Eagles' unheralded defense looks to build on 9-sack game Print
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Thursday, 27 September 2007 11:16
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 PHILADELPHIA (AP) -Jim Johnson believes sacks, like turnovers, come in bunches.
Philadelphia's defensive coordinator was right last week as the Eagles kept strong-armed Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna on the run and racked up nine sacks.
That was the second-highest single-game total since the league started compiling sacks 15 years ago.
Add in two fumble recoveries and an interception in a 56-21 win over the Lions that snapped a two-game season-opening losing streak and the result is an unheralded defense brimming with confidence. That, and Johnson wanting more - especially against the division rival New York Giants on Sunday night.
``Hopefully, we can keep it up,'' Johnson said Thursday. ``We haven't given up big run plays, but we've given up some big pass plays. I think our support has been good.''
The Eagles spread the defensive wealth against Kitna and the Lions' pass-heavy offense. The Lions rushed only 12 times for 39 yards. Kitna was persistent with the passing attack, going 29-for-46 for 446 yards and two touchdowns, but Detroit was shut out in the second half.
That was the kind of effort the unproven defensive corps truly needed while safety Brian Dawkins (neck) and cornerback Lito Sheppard (knee) watched from the sidelines while nursing injuries.
Entering this week's game, the Eagles rank fourth in the league in rushing defense and 26th against the pass.
Defensive end Trent Cole led the way for Philadelphia against Detroit with a career-high 3 1/2 sacks, and leads the NFL with five sacks.
``Every year he gets a little better,'' Johnson said of the third-year pro. ``He gets a little more ammunition with his pass-rush skills, and he's using them all right now.''
Tackle Brodrick Bunkley continued his improved play and got to Kitna twice for the first two sacks of his NFL career.
``He's still improving,'' Johnson said. ``There are some things he has still got to work on, but he's improved tremendously, and he's a force up front.''
And DE Juqua Thomas added two sacks.
``When he is in there, he's productive,'' Johnson said of Thomas.
Combined, it was the first time three Eagles had at least two sacks in a game.
But Johnson is looking for more, specifically from linebacker Omar Gaither and defensive end Jevon Kearse.
Of Gaither, Johnson said, ``I think he can make more plays and get around the ball more.''
Johnson thinks Kearse is making steady progress.
``I'm sure he wanted to have a couple sacks, too,'' Johnson said. ``I can see on the film that the pressure is there at times; the technique is good. He'll break out of it.''
At the Meadowlands on Sunday night, the Giants (1-2) will offer a more-balanced attack, led by quarterback Eli Manning, who has completed 61 percent of his passes (65-for-106) for 755 yards and six TDs.
``I see a much better football player,'' Johnson said of Manning. ``He's handling the things at the line of scrimmage much better. He's making accurate throws. He's come a long way.''
The Giants will be without retired running back Tiki Barber, who caused the Eagles so much angst over the years. But they do field a lineup of familiar faces, including tight end Jeremy Shockey and receivers Plaxico Burress, who has five TD receptions, and Amani Toomer.
New York also has running back Derrick Ward, who rushed for a career-best 94 yards last week in a win over Washington and has run for his three highest yardage totals in the first three weeks of the season.
The Eagles know they can't concentrate on just the pass this week.
``They still have a running game, so I guess you really can't take that away from them,'' Eagles defensive tackle Mike Patterson said. ``Eli's been doing a good job, and he's only been sacked a few times.''
The Eagles will see another familiar face on the opposite sideline: Steve Spagnuolo. The Giants defensive coordinator was with the Eagles from 1999-2006, and worked as a defensive assistant, defensive backs coach and linebackers coach.
The defenses might look a bit similar.
``He knows a lot of the things we do, of course,'' Johnson said. ``We have to change a little bit. ... We're still going to play our base defense, and I'm sure he's going to play his base defense. There will he a few wrinkles here and there.''
Missing from Thursday's practice were safety Brian Dawkins (neck), cornerback Lito Sheppard (knee), linebacker Takeo Spikes (personal reasons), offensive tackle William Thomas (knee) and running back Brian Westbrook (abdomen).

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