PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles' defense felt vindicated after Monday's season-opener.
While everyone was excited at the prospect of seeing how head coach Chip Kelly's energetic offense would fare against Washington, fans were equally skeptical about the defense.
Defensive coordinator Billy Davis' unit fared well. It did a solid job of containing Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris for most of the game and used its aggressiveness to register three sacks and force three turnovers in the Eagles' 33-27 victory at FedEx Field.
"I learned a long time ago that no matter what happens on the field, if you walk out of the stadium with a win, that's first and foremost," Davis said Wednesday at the NovaCare Complex. "But I also thought that it was a great effort, a great performance by our defense. The guys did a great job of executing the (game) plan."
Expectations were low entering the game.
The transition from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 scheme had not gone smoothly. Trent Cole was moved to outside linebacker after spending his first eight NFL seasons at defensive end. Mychal Kendricks, who had struggled at outside linebacker as a rookie a year ago, was moved inside. New cornerback Cary Williams was drawing more attention for fighting with opponents and teammates than for his playing ability.
Yet, all three came through against the Redskins.
Cole, 30, proved that you can teach an old defensive lineman new tricks. He caused a fumble by Morris on the Redskins' opening drive, later downed him in the end zone for a safety and forced Griffin into an intentional grounding penalty with a ferocious pass rush.
"This is all very different for me," Cole said. "New teammates, new coaches, new system, new challenge. But I'm really enjoying myself out there. I truly think that (playing outside linebacker) is easier. I'm able to stand up and get into attack mode right away. I felt dominant out there, overpowering."
Kendricks was arguably the Eagles' best defensive player Monday night. He led the team with 10 tackles, but seemed to be around the football on every play. He provided inside pressure on Griffin via blitzes and was a big reason why Morris rushed for just 45 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries (3.8 yards per carry) after gaining 1,613 as a rookie last season.
More importantly, he's more focused. Kendricks, 22, had a decent rookie season statistically, ranking third on the team with 88 tackles, but was inconsistent.
"I was excited about the possibilities coming into this season," Kendricks said. "With everything that happened last year, I was ready to embrace whatever changes the coaches wanted to make. I have trust in (Davis) that he's going to put things into the game plan that take advantage of our skill sets. I'm willing to do whatever they ask of me. My only goals each game are to play hard, play smart and play fast."
On Monday, Williams finally justified the Eagles' decision to sign him to a three-year, $17 million contract during free agency.
He made everyone forget former cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie with an impressive outing that saw him notch an interception and a sack while also deflecting two passes.
He became the third Eagles cornerback since 1960 to have a sack and interception in the same game, joining Sheldon Brown (Dec. 19, 2004 vs. Dallas) and Lito Sheppard (Sept. 18, 2005 vs. San Francisco).
"That's the Cary Williams we were hoping for," Davis said. "Really, when you watch him day in and day out, he's a fiery competitor. You could just feel that Cary was really amping up for that game."
The key for the Eagles' defense is to sustain that success for at least most of the season.
They face a significant challenge in Sunday's home opener against San Diego. Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers tied his career-high with four touchdown passes on Monday in a 31-28 loss to Houston.
"I think we put some people at ease (against the Redskins)," Eagles outside linebacker Connor Barwin said. "But if we come out and lay an egg against the Chargers, all the questions will be back again."
EXTRA POINTS: Cornerback Bradley Fletcher (concussion) did not practice Wednesday. If he can't play against the Chargers, they will likely move Brandon Boykin into the starting lineup and use Brandon Hughes in the slot. Hughes, who suffered a broken hand during the preseason, rejoined the team Tuesday after getting released over the weekend. Tackle Dennis Kelly (back surgery) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday.
Contact David Weinberg: