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Eagles' defense still a work in progress

PHILADELPHIA -- The process of evaluating players, as Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said on Monday, is not always pretty.

That certainly was the case for the Eagles' defense on Friday night against New England. The defense gave up 246 total yards in the first half, allowed Tom Brady to complete eight of his 10 passes and let the Patriots convert 10 of their 15 third-down opportunities.

The optimist would chalk up the performance to the fact that Davis was intent on getting a bunch of players, who likely will be backups, snaps against New England’s first-team offense. Backup cornerback Curtis Marsh played 76 snaps. Rookie linebacker Marcus Smith, the Eagles first-round draft pick out of Louisville, played 73 snaps. Cornerback Roc Carmichael played 50 snaps. None of those players are going to see such extensive action when Philadelphia opens the regular season at home against Jacksonville.

The pessimist would point out that the Eagles' two glaring weaknesses on defense last year don’t seem to have been corrected. Last season, Philadelphia struggled to get off the field on third down and did not have an effective pass rush.

Against New England, the Eagles defense allowed the Patriots to convert their first eight third downs. While it was a positive that Cary Williams intercepted Brady on New England’s opening drive and returned it 77 yards for a touchdown, on the Patriots next drive a defensive holding penalty on Brandon Boykin negated a third-down stop. Instead of coming off the field, Philadelphia gave Brady another shot at third-and-14 from the Eagles' 15-yard line. Brady hit Kenbrell Thompkins for a touchdown.

"This is the evaluation phase,” Davis said. "And sometimes evaluation looks painful, but sometimes it looks promising. I think we had both of that the other night. We are rushing four for the most part on third downs and playing coverage trying to tighten our coverage up and evaluate who can cover and who can’t, evaluate who can rush and who can’t, grow pass-rushers and cover guys. The only way you’re going to get better at it is at that speed practicing our coverage, our leverage and our finish at the ball, and that’s what preseason is about and that’s what we’re grinding through right now.”

Davis said that in the Eagles' next preseason game, on Thursday against Pittsburgh, the first-team defense would get more snaps together as a unit. In the first two preseason games, both losses, the Eagles gave up 76 combined points.