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Can Philly's Defense Recover In 2014?

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Photo by Hunter Martin/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images.
Photo by Hunter Martin/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images.

The perception is that the Philadelphia Eagles defense of 2013 wasn’t exactly on the level of the Seattle Seahawks or the San Francisco 49ers — they were far from that. But if the Eagles are going to be the team that they want to be in 2014, it’s going to begin and end with the success of their defense, whether or not that poor perception remains true.

As I continuously searched for a way to describe the Eagles defense in 2013, I came across the perfect analogy, and Alex Smith of Philadelphiaeagles.com echoed it best: “In many ways, 2013 was the "freshman" season for the Eagles defense.”

That’s exactly right. It was the first year under a new defensive scheme (3-4) and under a new defensive coach (Bill Davis). The fact that they endured a different starting secondary in 2013 didn’t help either. There was no continuity. Add that with the fact that it was a completely new scheme, and you begin to understand why they struggled so much.

But that’s going to change this season. At least that’s what the Eagles are hoping. The only new starter that is projected in the Eagles secondary is going to be Malcolm Jenkins, who came over from New Orleans this offseason. And being the veteran that he is, it shouldn’t take him long to find his role.

Last season, per ESPN, Philly was 29th last season in total defense, giving up nearly 400 yards per game. Specifically, the Eagles were dead last against the pass — surrendering 290 yards per game — and 10th against the run. The Eagles allowed nine 300-plus passers and three 400-plus passers. Conversely, they only allowed eight 100 yard-plus rushers. It’s safe to say that the Eagles troubles on defense stems from its secondary, which they addressed this offseason.

But does adding Jenkins and a year of continuity simply equate to a better defense? Maybe.

Here is a comparison of the Top 5 defenses in the NFL last season (total yards), along with the Eagles defense:

Team

Ranked

Defense

YPG

Sacks

INT

TO Ratio

Pts/G

Seattle

1

274

44

28

20

26.1

Carolina

2

301

60

20

11

22.9

Cincinnati

3

306

43

20

1

26.9

New Orleans

4

306

49

12

0

25.9

San Francisco

5

317

38

18

12

25.4

Philadelphia

29

394

37

19

12

27.6

It’s easy to simply say that the Eagles are far off, especially with a crooked number like 29 next to their name. However, the deeper stats indicate the opposite. In fact, they’re a lot closer to the Seattle’s and Carolina’s than most would admit. The biggest equalizer on defense is turnover ratio — basically, if your defense can produce more takeaways than your offense can produce turnovers. Philly’s was +12 last season, good enough for fifth in the entire league.

That’s probably the biggest reason for the Eagles success in 2013. The amount of yardage that they gave up was atrocious, however, their positive turnover ratio more than made up for it. Bend but don’t break.

If the Eagles can mimic what they did in terms of turnover ratio in 2014 and even slightly improve their total defensive numbers (yards per game), then we should expect an even better overall team this season.

The Eagles defense could quickly transform into one of the better defenses in this league in 2014, and much of the credit could end up being tallied to just another year of experience.

The only concern that remains is whether or not this developing defense will deliver and finally put an end to poor perceptions.