In the months leading up to the season, defensive coordinator Juan Castillo knew this year's defense would be different. The talent remained the same, if not improved. But that wasn't the reason. It was because, unlike last year, Castillo had his players in the building for OTAs and mini-camps.
Castillo said that time gave his secondary the chance to learn to defend how teams would pass against them. And that extra time paid dividends on Sunday, as the Eagles were able to hold Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden to 118 yards passing, zero touchdowns and four interceptions.
"We had time to work with (the secondary) and teach them the concepts of our coverages," Castillo said. "I think that's really important. It was a great thing to see."
Two interceptions came courtesy of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who had his best game as an Eagle. Both interceptions were picture perfect as he hauled them in while racing down the sideline in tight coverage.
"He made it look like he was the receiver," Castillo said. "We all know that Dominique's a great athlete. And he knows he's a great athlete. So that's what he expects. He wants to be known as a shutdown corner. And that's his goal, to be the best. And he started it the way he was supposed to start it."
The Eagles feature two starting corners in Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha who are tall and physical. Castillo called a defense that played into their strengths, allowing them to press receivers at the line of scrimmage and use their speed to shadow them down the field.
Their physical style of play paid off. In his first career start, Weeden was unable to generate any offense through the air. No Browns receiver caught more than three passes, and the Eagles totaled 10 pass deflections in the game.
"The energy we had out there, it's a good start," said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. "With Nnamdi (Asomugha) and (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie); Kurt (Coleman) and all of them. If they play like that it makes everybody look good. They played a heck of a game (Sunday)."
And the secondary's big plays weren't limited to just the passing game. While Coleman had two picks of his own, the safety made one of the plays of the game by tackling a charging Trent Richardson – with a loose helmet.
"Well, it was just a simple run for them, but I got cracked by the wide receiver (Josh Gordon) and when he hit me, my helmet chinstrap popped off and then I couldn't even see and the rest is history," Coleman said after the game. "(Richardson) ran right into me and my helmet did some work on my face as you can see, but I'm feeling good even though I'm in pain. I feel good."
Castillo was impressed by the heart and physicality his safety displayed.
"You saw Kurt; I think he made a hit, the helmet pops up; he just puts it back on and keeps going and comes off the field and they clean up the blood," Castillo said. "That's a real man right there."
Though the Eagles' offense had its struggles, Castillo and his defense knew Michael Vick and the offense would get it done in the end. The defense just had to keep playing like it had been.
"That just says a lot about us," said Rodgers-Cromartie. "By the end of the day, we were proven. Sometimes the offense is going to have bad luck and it is just one of those games where you have to dig deep and just keep on fighting and capitalizing on that."
"On the sideline it was awesome because it's really about, 'We know the offense is going to do their job, and it's up to us to do our job,'" Castillo explained. "And that's what we did."
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