The Eagles' offense appears to be good enough for a February meeting in Miami.
Is the defense good enough?
When the Eagles started this journey in the searing heat of summer, the defense was the perceived strength of the team. The Eagles finished fourth in the NFL in points allowed and third in yards allowed last season, and everybody except safety Brian Dawkins was coming back.
One injury (Stewart Bradley) led to another (Omar Gaither), and pretty soon the linebackers were being shuffled like cards. Seven guys have played middle linebacker, and that doesn't include Bradley, because he was hurt the first week of training camp.
The free-safety shuffle started before the season. First it was Quintin Demps, then it was rookie Macho Harris, and lately it has been Sean Jones. Dawkins will be back at free safety a week from today, but he'll be in a Denver Broncos uniform.
Two cornerbacks - Ellis Hobbs and Joselio Hanson - were lost in one day right before the game against San Diego, and Sheldon Brown injured his hamstring in that game, so it was not surprising that Philip Rivers torched the secondary in a Chargers victory that weekend.
The defensive line is the only place where there has been stability for defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. Defensive end Trent Cole has clearly been the team's most valuable defender. Some might argue that the defensive line hasn't pressured the quarterback enough, but we'll get to that point later.
Let's get back to the question: Is the Eagles' defense good enough to make a Super Bowl title run?
As recently as 2005, the answer to that would have been absolutely not.
Only two of the 36 Super Bowl champions from 1970 - the year the NFL merged with the AFL - through the 2005 season ranked lower than 10th in points allowed. The 1976-77 Oakland Raiders were 12th, and the 1983-84 Los Angeles Raiders were 13th.
Twenty-four of the other 34 Super Bowl champions in that period were at least in the top five in points allowed, and 20 were in the top three.
Recently, however, some mediocre defenses became good just in time for the postseason, which is what the Eagles must do to have a chance of beating the high-powered offenses of the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints in the playoffs.
Peyton Manning won his Super Bowl with the Colts in 2007 because a defense that was the worst in the league against the run in the regular season became the best at stopping the run in the postseason. The Colts ranked 23d in points allowed during the regular season but surrendered just 16.2 per game in the postseason. Safety Bob Sanders made that much of a difference for Indianapolis.
A year later, the New York Giants, ranked 17th in points allowed during the regular season, went on a postseason run for the ages, shutting down the unbeaten New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. The Giants' defense made the most of rookie defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's pressure packages in the postseason.
Last year, Arizona finished 28th in points allowed during the regular season and didn't seem nearly good enough on defense to make a Super Bowl run, but then nearly upset Pittsburgh. Part of the reason was the Cardinals' offense was just so good it was able to compensate for the mediocre defense.
We don't know yet if the Eagles' offense is that good. And we don't know if the Eagles' defense is that bad. The defense goes into today's game ranked 10th in yards allowed and tied for 16th in points allowed at 21 per game. But it is also a defense that is third in the league with 32 takeaways, the most by any Eagles defense since 2002. That was without question the best defense of the Jim Johnson era.
As for the pressure department, the Eagles' 36 sacks are tied for the fourth most in the league, but McDermott isn't entirely happy.
"I think at times it has been OK, but it has been too inconsistent," he said. "I think [against the Giants] it was inconsistent. Some of that was the ball was coming out fast, because people know we pressure and they want to get the ball out. That's about having the right coverage at the same time. But I would have liked to have seen a better pass rush, especially from our tackles last week."
The Eagles' defense needs to get better at a lot of things in these final three weeks of the regular season. The team was able to do that last year and made a deep and unexpected postseason run. Now the Eagles need some recent NFL history to repeat itself.
Read The Inquirer's Eagles blog, Birds' Eye View, by Bob Brookover and Jeff McLane, at http://go.philly.com/sports.
Blog response of the week
Subject: Trent Cole's $15,000 fine for punching the Giants' Shaun O'Hara after some New York offensive linemen had roughed up fellow Eagles defensive end Jason Babin.
Post by: philly499 at 7:01 p.m. Wednesday
"Cole has his teammate's back. . . . It's worth the fine! He'll never miss it, but the message he sent to his teammate is valuable, though hopefully it won't be needed again."EndText