PHILADELPHIA – Three days after the Philadelphia Eagles gave up 52 points in a blowout loss to the Denver Broncos, defensive coordinator Billy Davis declared that he saw progress from his young unit.
The scoreboard said otherwise.
"I'm asking you to trust me," Davis said on Oct. 1.
Back then, the Eagles were on pace to allow more yards than any team in NFL history, and they ranked last in most major defensive categories.
But Davis saw something nobody else saw, and a little over a month later, the Eagles' defense has stabilized to the point where it is now the strength of the team.
After giving up an average of 28 points in its first four games, the Eagles have allowed 18 per game in the last four outings. That is 11th best in the league during that span — quite an improvement from where the unit was not that long before.
"It's just a matter of playing together and getting to know each other and developing trust in each other and growing as a defense," safety Nate Allen said. "The more you play together, the better you're going to be. I think that's what we're seeing right now. We just needed some time to build that chemistry."
The Eagles have held four straight opponents to 21 or fewer points, limiting the Cowboys to 17 two weeks ago — nearly half of Dallas' season average — and holding the New York Giants without a touchdown on Sunday. Those last two games were losses as Philadelphia scored a total of only 10 points.
On Sunday, the Eagles (3-5) will be in Oakland to take on the Raiders (3-4), who rank 26th in yards and points per game and last in passing offense. The Raiders are 3-1 at home, and the Eagles are 3-1 on the road.
So this could be a good matchup for the improving Eagles, who might show why Davis asked people to trust him a month ago.
"I've been through this before," he said. " I knew what kind of overall progress we were making.
"Every day we hit the sled. Every day we tackle. Every day we talk about foot work. Every day we talk about eyes. When you do that and just keep your focus on those things, you get better as you go."
The biggest challenge facing the Eagles on Sunday is Oakland's Terrelle Pryor, the third-year quarterback from Ohio State.
Pryor has more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (five) this year and is throwing for only 192 yards per game. But he has run for 391 yards, and his 7.4 average is the best among NFL players with at least 50 carries.
Pryor is the fourth quarterback in NFL history with more than one 100-yard rushing game in a season, joining Bobby Douglas and former Eagles Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb.
"Exceptional athlete," Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "That's one thing about Pryor. He's a quarterback who can take it to the house for (93) yards. That's a special player.
"We know he's a big-time playmaker for their team. He gets their team going. He's their guy. So we're definitely focused on him."
The Eagles, are eighth in the NFL in yards rushing allowed and they are tied for 13th in takeaways.
"I like where we are, but we've got a lot of improvement left," said Davis, the Eagles' fourth defensive coordinator in four years. "We've still got so many inconsistencies in what we're doing. We've got eight more games to get a lot better."