Eagles' defense seeks 'tone-setting' game

PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles cornerback Cary Williams sees an opportunity to do more than win one game Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Williams sees a chance to win some hearts and minds as well.

By playing tough, hard-nosed defense against Jacksonville, the Eagles can send a message to players around the NFL, Williams said.

“This game should be a physical game, a tone-setting game,” Williams said Thursday. “It’s something other teams across the league can look at and say, 'That’s the Eagles right there.’ “Last year, the Eagles went into the season as a bit of a mystery. After years as a 4-3 defense, they were playing a newly installed 3-4 scheme. Williams, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, outside linebacker Connor Barwin, safety Patrick Chung and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga gave them five new starters on the defensive side.

And they weren’t exactly intimidating, especially early on. After an opening-night win at Washington, in which they gave up 27 points, the Eagles gave up 33, 26 and 52 points in their next three games. They lost all three.

After that, they began to play better. The Eagles allowed 21 points or fewer in nine consecutive games, including seven wins. The defense was good enough to keep the team in games. This year, the hope is that it’s better than that. Williams stressed an aggressive, tough attitude last year. This year, he’s hoping that attitude generates some results.

“You want people in the media to talk about that,” Williams said. “Players honestly look at ESPN. They’ve got highlights on defense, they’ve got highlights on offense. They’ll think your tough if you’ve got highlights like that. It’s a tone-setter. It’s an opportunity for us to be great. Why not set it off on Sunday at 1 p.m.?”

This season, the Eagles have 10 of 11 starters returning. Safety Malcolm Jenkins is the only new face. The continuity is one of the reasons the players believe they can be improved.

“You don’t want to get too comfortable,” Barwin said. “I don’t think anybody is too comfortable. I think we’re just a year farther along. Our defense is more complex than it was the first month of the season. I think that will help us early on. We didn’t have the answers yet when certain offenses did stuff to us last year. I think we have the answers to everything. We just have to execute.”