The Philadelphia Eagles are seemingly a long way from winning the Super Bowl, but with quarterback Donovan McNabb healthy, and the additions of cornerback Asante Samuel and defensive end Chris Clemons, they may be closer than one would think. People question why they addressed the defense so quickly when struggles in the red zone seemed to be their big problem in 2007.
One answer of why they went defense? The 2007 Eagles defense lacked turnovers. Think back to the 2006 season, when the city proclaimed Jeff Garcia the best thing to ever put on an Eagles uniform. The Eagles were 5-6 and just got pummeled by the Colts by 24 points when Garcia took over. They then won five straight to win the NFC East, but was the offense any better with Garcia? No, but the defense was.
The first game after that loss to Indy was the Monday night game against Carolina. The conclusion came down to the Panthers in the Philadelphia red zone with seconds left on the game clock. A fade was thrown to Keyshawn Johnson in the back right corner of the end zone, and Lito Sheppard intercepted the ball, game over.
The Eagles then traveled down to Washington to beat the Redskins by two points. The big play in the game? A Michael Lewis interception that was brought back for a touchdown.
With the playoffs in sight, the Eagles battled the hated Giants. The Eagles took the lead with minutes left in the game to leave Eli Manning with enough time to tie it up. Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown came in unblocked from Manning’s blindside and sent the football into the air. Defensive end Trent Cole caught it and danced it into the end zone.
Then came Christmas day and oh what a day that was. The Eagles defense kept the Cowboys down to seven points, leaving the fans of Philadelphia in a state of amazement. Some fans and media were quick to credit the improvement of the offense for the NFC East title, but they averaged more points with McNabb without the defensive turnovers.
In 2007, the defense was ninth in points per game, tenth in yards per game, seventh in run yards per game, but 18th in pass yards per game. The Eagles weakness in 2006 was their run defense, which clearly was addressed. But, they were 18th in passing yards per game, which is not typical for a Jim Johnson-coached team. Boasting a strong secondary at the beginning of the season, they became unhealthy. Brian Dawkins missed some games with his neck injury, Sean Considine had shoulder problems, and Sheppard’s knee was keeping him out of a substantial amount of games. What really stands out is how many interceptions they had last year: 11, tied for last in the NFL. Defensive TD’s? Zero. What the defense lacked last year was healthy playmakers.
So, what do Asante Samuel and Chris Clemons bring to the table? Samuel leads the league in interceptions for the last two years, and Clemons racked up eight sacks in a backup role with the Raiders last year. They are game changers and that’s what the Eagles were looking for and, hopefully, found.