Eagles stingy when it matters

The Green Bay Packers' defense put on a clinic in bending but not breaking Monday night. The Philadelphia Eagles' defense has been putting on that clinic all season.

Statistically speaking, Philadelphia's defense is nothing special and can hardly be considered a Super Bowl-caliber unit.

The Eagles rank 15th in the 32-team NFL by yielding 326.4 yards per game. Against the run, they rank 20th by allowing 120.7 yards per game and 24th with 4.5 yards allowed per rush. That first number looks even worse when you consider most opponents have to scrap their running games to play catch-up in the second half. The Eagles rank 15th against the pass by giving up 205.6 yards per game.

The only statistic that really matters, however, is points allowed. And that's where the Eagles excel, giving up a league-best 14.9 per game.

"We had some guys hurt early in the year and we haven't had everybody on the field. I think we're improving. We're getting there," said mastermind defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.

The secret to the Eagles' success is Johnson's mad-scientist blitz schemes. The Eagles trail only Pittsburgh in sacks with 34. The team's key free-agent signing, lightning-fast defensive end Jevon Kearse, leads the way with 7.5 sacks.

"Kearse is such an explosive player," said Eagles coach Andy Reid. "He makes plays all over the field. Last week he had a blocked punt. He's a very versatile guy."

But in typical Philadelphia fashion, practically everyone is contributing. Backup defensive tackle Sam Rayburn has 5.5 sacks. Star safety Brian Dawkins has three. Derrick Burgess has 2.5. Cornerback Sheldon Brown has two. Hugh Douglas, who had four seasons of at least 9.5 sacks while with Philadelphia, was allowed to sign with Jacksonville in 2003. Douglas was a bust there and was cut before the start of this season. He has returned to Philly and recorded two sacks.

With all of that pass-rushing chaos, the Eagles have forced 22 turnovers, good for eighth in the league. Those turnovers and sacks — along with the league's best red-zone defense — go a long way toward explaining how all those yards are being turned into so few points.

Since being beaten up by Pittsburgh 27-3 in the Eagles' only loss of the season, Philadelphia's defense has played with a vengeance. Philadelphia has allowed only 12 points in the last nine quarters, including no touchdowns in that span.

"We rode the offense's backs the first half of the year until we got our act together," reserve linebacker Ike Reese said.

If it has one, Philadelphia's run defense would seem to be the Achilles' heel for Green Bay to exploit Sunday afternoon. The Eagles allowed 252 yards to Jerome Bettis and Co. in the Steelers game but only 94.3 yards per game since. A big reason has been the move of the heavy-hitting Jeremiah Trotter — who like Douglas was allowed to go in free agency but brought back this year — from outside to middle linebacker and into the starting lineup.

However, the Eagles' three opponents in that span — Dallas, Washington and the Giants — do not have running attacks anywhere close to as good as Green Bay's. As long as the Packers can stay in the ballgame, Philadelphia's run defense will be put to the test for 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia's pass defense will be tested by the Packers, as well. Philadelphia relies on its pass rush to help 5-foot-10 cornerbacks Brown and Lito Sheppard, who are first-year starters after longtime standouts Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent were allowed to leave in free agency during the off-season. The Packers, however, lead the league with only five sacks allowed.

"They have a history of playing great defense," said Packers coach Mike Sherman. "Not only do they have great players, but they have a great scheme and they play with a lot of confidence. The faces have changed, but schematically, it's still the same Philly defense."


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