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The no-holds-barred Eagles have a message for opposing offenses: Bring It On

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2002

The Eagles defense is going to get beat. And it's liable to happen more than once. Coach Andy Reid concedes that much.

But it's the other 1,000 or so plays that Reid is more concerned with, the ones when the gamble pays off and the guy with the ball ends up flat on his back.

It's about percentages, and the Eagles, one of the league's most blitz-happy teams, have been playing them -- and winning with them -- all season.

Philadelphia plays an attack-style defense that is predicated on aggressively going after the ball carrier or quarterback instead of playing certain gaps.

It's ideally run with undersized yet quick, physical players with good pursuit and excellent instincts, and the Eagles have some of the best of that type. Defensive end Hugh Douglas, who wreaked havoc on the Bucs in last season's 21-3 playoff loss, free safety Brian Dawkins and cornerback Troy Vincent were Pro Bowl selections. Plus, linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and defensive tackle Corey Simon are two of the best young prospects in the NFC.

Because of the unit's rich talent, defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is able to put them in man-to-man situations, which allows them to blitz opponents constantly.

"That's our style," Reid said. "A lot times you'll see defenses come in with a blitz plan and if they get beat once or twice, they're going to stop blitzing. But that's what we do and we're going to do it. It doesn't matter who we play. If we get beat once or twice, we understand that. It happens. But we're going to keep bringing it."

It's hard to argue with the results. The Eagles allowed 208 points (an average of 13 a game). Only the Bears allowed less, giving up 201 (12.7). No other Eagles team ever surrendered less in a 16-game season.

Four times they held opponents without a touchdown (Seahawks, Giants, Cowboys and Redskins). And only once in their final eight regular-season games did they allow more than 14 points.

They have shut down some of the league's most explosive offenses. The Rams scored 20 (but needed overtime to do it), as did the Raiders. The 49ers managed 13.

Going into Saturday's NFC wild-card game against the Bucs in Philadelphia, the Eagles have gone 32 straight games without allowing more than 24 points, the longest streak since the Vikings went 41 consecutive games from 1968 to 1971.

And no one has to remind the Bucs of the defensive job the Eagles did on them in a playoff loss a year ago. Tampa Bay was held to 11 first downs and less than 200 total yards.

"When you attack the way we do, it doesn't give the other team a chance to get a bead on us," Douglas said. "It gives us an opportunity to make a play and not let the offense dictate things.

"Sometimes we make mistakes, but it's always an aggressive mistake."

Despite often being in single-coverage situations, the Eagles have been surprisingly strong against the pass. They were second in the league, allowing an average of 179 passing yards.

They also seem to play their best when they need to the most. They have been especially tough in the second half of games, an ominous sign for any team they will face in the postseason. They are giving up an average of 5.2 points in the third and fourth quarters, lowest in the NFL.

But the Eagles defense perhaps has been at its best in the red zone. They are tops in the league in opponent's touchdown percentage (30.4) and touchdowns allowed (14) inside the 20-yard line.

A lot of teams try to throw against them in the red zone, which plays into their hands because their secondary is so skilled at playing tight coverage.

"We don't do a lot when we get in the red zone," Dawkins said. "We're either blitzing or in coverage, and we do those things pretty good."

There is a good chance this Eagles defense will remain one of the league leaders for a while. Most of its stars are young and all, except Trotter, are signed through 2003.

"They've played together for five or six years and they really adjust with each other very well," Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson said. "They do some tremendous things on defense and the fact that they've played together for a while is pretty evident."

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