Over the course of this preseason, we've often bemoaned our shaky (that's being charitable) defense and our inability to get to the quarterback. Well, actually, we've been bemoaning that for a few years now.
We've seen it time and time again. Our defense gives up big plays, can't take down the passer, can't stop the run, and can't seem to keep WR's (or anyone else running a route) from getting loose.
Sure, there have been games when we've held opponents to minimal yardage. But that's almost always had more to do with the team we were playing than anything that our defense did (let's be honest, is it really much of an accomplishment to keep Oakland's offense in check?).
So it's kind of been considered a given that if we're going to win this year, our offense has to make big strides and be a lot better than last year
After all, how many times last year did we take the lead or tie up a game in the 4th only to see the defense immediately crumble and give the game away (hint, it was more than once)? Beyond that, how many times did our D get so completely blown out of the water that the game was over by halftime (again, more than once)?
In fact, looking back at the last two years, I don't remember a single game where I thought to myself, "man, our D is really keeping us in this thing." And I'm not talking about the other team merely performing poorly, or us taking advantage of a few miscues in order to stay in the game. I mean our defense, over a period of longer than a few sequences, literally holding down a good offense with exceptional play while our own offense struggled (which, in case you haven't been paying attention, was not an uncommon occurrence).
Then last night happened.
Look, DeSean Jackson is a big part of the Eagles offense, and without him they aren't as formidable. But this is still a team with pretty good offensive firepower. And after a first series in which our shellshocked defense just caved in, we saw a performance that, in my opinion, is unmatched by our defense in at least two years.
Not in the last two years have we held back a potent offense (even one missing a weapon) for such an exteneded period of time.
Not in the last two years have we gotten consistent pressure on the QB.
Not in the last two years has our secondary provided good coverage consistently as well as great run support (thank you, Mr. Berry, for laying the wood a few times. It was fun to see).
Yes, it was preseason. But it was also game 3 of the preseason, and everyone knows what that means; we were going up against Philly's first team for 3 quarters. And we had the lead. This is the same Eagles team that was destroying us 27-7 after the 3rd quarter last year. And the reason it was possible is that our defense held down the fort until our offense could get it together. And it's not like that only took a series or two. It took an entire quarter.
They did even more than that, though. They CREATED opportunities. When was the last time our D created opportunities for our offense rather than another team's? They were flying around the field hitting RB's, WR's, and most importantly, the QB. That interception? Entirely created by our team, not just some terrible throw or stupid decision. We made it happen.
In all honesty, that didn't look like our defense out there. Especially our beleaguered linebackers. This group has probably been the most ragged- on group of the preseason, and deservedly so. But they showed up big time last night, and made huge plays all over the field. Andy Studebaker, Jovan Belcher, Demorrio Williams, and DJ all made at least a couple of big plays (especially the first 3), and Mays managed to look likel
an NFL linebacker out there (a first for him this preseason IMO).
So, as great as it was to see our defense playing like that, I had to ask myself, where did THAT come from?
My own personal theory, you ask? Well, I don't claim to have as much knowledge as Kalo on the subject, but I do have a theory. I'm afraid everyone's going to laugh at me, though... OK, fine, I'll risk it.
Could we have seen last night the first real benefits of Romeo Crennel?
The first two games of the preseason, we all noticed how vanilla the offense and defense were. And you always here about how DC's won't show their "blitz packages" during the preseason. To be honest, I didn't give it that much thought.
Seeing the way we were blitzing last night made me think, though. It's the most "real" of the preseason games. Did Crennel put the most "real" effort into schemes for this game? Based on the incredible uptick in performance from the same group of guys that have looked unimpressive (more like pathetic) for the vast majority of preseason, I'd have to say yes.
I guess you could explain it by saying that the Eagles' offensive line is struggling. But are they any worse than a weak Tampa Bay line? All I know is that all of a sudden, last night, our defense actually got after the QB and took him down MULTIPLE times, in addition to forcing him to make some critical mistakes. That's a huge change for us, and it happened with all the same players that have been lining up for more than a year.
So is there another explanation, besides the much-hyped and occasionally maligned "Romeo Crennel Effect"?
There may be, but I can't really think of it right now. Hopefully, much like the screen pass to Dexter McCluster against Tampa was (IMO) a preview of our REAL offense, last night's game was a preview of our REAL defense.