Even in defeat, Davis' defense makes strides
If Sunday's loss to the Chargers fell upon the shoulders of Bill Davis and the Eagles defense, Thursday's 26-16 defeat to Andy Reid and the Chiefs was on Chip Kelly's offense.
Davis' unit allowed 10 late points, but for more than three quarters, the defensive coordinator's scheme kept bailing out Michael Vick and Kelly's error-prone offense. The Eagles special teams got in on the fumbling act, as well, and contributed one of five turnovers for the night.
The Eagles defense held time after time, holding the Chiefs to six points off turnovers. The only time a turnover netted a touchdown was when Vick threw a pick-six to safety Eric Berry in the first quarter.
Kelly prizes points off turnovers, and his defense managed to keep the Eagles in the game. But the Eagles didn't get any takeaways of their own after they caused five in the first two games.
It was Davis' scheme that was most impressive, along with the fact that he was able to correct much of what went wrong against San Diego. He has more than just blitzes in his bag of tricks. And Davis confounded Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith by often rushing only four and dropping seven and sometimes even eight into a variety of zones.
The best defensive coordinators can tailor their schemes to take away the strengths of opposing offenses, and then, if necessary, adapt throughout the game if Plan A isn't working.
Davis never needed to go to Plan B. He tinkered with his scheme throughout, but stayed true to the original purpose - dial back the A-gap blitzes that weakened the Eagles coverage underneath and drop the safeties to form an umbrella over top.
There was still blitzing, especially with freelancing cornerback Brandon Boykin off the edge. But Davis challenged his defensive linemen to generate and pass-rush on their own, and they delivered.
Defensive end Fletcher Cox was ferocious, and his counterpart, Cedric Thornton, was just as menacing. A week after they ran into a Chargers offensive line that formed a cocoon around quarterback Phillip Rivers, Cox and Thornton hounded Smith.
Vinny Curry, unleashed from the inactive list, supplemented the pass rush. The second-year defensive end isn't ideally suited to a two-gap, 3-4 front. But he can get after the passer, and how many of those guys do the Eagles have?
So Curry played on various nickel downs and penetrated into gaps. He pressured Smith into an errant throw early, forced a sack in the third quarter, and drew a holding penalty two plays later. It made you wonder why the Eagles didn't dress him for two weeks, but better late than never.
When the defense finally allowed a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, the Eagles were in their base for much of the drive and the Chiefs scored in eight plays. Isaac Sopoaga was left on the field, and the veteran nose tackle has become a liability. He hasn't clogged the middle and has no burst.
Davis' scheme is a work in progress, though, and ultimately it couldn't offset Vick's worst game this year. When the Eagles needed Davis' defense to come up with a big stop, it could not. Kansas City kicked a field goal for a 26-16 lead with less than four minutes remaining.
Thursday's effort won't erase what happened against San Diego. There are still holes, still missed tackles, still missed assignments. The secondary will never be dominant. But it can be serviceable.
Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher can be effective. They'll never be cover cornerbacks who can run and cover top wide receivers. They just don't have that kind of speed. But they can use their length to press at the line and play man-to-man defense on the outside.
They did a job on receiver Dwayne Bowe for most of the evening. Boykin had another strong performance in the slot.
But the Eagles' biggest hole remains at safety. It wasn't even Nate Allen who was the Eagles' worst safety against Kansas City. The beleaguered Allen had one of his better games. He sacked Smith during the first drive and made several other confident tackles.
Former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins took Allen aside before the game. Perhaps the advice paid off. Allen wasn't perfect, though. He never will be. But he saved his starting spot and a spot on the roster - at least for now.
Patrick Chung was the main culprit in the secondary. He missed at least four tackles in the open field. He drew a holding call when he blitzed at one point, but he looked as lost as Allen did against the Chargers.
Rookie Earl Wolff will start at some point this season. The question now is whether it will be for Allen or Chung.
Davis obviously has his work cut out. But amid the rubble of Thursday night's loss to the Chiefs was a glimmer of hope on defense and specifically with the defensive coordinator.
Contact Jeff McLane at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.