PHILADELPHIA (AP) -When the Philadelphia Eagles were bounced out of the playoffs last January, their once-feared defense got most of the blame.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints shredded Philly's D for 435 yards in a 27-24 victory, exposing several weaknesses the Eagles had to address in the offseason to have any hopes of making another postseason run.
Mission accomplished.
Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's unit has regained its stinginess. No team has scored more than 21 points against the Eagles through seven games, and the defense has allowed just eight touchdowns in 77 possessions.
If it weren't for two special-teams miscues in the season opener and the two-minute collapse last week against Chicago, the Eagles would be 5-2 instead of 3-4.
A vastly improved defense is a big reason Philadelphia has two of its wins. The Eagles are third in the NFL with 24 sacks and rank eighth against the run.
A defensive line that had trouble pressuring quarterbacks last season has 21 sacks, including a league-best nine by Trent Cole.
``He's tough right now, tough to stop,'' coach Andy Reid said of the third-year pro. ``He plays relentless football. He gives his 110 percent on every snap and players respect him for that.''
While Cole dominates up front, the revamped linebacking corps with new starters Takeo Spikes, Omar Gaither and Chris Gocong, is doing a better job against the run. The Eagles have given up 90.4 yards rushing per game, down from 136.4 last year.
In Sunday's 23-16 win over Minnesota, rookie Adrian Peterson, the league's top rusher, was held to 70 yards on 20 carries. During a four-game stretch last year, the Eagles gave up more than 200 yards on the ground three times.
``Anytime you can hold a back like Peterson down to 70 yards, I think you've done a good job of sticking them when they try to come in and feature him,'' Reid said.
The front seven has played so well, they've made up for injuries in the secondary. All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins hasn't played since Week 2 because of a neck stinger. Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard missed four games with a knee injury.
Sheppard returned last week against Chicago and Dawkins could be back Sunday for an important matchup with Dallas on Sunday night. The Cowboys present a stiff challenge for a defense that's given up only one touchdown in each of the past four games.
Led by Tony Romo, Dallas is averaging 32.4 points per game, second only to New England in the NFL.
``People are calling them the best team in the NFC right now, so it should be a good matchup,'' tight end L.J. Smith said. ``Sunday night, we are at home, all the makings of an upset.''
Notes: The Eagles signed LB William Kershaw to the practice squad Tuesday. Kershaw originally signed as a rookie free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006. He played the final regular-season game and one playoff game with the Chiefs and was released after the opener this season.

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