The Philadelphia Eagles have a much-improved defense going into the 2014 NFL season.
Dave Spadaro of the Eagles' official website touched on the subject in his Aug. 12 article:
"The last time the Eagles defense saw quarterback Tom Brady across the line of scrimmage, the results were scary bad for Philadelphia. A year later, so much has changed.
"Oh, Brady remains one of the top quarterbacks in the league and the Patriots offense is regarded as one of the most complete and precise and, if needed, explosive groups as any in the league. The Eagles defense, though, doesn't resemble the 11 men who opened the 2013 preseason after practicing for three days against New England at the NovaCare Complex.
"'We've come a long way since then,' said linebacker Connor Barwin. 'We were just getting to know each other and have a sense of the scheme then. We were picked apart pretty much the entire week and in the game.'
"No doubt about that. Brady was nearly perfect during the three joint practices and then led New England to a pair of touchdown drives in his two possessions -- a 6-running play, 80-yard drive that began with a 62-yard gain by Steven Ridley, and then a 10-play, 80-yard drive on which Brady completed 7 of 8 passes for 65 yards and a touchdown.
"And the Eagles defense had nowhere to go but up from that moment in the season.
"'You have to start somewhere and that's where we started,' said safety Nate Allen. 'It definitely wasn't pretty against New England, but we kind of knew it would be tough. We were just starting out and the Patriots had an established offense with one of the best quarterbacks of all time. We learned a lot that week.'
"Now the Eagles are returning the favor and practicing for three days at the Patriots' facility in Foxborough, MA before Friday's preseason game (7:30 p.m., 6abc in Philadelphia region). The Eagles' 2013 turned in the right direction, of course, after some twists and turns through the first half of the season. The defense came on week after week and for nine straight games between October 6 and December 8 allowed 21 points or fewer.
"It was a streak of nine consecutive games with 21 points or less allowed, and the Eagles won seven of those games on the way to the NFC East title.
"It's not a surprise, then, that defensive coordinator Bill Davis feels like his defense is moving in the right direction. It's a work in progress, to a degree, because that's the nature of the beast in the NFL preseason. There are a lot of new faces -- some key players were added in free agency and the Eagles used 5 of their 7 draft picks for the defense -- and Davis is incorporating those new skill sets into the overall picture.
"But for the most part, the Eagles are in a far different place defensively than they were when Brady carved them up for a full week last summer. Going against top-notch offenses like Chicago last Friday and New England starting on Tuesday afternoon provides the defense a chance to gauge its progress."
With this, Philadelphia's secondary plans on being more physical in 2014, per ESPN's Andy Jasner:
"Adjusting to the rules limiting contact will be a difficult challenge for all defensive backs this season -- especially after the first 5 yards off the line of scrimmage.
"Officials are going to be watching closely.
"We grabbed cloth, they called it,' Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis told reporters, referring to the preseason opener in Chicago. 'Everything they told us they were going to call, they called. We made the mistake, we put our hands on someone past 5 (yards), they called it. It's a matter of us adjusting.'
"The Eagles still want their defensive backs to play a physical brand of football. That won't change.
"It's simply a matter of adjusting.
"'It's not going to change the way I play, it's not going ot change the way (Bradley Fletcher) plays, or anybody in an Eagles uniform plays, for that matter,' cornerback Cary Williams told The Philadelphia Inquirer. 'We already discussed that in our meetings -- about being physical, being relentless. We're going to continue to apply pressure on those receivers as best as possible and try to disrupt timing between them and the quarterback. It's part of the game.'
"Fletcher believes that the players must come to terms with the rules being tweaked.
"'I've got to adjust the way I play so we can make plays and get off the field on third downs,' Fletcher told The Inquirer. 'Just a quicker punch (within 5 yards), maybe don't lag it on there for too long.'"