James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Eagles' defense shows signs of greatness vs. Falcons

Eliot Shorr-Parks
September 07, 2018 - 7:55 am

History does not often repeat itself. 

So when the Atlanta Falcons got down to the Eagles’ one-yard line on Thursday night with just one second to play, and trailing by just six, it was hard to believe that after shutting the door all night the defense had it in them to slam it one more time. 

“As a competitor, you live for those types of moments,” cornerback Jalen Mills said. “You want to be that guy that makes that play.”

The last time the Eagles needed a play that big it was Mills himself that made it, forcing an incompletion on the final defensive play of the team’s win over the Falcons in last year’s playoffs. 

This time around it was cornerback Ronald Darby, who on the biggest play of the game, blanketed Falcons receiver Julio Jones, forcing an incompletion and securing a 18-12 win for the Eagles in their season-opener on Thursday night. 

“It's probably the game, the deciding factor,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Defense, again, they got down there and bowed their neck and made several big stops for us.”

It was not always pretty, but in their first game of the season, the Eagles’ defense displayed all of the qualities you want to see from a unit that has the potential to be the best in the NFL. 

The Eagles’ defense held quarterback Matt Ryan and what was supposed to be a high-powered Falcons’ offense to just 299 yards on Thursday night. They were strong on third down, allowing the Falcons to complete just four-of-15 third-down attempts. They brought Ryan down four times and picked him off once. They were dominant on the defensive line. The linebackers, especially Jordan Hicks, made plays throughout the night. The secondary stepped up at the biggest points in the game. 

What was really special about the Eagles’ defense, however, was what they did in the red zone. 

Despite Eagles being put in some bad situations by the offense, the Eagles’ defense allowed just one touchdown on five trips into the red zone by the Falcons. Their domination in the red zone started on the first drive of the game when they stopped the Falcons on three plays in a row from the one-yard line, forcing a turnover on downs. 

“It’s big. The guys in the back end played well in the red zone. It’s something that we pride ourselves on. It came down to the red zone last year,” defensive end Chris Long said. “It came down to the red zone this year. At the beginning we were a little porous and we tightened up when it counted and that ends up being the difference in the game.”

The Falcons had drives that got to the Eagles’ one-yard line, five-yard line and 15-yard line on Thursday night. They came away form those three drives with exactly zero points. 

“We put a big emphasis on red zone. Our scheme is pretty simple, we’re really good at what we do, we detail every small thing, and we trust our players,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “When we get down to it, it’s nothing complex or anything. We just do our jobs and we trust our match-ups. Obviously guys show up, and it’s been crucial for our team.”

The strong showing on Thursday night continues what was becoming clear at the end of last season and is even more obvious now — it is becoming close to impossible for any offense to come into Philadelphia and put up points on the Eagles. 

Dating back to last season, the Eagles have not allowed more than 12 points in their last six home games.  They have allowed more than 12 points at home in just three of their last 11 games at Lincoln Financial Field. 

“We play team football,” Mills said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

You can follow Eliot on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at esp@94wip.com!