Spadaro: Without Wentz, Eagles must rely on strong defense

How far can the Eagles’ defense take them?

By Dave Spadaro

Does defense win championships in the NFL? “Sure it does,” Eagles safety Rodney McLeod said. “You can’t win if you don’t score any points! And we have the kind of defense to win in the playoffs. We’re putting it all together.”

That’s the optimistic view from the Eagles locker room as the team turns its attention to playoff prep and finding a way to maximize home-field advantage in the postseason. The Eagles need every bit of advantage, given the slimmed-down margin of error with starting quarterback Carson Wentz out. The Eagles offense lurched to the finish in season-ending games against Oakland (19–10 win) and Dallas (6–0 loss), and the airwaves and sports pages are overflowing with angst.

Can Nick Foles step up his game in the playoffs? Is the Eagles offense capable of carrying its share of the burden in the postseason? How in the world can the Eagles reach the Super Bowl without Wentz?

“The playoffs come down to the little things,” said safety Malcolm Jenkins, who won a Super Bowl as a rookie with the New Orleans Saints in 2009. “The games come down to one stop on defense or a tackle made or missed, or a penalty. You have to be disciplined and you have to be focused. We have enough guys here who have had the experience, and we have the confidence in each other to get the job done. It’s not going to be easy, but we know we have the pieces.

“I’ve always believed it starts with the defense. The defense sets the tone. And with our defense and with the crowd backing us, I think we’re going to play great football when the playoffs begin. That’s just how I feel. I think we’ve had a pretty good year on defense, and we’ve shown flashes of being dominant. I expect our best is ahead of us.”

The Eagles will play either 1) Atlanta, if the Falcons beat Los Angeles, 2) Carolina, if the Panthers defeat New Orleans and Los Angeles topples Atlanta, or the 3) Saints, should both home teams win this weekend in the wild card round of the postseason. All three teams have potent offensive attacks and all three have multiple ways of scoring points.

But the Eagles do have the formula for a defense that can carry the team deep into the postseason. Up front, the Eagles have a dynamic group that features Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan inside with Brandon Graham heading a deep and talented defensive end group. The linebackers have played well all season, and new starter Dannell Ellerbe brings 245 pounds of physical play against the run at the middle linebacker position.

The secondary has given up big plays in the last half of the season and will need help from the front four to put consistent pressure on the quarterback. That the Eagles have been so good against the run, leading the NFL by allowing only 79.2 yards per game, bodes well in the postseason.

And that’s where the Eagles are at the moment. They need to have great practices and put together a superior game plan and then play total team football to win in the playoffs. Carson Wentz isn’t here. See you in 2018, kid. In the meantime, the Eagles have to play confident, aggressive football, led by the defense. It’s their best path to success. ••