PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles' defense got off to a rocky start this season.
In the first four games, defensive coordinator Bill Davis' unit gave up 34.5 points per game, allowed opponents to convert third downs at a 44.2 percent clip, allowed opponents to convert 58.8 percent of their red-zone opportunities into touchdowns and gave up nine touchdown passes.
Davis asked everyone to trust him. Said his defense would get better the more it played together. And he was right.
Over the last six games, the Eagles' defense has been a big reason the team finds itself tied for first place in the NFC East with a 5-5 record heading into Sunday's important division battle against the Washington Redskins.
In the last six games, four of which the Eagles have won, the Eagles have allowed just 17.7 points per game. Their third-down efficiency rate has improved to 38.1 percent and their red-zone percentage has dropped to 43.7 percent. And oh, yeah. They've only given up six touchdown passes in the last six games, just two in the last four games.
The man who has been a major part of this turnaround is linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who leads the defense in tackles and is the unit's leader.
"DeMeco is the leader of our defense and he's having an outstanding Pro Bowl year," Davis said. "He quarterbacks the defense - we give him a lot of leeway. He can get us in and out of defenses. Gets us in the best defense possible.
"He's been a force. Whether it's crossing routes he's knocking out or his inside run game that he's tackling. He's playing at a high level."
When the Eagles acquired Ryans in a trade with Houston last year, the perception was that he was a better fit for a 4-3 defense, which the Eagles played last season, than the 3-4 the Texans had switched to in 2011.
When Chip Kelly was hired as head coach in January and hired Davis as his defensive coordinator and he installed a 3-4 scheme, many wondered how Ryans would fit in. Particularly since he's making more than $6 million this season.
But he is playing every bit as well this season as he was before he ruptured his Achilles tendon back in 2010.
"I was coming off an injury (in 2011)," Ryans said. "I knew I had some work to put in to get back to where I wanted to be. But I never had a doubt in my mind that I couldn't get back to this level. This is the level I was playing at (before the injury)."