MOISE FOKOU didn't know the Eagles were giving up an average of 24.2 points per game until a reporter told him yesterday.
"Sounds like a lot of points, doesn't it?" the Birds' strongside linebacker said. "We're just blessed to have a potent offense. It kind of puts a blanket over everything - if you don't play perfect, they can kind of cover you. I think they kind of feel like it's vice-versa - we'll have our moments where we'll hold it up for them. Especially this past weekend, to see them come back, and for us to hold the Giants down to seven points in the second half, was just tremendous."
Well, that's looking on the bright side, for an Eagles defense that allowed 31 points in beating the Giants, and now will try to pull together some momentum against an unimposing Vikings offense Sunday night, in a game that could determine the NFC East championship. The Eagles are scoring 29.4 points per game, second only to the Patriots.
Everybody's favorite alarmist stat, as we look toward the likelihood of the playoffs, is the franchise-record 30 touchdown passes the Eagles have allowed this season. The 3-13 1998 Eagles allowed 18.
"It is tough, but one attitude I see on this team is really resilience," Fokou said. "We can get down for a second, but we always try to regroup . . . say let's move on, let's move on, on to the next play."
Helping defensive coordinator Sean McDermott stay sane is the knowledge that this is an exceptionally young, inexperienced group, especially in the secondary, where of the nine defensive backs dressed for the Giants game, five were rookies and another, starting cornerback Dimitri Patterson, had never started an NFL game before this season.
Somebody asked the other corner, Asante Samuel, whether he'd vote for his former coach, Bill Belichick, as coach of the year, or Andy Reid.
"I might just nominate myself," Samuel said. "I'm doing a lot of coaching out there."
So is McDermott, obviously.
"Well, there's a lot that goes into it and you mentioned two of the factors, there, a young defense, a young secondary, and then pass rush, you can always have more pass rush," McDermott said, to a news conference questioner. "But I'll just say this - with those points have come turnovers, and it's hard to have both. Is [limiting scoring and getting turnovers] what we're shooting for? Absolutely, we are. But with those turnovers, we give the ball back to our offense, and we've been a factor, and one of the reasons why we're 10-4.
"Now, am I happy about those points? Absolutely not. Some of those points are coming in the red zone [where the Eagles still rank last in the NFL], in addition to the big plays, so we have to get that corrected, and we're working hard at that. So that's a big goal of ours coming down the stretch here."
Fokou noted that "our youth gives us a lot of energy, a lot of fight. I think that's something that kind of helps us overcome [the rough spots], too . . . I like our rookies. They've bought into the system, they prepare real well."
Defensive end Juqua Parker, the oldest defensive starter at 32, said this is definitely the youngest group he has seen.
"It's a different generation . . . They take the job serious, but they also have fun at the same time," Parker said.
Derrick Burgess, also a 32-year-old defensive end, came back to the Eagles last week after 5 years away, with Oakland and New England.
"It's pretty young," he said, when asked about this group. "Lotta energy."
Strong safety Quintin Mikell, 30, was here when Burgess left the Birds and was still here when he returned. As a defensive leader, Mikell grapples with the learning curve every practice and every game. On the Giants' final touchdown Sunday, he clearly was not expecting rookie middle linebacker Jamar Chaney, making his first start, to hand tight end Kevin Boss off to Mikell in the end zone. Mikell's frustration was visible - though he would not say Chaney had done anything wrong when reporters asked him about it later.
"I'm happy that we're winning games, but I'm frustrated that we're letting teams score so much," Mikell said. "I feel like our young guys, they've stepped up, they've answered the challenge. There have been situations where we've had 'old guys' that have made mistakes and got scored on. I can just tell you that we're going to continue to work at it. I'm just glad our offense, they're playing at a high level right now. We're getting stops [late in games] when we need to, but we've got to keep the points down."
This week, after matching up against a string of pretty accomplished offenses, the Eagles face a 5-9 team that ranks 23rd in NFL offense, 30th in scoring offense, at 17.4 points per game. The primary complication is that the Eagles don't know whether they'll face Brett Favre or scrambling rookie Joe Webb at QB, though Favre is considered unlikely to play after getting a concussion Monday night.
Mikell said he plans to assume Favre is playing.
"Obviously, we think it's going to be Favre. I think it's going to be Favre," Mikell said. "Just knowing him, I think he's going to be out there."
What if he isn't?
"Basically, we have game plans for each guy," Mikell said.
"I would love to play against Brett Favre," said rookie safety Kurt Coleman, who is stepping in for fellow rookie Nate Allen after Allen's patellar tendon surgery. "That's something you can always tell, for the rest of your life. But you've got to prepare for both of them." *