Now the scheme has some definition, although knowing Bill Davis and the way he thinks, tweaks are on the way. The Eagles want to do much, much more on defense than they did in 2013, and to that end they added some secondary help in free agency with safety
To take the next step defensively, the Eagles need to get to the quarterback more consistently. Davis and the coaching staff did a wonderful job scheming last year and the players were responsive in their learning and they gave tremendous effort, enough to help the team win seven of its last eight games in the regular season to win the NFC East. Four times the defense was on the field to clinch wins -- against Washington, Arizona and Dallas and then in the playoffs against New Orleans -- and only in that final game did the defense falter.
It's that game, though, that gave the players a bitter taste that lasted well into the offseason.
"You don't want to end your season that way," said linebacker
What does the defense need to do to make it to the next level? The postseason game against the high-powered Saints offense was revealing. Davis' defense did some outstanding things in the game. Quarterback Drew Brees threw two interceptions and just one touchdown. The Eagles limited New Orleans to 6 points in the first half. All good.
But as the Eagles limited Brees, they gave up big yards on the ground, 185 in all. The pass rush produced two sacks -- both in the Saints' field-goal drive to end the first half -- for only a single yard lost.
The scheme was great -- star tight end Jimmy Graham caught just 3 passes and pass-catching threat
What did the numbers from 2013 say? Here is a brief look ...
- The Eagles were 20th in the NFL with 37 quarterback sacks
- They tied for 19th in the league with 14 sacks on third down
- With 10 sacks in the fourth quarter, the Eagles ranked tied for 21st in the NFL
- 3 sacks in the red zone tied for fourth in the NFL
- In the 10 Eagles wins, the Eagles registered 24 sacks. In the six losses, they had 13 sacks
- According to FootballOutsiders.com, the Eagles ranked 17th in the NFL with an adjusted sack rate of 6.8 percent
A season's page is turned, and now the Eagles await 2014 with grand expectations. The defense, young up front and seasoned in the back end, has a solid foundation, which is a far different place from 12 months ago.
Now, from this perspective, the defense is a more consistent pass rush away from taking steps forward. How do the Eagles generate the downhill buzz? Cole recorded 7 of his 8 quarterback sacks in three games late in the year -- 2 against Washington on November 17, 2 against Arizona on December 1 and 3 in the big win against Chicago on December 22. Graham showed some burst off the edge late in the year as the stand-up position become more comfortable. Barwin rushed the passer well when he was asked to do so.
The Eagles want to take a look at some of the young talents on the roster, including
The draft? We shall see. There seems to be a wide range of opinions among the draft "experts" out there on the quality of the crop of prospects, so at this point there doesn't appear to be an immediate-impact fix whom the Eagles could draft at 22 in the first round, or in the rounds thereafter.
The solution is to improve what the team has now and to add some punch in some way, shape or form. The defense is going to improve over last year with more scheme understanding and the natural improvement of player who now get what Davis wants. Jenkins and Carroll are going to help, too.
Is it enough? Defense still wins in the playoffs in the NFL. Rushing the quarterback with more frequency and getting home can make a huge difference with a defense that has a strong foundation in place.