In third game against Giants, Philly secondary is determined to improve vs. Kerry Collins.
By ERNEST HOOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2001
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Secondary is a misnomer for the Eagles cornerbacks and safeties, because they form one of the premier units in the NFL.
Led by veteran cornerbacks Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor and safety Brian Dawkins, Philadelphia's ball hawks were ranked seventh in the league in pass defense.
"The last time I heard, we had three of the baddest boys to ever walk the face of the earth," said Eagles nickel back Al Harris, who has drawn raves for his play. "We've got a lot of good athletes in the back end."
All the defensive backs attributed their collective efforts to collective experiences. Vincent and Taylor have played with Philadelphia since 1995, and Dawkins joined the Eagles in 1996. Harris, who once played for the Bucs, has been in Philly since 1998 and strong safety Damon Moore became a starter after being drafted by the Eagles in 1999.
"With the addition of Damon, we expect him to come in and make plays also," Dawkins said. "It's just me knowing those guys and them having confidence in me and me having confidence in them to make all the plays they can make. It's just a comfort level."
Off the field, the unit is close and Dawkins and Vincent are best friends because of their strong Christian bond.
While unity is a universal theme, Vincent said he realizes it may not always be that way as Philadelphia enters today's divisional playoff against the Giants.
"That's the way the league is, with free agency and all," Vincent said. "This whole team will never be together again. This same chemistry will never be together again. You hope that we have it here next year, but you never know."
The quality of the unit is unquestioned, but its performances against the Giants this season were below par. Philadelphia allowed only 11 touchdown passes, but New York quarterback Kerry Collins has three. In the two regular-season games, both victories, Collins completed 43 of 66 passes for 473 yards.
"He has had good games against us. What can I say?" defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "He has been accurate, he's been on target. I thought at times our coverage was excellent and he's just been accurate."
While a considerable amount of attention has been placed on Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, Johnson and his charges realize Philadelphia's chances rest with the defense. Not only are they concerned about Collins, but the first goal will be slowing running back Tiki Barber. New York dominated both games in time possession, holding the ball for 38:44 in the first meeting and 43:41 in the second.
"They have improved in all areas of their game," Barber said of the Eagles defense. "But I think the way we are going to score is by running the ball. If we control the clock like we did last time, that's going to give us a big edge."
Even if Barber is contained, the Eagles secondary has to contend with Collins and two outstanding receivers in Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard.
Vincent said he won't look back on the first two games or ahead to what a victory might mean.
"You seize the moment," Vincent said. "You play this game like it's your last. This is your opportunity, and you play like it. You play with excitement, with enthusiasm. You make every snap count.
"You take nothing for granted."
TV: Ch. 13
Line: Giants by 4
OF NOTE: A Philadelphia win would not surprise, but the football adages are on the side of the Giants. They are home, and they are better at running the ball. The Eagles have compensated for the loss of Duce Staley with short passes and last week, Chris Warren had 85 yards against the usually stout Bucs. Still, New York has limited its past six opponents to less than 100 yards rushing. Plus, the Eagles have a false sense of value from their Tampa Bay win. The Bucs were beaten a week before the wild-card game. You can't dismiss the two Giants victories against the Eagles, or the fact New York is rested. Donovan McNabb is likely to make plays, but if the Giants make stops early, they'll win.
KEY INJURIES: Eagles -- RB Stanley Pritchett (leg) is out. RB Darnell Autry (ankle), WR Charles Johnson (ankle) are questionable. TE Chad Lewis (neck) is probable. Giants -- WR Joe Jurevicius (knee) is questionable. RB Tiki Barber (forearm/toe) is probable.
HOOPER'S PREDICTION: Giants 20, Eagles 13