Resurgent Eagles are top six in offense, defense
PHILADELPHIA -- Three close wins suggest the Philadelphia Eagles could be 0-4 instead of 1-3. The statistics, though, say they should be dominating opponents instead of barely squeaking past them.
At the quarter point of the of the NFL season, the NFC East-leading Eagles are the only team with both their offense and defense ranked in the top six. They're fifth in offense, averaging 417.8 yards per game. The defense is sixth, allowing 298.3 yards per game.
Only one other team is ranked in the top 10 in both categories. The Detroit Lions are sixth in offense and 10th in defense. But they're just 1-3.
"We have the potential to be a great team, a great team," two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trent Cole said Wednesday. "We can take this thing all the way to the Super Bowl. We just have to take each game one by one and win games."
Despite the offense's ability to pile up yards and the defense limiting opponents, the Eagles needed fourth-quarter comebacks for all of their wins. They squeezed out a pair of 1-point victories when Michael Vick led them to final-drive touchdowns, and secured a 2-point win when New York Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes missed a 54-yard field goal attempt in the waning seconds.
"We'll continue to fight to the end, stay in the game however we can and find a way to win," Vick said. "That's what good football teams do. You have to find a way to win regardless of what happens during the course of the game."
A slew of turnovers were the reason the Eagles struggled to win their first two games against Cleveland and Baltimore. They had nine giveaways in the first two games and 12 through Week 3.
Vick was responsible for nine of those on six interceptions and three fumbles. But he didn't have any in the 19-17 win over the Giants last Sunday and now hasn't thrown a pick in two straight games.
"I've always felt I could play that way," Vick said. "Sometimes you can be in situations where you try to force things and make things happen. Sometimes that can be kryptonite for a quarterback when you know you can get it done and you try so hard you don't let it come naturally and sometimes it can hurt you. You get into a groove, you learn to play within a system and you try to do that over and over again."
With Vick, All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy and a talented cast of receivers that includes DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and tight end Brent Celek, the Eagles were expected to have one of the top offenses in the league.
The success of the defense wasn't so predictable. Juan Castillo was vilified last year in his first season as defensive coordinator after coaching the offensive linemen for 13 years. But Castillo's unit came together down the stretch during a season-ending four-game winning streak that helped the Eagles finish 8-8.
Three significant additions in the offseason bolstered the defense. Rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has been a major contributor in the middle of the line. Veteran middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks have solidified a group that was heavily maligned.
"We're really good all-around," Cole said. "It's not about who is the best, it's about who is going to play the best when the moment comes. We're going to show you guys by our actions. That respect stuff, that's old. Everybody knows who the best defense is. We're going to go out there and let our actions speak louder."
The Eagles have a tough matchup Sunday at Pittsburgh. The Steelers (1-2) are coming off a bye and will be desperate not to fall further back in the AFC North standings.
NOTES: LB Akeem Jordan (hamstring) and DT Derek Landri (knee) didn't practice Wednesday. LT King Dunlap returned to practice after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury. Coach Andy Reid wouldn't say whether Dunlap or Demetress Bell will start vs. Pittsburgh on Sunday. "The one positive is that Bell really played well in our game," Reid said. "That bides me a little time to see how King is doing."
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Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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