Stout Eagles run defense will be tested against Giants

PHILADELPHIA -- Brian Dawkins has played in all kinds of defenses, seen every scheme and watched all the big stops in all the big games in 13 years with the Eagles.

What Philadelphia did this season in defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's system left the Pro Bowl safety dazzled like few other times in his career. The Big Green defense just might be the best in the Andy Reid era, especially when it comes to stopping the run.

Dawkins and cornerback Asante Samuel receive the attention and accolades, but the Eagles' run-stuffing success starts with the two men in the middle: defensive tackles Broderick Bunkley and Mike Patterson.

"This is the best run-stopping defense that I've played on since I've been here, by far," Dawkins said "That allows the whole other part of the defense to flow, when we stop the run."

Ask Minnesota Vikings All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson what it's like to try and find a hole against the Eagles. Peterson led the NFL with 1,760 rushing yards this season, but was limited to only 83 yards on 20 carries last week in a wild-card loss. His numbers look even worse if one 40-yard run was tossed out.

"I don't give enough credit to Bunk and Patterson for the job that they do inside," Reid said. "I thought they had an exceptional game, and they'll need to continue that for a couple of good runners that we are playing this week."

Trying to stop Peterson was tough enough for the Eagles. Trying to shut down New York's 1,000-yard rushers in Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward could be the difference between elimination or the NFC Championship Game. Toss in Ahmad Bradshaw, and the Giants boast a backfield nearly as good as all the other ones in the NFC combined. Ward and Jacobs become only the fourth pair of halfbacks on the same team to rush for 1,000 yards apiece in the same season.

"You always want to control the running game," Patterson said. "If they have a good running game, then they can do pretty much anything. That's one of the first things of this defense is control the running game."

No doubt about that, especially checking the box score of the two games these NFC East rivals played this season. The Eagles were outgained on the ground 219-106 in the Giants' 36-31 win on Nov. 9. When the Eagles evened the series with a 20-14 win on Dec. 7, they ran for 140 yards to the Giants' 88.

The Giants, however, played the second half of the second game without Jacobs after he aggravated an injury to his left knee.

Jacobs, who missed the regular-season finale, has pronounced himself ready to go. Even if Jacobs' knee injury flared up and he missed some action on Sunday, Patterson said the Giants were still a dangerous running team.

"It makes a little bit of difference, but they've still got a good running back there," Patterson said. "They've got Ward, he's a shifty running back, so it's hard going against him. You just can't count things out just because he's going out of the game."

The Eagles were fourth in the NFL this season against the run, allowing 92.2 yards per game. They were third overall in yards per game, third against the pass and fourth in points allowed -- numbers that blow away the final stats of the 2004 team that helped Philadelphia to the Super Bowl. No wonder Dawkins is quick to offer high praise for a group that hasn't allowed more than 14 points in the last five games (4-1).

Dawkins called this season's defense one of the top two on which he has played.

"This is definitely a defense that can cause a havoc," Dawkins said.

So much of that havoc starts on the inside. Bunkley is the power guy, and Patterson always seems to be positioned in the right spot. They've worked on the details, know how to hit their run gaps, and Patterson said the two have been successful of late because how well they feed off each other's energy.

Stop the Giants running game, and the Eagles just might have Bunkley and Patterson to thank for their fifth trip to the NFC title game this decade.

"Those guys are playing tremendous ball inside, they really are," Dawkins said. "The penetration that they get, being able to defeat one-on-one blocks on a consistent basis, the penetration that they get in the middle, it affords the linebackers to flow a lot faster, and then we come down and assist them."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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