PHILADELPHIA (AP) — While Chip Kelly’s offense received most of the attention for a sensational start, the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense also had an impressive debut.
That’s the bigger surprise.
The Eagles were expected to score plenty of points with Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson playing in Kelly’s up-tempo offense. But the defense figured to have some growing pains learning new coordinator Billy Davis’ 3-4 scheme.
Instead, they had no trouble adjusting.
Led by Trent Cole, Mychal Kendricks and Cary Williams, the defense was aggressive and opportunistic. They forced three turnovers, sacked Robert Griffin III three times and recorded a safety in a 33-27 win over the Washington Redskins on Monday night.
“It was a great effort, a great performance by the defense,” Davis said Wednesday. “The plan going in was to take care of the running game, which is really what they’re built off of, and I think the guys did a great job of executing the plan. Now, within that were lots of mistakes and technique errors and things that we need to work on and must improve on.”
Taking advantage of a rusty RG3, the defense forced a fumble, intercepted a pass and got a safety on Washington’s first three possessions. They held the Redskins to three first downs and 75 yards in the first half and pitched a shutout before allowing 20 points in the final 16 minutes.
Those three turnovers, including Griffin’s career-high two picks, were a drastic turnaround from last season when the Eagles couldn’t force the ball away from teams. They tied for the NFL-worst with 13 turnovers, one of many reasons for a dismal 4-12 finish.
“I think we still have some work to do,” said Williams, who had a sack and interception in his first game with the Eagles. “I still think we’re not where we need to be yet. But it’s a building block. I think we have a lot to build on. We played extremely well, we made plays when we needed to, guys came up big for us and the offense had our backs.
“It was just a great collective win.”
The switch from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 meant Cole, a two-time Pro Bowl defensive end, had to move to outside linebacker after eight seasons in the league. Not an easy assignment for a guy who turns 31 next month and is coming off the worst season of his career.
But Cole made the transition seem natural. He forced a fumble, was credited with a safety, had one tackle for a loss, had several quarterback pressures and played well in coverage.
“Wherever they put me, I’m going to play,” Cole said. “I’m not going to fail. I’m going to do whatever I can and do my best at it. I feel like I can play the position. This is a start for me. I’m excited. This is exciting for me, a new position. I’m just going to continue improving and improving.”
The fourth quarter left a bad taste in many players’ minds, however. Griffin led the Redskins to a touchdown late in the third quarter and two more in the fourth to turn a blowout into a close one. The Redskins were an onside kick away from having the ball with a chance to win at the end, but the Eagles recovered the kick.
“When you put the tape on, you saw how much work we have left to do,” Davis said.
Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers (0-1) present another challenge this Sunday. Rivers, a four-time Pro Bowl pick, threw four TD passes in a 31-28 loss to the Houston Texans on Monday night.
NOTES: CB Bradley Fletcher didn’t practice because of a concussion sustained vs. Washington. Davis said Brandon Boykin would start if Fletcher can’t play against San Diego. Brandon Hughes, who was re-signed after being cut last weekend, could see action. ... Michael Vick practiced and wasn’t listed on the injury report. Vick appeared to be limping toward the end of Monday’s game, but he said he’s fine.