Jury still out on Eagles' defense

YOU WANT this defense to be real.

Why?

Because coordinator Billy Davis is a good guy and his resources have been significantly less than Chip Kelly's on offense since the pair landed here two seasons ago. Because defensive leader Malcolm Jenkins is a superb young man and a fine safety.

Because, in defensive end Fletcher Cox, nose tackle Bennie Logan and middle linebacker Mychal Kendricks, you have a young and unholy trinity of personality, perseverance and pain, precious pain.

Poll

Is it too early to start thinking Super Bowl for the Eagles?

Because Philadelphia likes its Eagles defensive. It suits the city's psyche.

Mainly, though, because teams seldom win big without good defenses.

The key numbers tend to be points and rushing yards surrendered. The former, because only points matter. The latter, because top rushing teams tend to be protecting leads, not coming back, whereas top passing teams often get lots of cheap yards late.

Seattle, San Francisco, Baltimore and New England all fielded at least decent defenses in their most recent Super Bowl trips; some above average; some, spectacular, like the Seahawks' historic assemblages.

You might best remember Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Joe Flacco and the litigious Tom Brady. But without stout defenses, none of them gets a shot at a ring.

Which is why the defense needs to be real.

Is it?

Did linebacker Kiko Alonso, cornerbacks Byron Maxwell, Nolan Carroll and Eric Rowe and corner-turned-safety Walter Thurmond provide upgrades over Casey Matthews, Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin and Nate Allen?

The last two weeks, against the Ravens and in Green Bay, the defense played with such unfamiliar speed and confident zest that it seems like it . . . but you just can't say.

You hoped that question would be answered by now.

Despite a promising showing against the Ravens and early dominance in Green Bay on Saturday, you just don't know.

In the first game, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck went 5-for-6. Receiver T.Y. Hilton didn't even make the trip for the first preseason game. Not exactly a barometer.

In the second game, Carroll and Thurmond combined to make a great play on a Flacco pass for an interception. However, Flacco seemed strangely disengaged both in the teams' joint practices and in the preseason game. His second interception was just an overthrow.

And, then, Saturday night.

Aaron Rodgers did not play. Three Packers offensive linemen missed the game. Jordy Nelson is lost for the season and fellow Pro Bowl receiver Randall Cobb left, hurt, in the first quarter.

The fourth game, Thursday at the Jets, will afford little more than a chance for the delicate Alonso to finally absorb some contact.

So, no; there's no way to tell if the defense is better.

This matters in Philadelphia now because, for the first time in at least 5 years (depending on your belief in Donovan McNabb as the years passed), the team has a chance to make noise.

It has a good offensive line, a fine assemblage of skilled players and Sam Bradford, a gilded if fragile quarterback.

Good luck, St. Louis, but Nick Foles will not lead a team to a Super Bowl. He one day might go along for the ride, but he won't be at the front of the pack. It almost happened to Mark Sanchez that way, twice. At least Foles and Sanchez won't ensure his team never makes it to a Super Bowl, like Michael Vick.

Vick, Foles and Sanchez made good defense superfluous.

Bradford makes it imperative. Now.

The Eagles figure to get two more good seasons out of left tackle Jason Peters, who will be 35 entering 2017, when he is scheduled to make nearly $10 million with a paltry cap hit of $2 million if he and the Eagles cut ties. They can part with DeMarco Murray after 2017 with relatively little cap pain.

Peters and Murray were preemptive, big-money moves made to help the team win today.

If Bradford plays to his talent level and avoids injury, the team is a viable contender . . . as long as it can keep teams from scoring in bunches.

That's a big if.

The Eagles last season ranked 31st against the pass, 15th against the run and 22nd in scoring - and gave up 72 pass plays of at least 20 yards, by far worst in the NFL. They reconstructed their defensive backfield and bolstered their inside-linebacker depth.

The result?

To be determined.


Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL