in rushing yards allowed, 23rd in passing yards allowed and 23rd in first downs allowed.
The Eagles are 5-1 coming out of the bye, with a brutal stretch of games coming up, starting with the Cards at 4:05 p.m. Sunday in Glendale, Ariz.
“We just want to get better each week than we were the week before,” defensive lineman Cedric Thornton said.
“As a defense, we just try to focus on consistency, everybody do their job every play and one play at a time. I feel like we’re getting closer and closer every week. We don’t want to take any steps back.”
If the defense can approach its performance against the Giants, the Eagles are going to win a lot of games over the next 10 weeks.
But if we get the defense that allowed 115 points from Week 2 through Week 5, they’ll be in trouble.
“We’ve had flashes where we’ve played real well just the second half or just the first half or just the first three quarters,” Davis said.
“Finally we put four quarters together of team defense, and as we get better and better, the goal is to be great every week. It’s nice to see we’re capable of that, but we’ve got a lot of growth to do. Now we have to sustain it and build on it.”