Fans have heard how Juan Castillo wants his defense to play fast and physical football this entire offseason.
On Thursday night, fans got their first glimpse of that defense in game action and there was plenty to rave about. The defensive line garnered six sacks, forced two turnovers and allowed just six points in a 13-6 win.
But for Thursday night's performance to carry over to Sundays this fall, there have to be practices like the one the defense had Sunday morning at Lehigh University. A thunderstorm overnight in Bethlehem, Pa. left the fields wet. Clouds overhead provided a steady rain throughout the practice. Most fans stayed home instead of packing the bleachers at Lehigh University. Everything was in place for what could have been a lackluster practice.
That is except for Castillo leading the charge running out on the field, yelling, screaming and cheering on his players after every big play. In fact, the defense dominated the offense at practice on Sunday morning as the nickel defense worked on corner blitzes and the red zone defense showed marked improvement in practice compared to the one that was last in the NFL just a year ago. If the Eagles defense is going to be fast and physical, it's not going to just all of a sudden happen show up on gameday.
"You're going to play the way you practice," Castillo said. "Everything we want to do in games we want to do on the (practice) field."
In addition to the pressure generated on the quarterback Thursday night, the Eagles were proficient in stopping the run. Outside of quarterback Tyrod Taylor scrambling for 59 yards, the Ravens had just 48 rushing yards.
"It's the penetration of the defensive line and getting up the field and then the linebackers are doing a good job playing off the penetration because that's important, it goes hand in hand," Castillo said.
Leading the linebackers early on was rookie Casey Matthews, who worked the middle linebacker spot for the first two series of the game. After taking the first-team reps at the spot since the start of camp, Castillo said Matthews was "excellent" at running the defense and getting in coverage. Matthews' challenge moving forward, Castillo said, will be getting off blocks in the run game.
"Being able to come up and take a block on and shrug it and get a release and make a play," Castillo said. "That's the toughest thing for linebackers and there are not a lot of guys in the NFL who can do that."
Coming up this Thursday night will be another physical challenge from across the state in the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's the next chance for Castillo to show that his defense will be, indeed, fast and physical.
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