If you walk up to a roulette wheel with a thousand dollar chip and blindly flip it like a coin onto the table and that number comes up, you're lucky. The Philadelphia Eagles escaping Ohio with a 17-16 win over the Cleveland Browns was beyond luck. They had no right to win the game. Their mistakes were as blatant as they were in their 8-8 2011 season. Their penalties were atrocious. Michael Vick looked color blind in terms of which jersey to throw at. But somehow they return home to face the Baltimore Ravens with a road win notched on their record.
Perhaps the biggest silver lining against a team they were 9.5-point favorites to beat was the performance of their refurbished defense. Here are five things that stuck out to me when I spread the fingers covering my eyes enough to watch what was close to a disaster.
When the Eagles unloaded cornerback Asante Samuel to the Atlanta Falcons in the offseason it freed up room on the stage for Dominque Rogers-Cromartie, and it allowed the Birds to let he and Nnamdi Asomugha play press coverage in their system. Now, Brandon Weeden and Cleveland's inexperienced receiving corps might not have been the best indication of how that will work throughout the season, but the Browns stayed away from Asomugha for the most part, and Cromartie registered two interceptions and should have had a third. They both looked physical, and both have great size and speed for cornerbacks. That should help keep the Birds from having to double team elite receivers with questionable safeties.
2.) WHERE WAS BRANDON GRAHAM?
The Eagles are running out of time on the Brandon Graham experiment at defensive end. Since moving up to draft him in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft (instead of taking safety Earl Thomas), Graham has been unproductive, mostly because of a litany of injuries. After what seemed like a solid preseason, Graham played only four downs against Cleveland. He hasn't registered a sack since his rookie season in 2010 and played in only three games last season. With Jason Babin and Trent Cole manning the ends on third and longs in the Wide 9 technique, Graham will more than likely have to prove himself on first and second downs in the line rotation. He didn't get much of a chance to do that Sunday.
3.) DeMECO RYANS ANSWERS THE BELL
There were concerns about DeMeco Ryans, the free agent prize of the offseason for the Eagles at middle linebacker, in the preseason. After playing all 16 games in 2011 with the Houston Texans in a new, 3-4, defense, and after recovering from an Achilles injury, there were question marks. Ryans took a step toward erasing doubt with a staunch performance in his first game in midnight green. He was capable in pass coverage and filled holes as a rush stopper like a middle linebacker should. Eagles' fans haven't seen that in the middle since Jeremiah Trotter left.
4.) BABIN'S RUN DEFENSE
Defensive end Jason Babin has been pegged by most Philly fans as a one-trick pony. He's the definition of the kind of defensive end it takes to play defensive line coach Jim Washburn's Wide 9 technique. But he's been called out for his lack of effectiveness against the running game. Upon returning from a calf injury that sidelined Babin for most of training camp, Babin was solid in both phases of the game. He registered a sack, a forced fumble and four tackles. Again, he was playing a young and raw Cleveland offense, but it's encouraging to see he's made strides in his run defense. He had 18 sacks in 2011, but most Eagles' fans would gladly trade a few of those for more consistent play on first and second down.
5.) KURT COLEMAN MANS UP
When safety Kurt Coleman was blocked from the side and his chin strap came loose, he had still done his job. He filled a gap against the run and was in the correct position. Reaction had him catch running back Trent Richardson as he lowered the boom upon Coleman, sending his helmet spinning into the air like a field goal kick. His face blew back like he was Apollo Creed taking a fatal blow from Drago. His lip cut. His nose bleeding. His forehead mashed. He got right up. He popped his helmet back on and got ready to go back to work. If the offense is as ineffective as it was against the Browns, you're going to need the defense to carry the load. Who ever thought we'd be saying that a year ago?
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer and a Philadelphia sports enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.