The Eagles' defensive players aren't impressed.
Tell them they're the top-ranked unit in the NFC and they shrug.
"I think the big picture is winning," cornerback Sheldon Brown said after practice yesterday. "Statistically, it doesn't really matter where you finish. The goal is the Super Bowl. If you don't win it, those other statistics don't really matter."
Still, the Eagles' defense has risen all the way to No. 3 in the NFL rankings. Only Pittsburgh and Baltimore have allowed fewer yards, and those two teams are considered the defensive capitals of the NFL. You know, Ray Lewis, Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, James Farrior, etc.
"The Washington Redskins is what's on our plate right now," safety Brian Dawkins said. "At the end of the year, we can . . . talk about whatever you guys want to talk about, but right now it's the Washington Redskins, and we have to focus on that and not worry about anything after that."
All right, we get it.
The Eagles understand that the defensive rankings won't mean a thing if two weeks from today the locker room at the NovaCare Complex is vacant and the season is over.
Second-year defensive lineman Victor Abiamiri noted that the Eagles have two games remaining against teams that beat them with big offensive performances earlier this season.
"The real challenge is to play good against the Redskins Sunday," Abiamiri said. "You definitely want to be No. 1 in the NFL, but we have two games coming up here against teams that beat us handily the first time around and had pretty good offensive performances against us. The Redskins rushed for a lot against us."
Abiamiri has a good memory even if he wasn't on the field in early October when Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts combined for 189 yards on 38 carries as the Redskins dominated the line of scrimmage and time of possession in a 23-17 win at Lincoln Financial Field.
It was quite similar to what happened to the Eagles when they lost to the New York Giants at the Linc a month later. The Eagles, of course, rebounded from that defeat to beat the Giants at their own game earlier this month up at the Meadowlands.
In the last three weeks, the Eagles have gone from being the NFC's fourth-ranked defense to the best in the conference. A big reason why is that they've held the Arizona Cardinals, the Giants and Cleveland Browns to a combined total of 170 rushing yards on 54 carries. That's an average of 3.1 yards per carry.
The Eagles' ability to stop the run has enhanced their ability to get off the field on third down. Opponents converted just 9 of 33 third-down situations during the team's three-game winning streak, which is a far cry from the 11 of 19 the Redskins picked up at the Linc earlier this season.
"Early on, we were making a lot of mental mistakes, way too many . . . that were assisting other teams in converting," Dawkins said. "Give them credit . . . but we were giving them assists. We're not making those mental mistakes . . . and we are winning on first and second down, getting teams in third and long. If we . . . get you in third and long, then the playbook is open for [defensive coordinator] Jim [Johnson] to call whatever he wants to call. Then, if we don't make mistakes, the likelihood of us getting off the field is very high."
And the less time you spend on the field, the less chance for the opposition to pile up yards and points.
Brown had an interesting take on that situation.
"I think the best defense is your offense," the cornerback said, complimenting the recent work coming from his teammates on the other side of the football. "When the offense is playing great, the defense is going to play better. For one, you're more relaxed. Two, it forces teams to do things they're not comfortable doing as far as catching up."
The reborn offense with the resurrected quarterback and the reconstructed running back has certainly done its part to help the defense. The Eagles won the time-of-possession battle by more than 19 minutes against Arizona, close to 10 minutes against the Giants and nearly 18 minutes against Cleveland.
"It's just like the Super Bowl year," Brown said. "Teams were always chasing us, so we had a lot of chances to make plays."
Perhaps, but this defense, at least statistically, is even better than the Super Bowl version. The 2008 Eagles are allowing an average of 288.6 yards per game. The 2004 Eagles allowed 319.7 yards per game. This year's defense is just as good at rushing the passer and creating turnovers as the team that went to the Super Bowl.
"We're a very aggressive defense," cornerback Asante Samuel said. "A defense that likes to get after the quarterback and create a lot of pressure. Pressure busts pipes. We're playing at a high level right now, and it's December. Hopefully, we can keep chopping the wood and see what happens for us."