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Eagles' defensive improvement comes from many fronts

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Posted Dec. 23, 2011 @ 5:38 p.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

It hasn't been easy to pinpoint exactly what has spurred the Eagles' mini-revival defensively, but there are some clues why it is happening.

First, some players who had been in the so-called doghouse have returned to the forefront with a vengeance. Benched starters Kurt Coleman, Nate Allen and Casey Matthews all have stepped up their play of late. Coleman has played more freely, and the result is more big plays while he is out on the field. Allen appears more comfortable following offseason knee surgery and has become more of a force in pass coverage, especially playing in space and diagnosing plays more quickly. Matthews was buried on the bench after his awful opening few games, but he has earned a role as the nickel linebacker after learning the intricacies of the defense and reacting now more than thinking.

Second, there have been some outstanding individual performances. Before getting hurt in Week 15, CB Asante Samuel had been playing at a high level and making his trademark big plays. And DE Jason Babin has been scorching lately, with eight sacks and countless pressures in the past three games.

A third, less obvious reason for the improvement has been the increased involvement with head coach Andy Reid in the defense. He has worked closely with embattled coordinator Juan Castillo on schemes — particularly the blitz packages — and has helped with game-planning situations and in-game adjustments. Reid might be known as an offensive mastermind, but his involvement in the "D" has been a very helpful addition.

Reid and Castillo have made some wise but subtle personnel decisions, too, such as the greater involvement of DE Phillip Hunt. The undersized pass rusher mostly had been relegated to the bench, only getting chances on special teams when he was called on to play. But Hunt's increased reps on defense have brought a measure of infectious hustle to the group, and he has collected a sack in each of the past two games.

Castillo's future beyond this season is not known, and even if Reid opts to keep him on staff he might give the coordinator some help or reassign him. But right now, the Eagles' formula seems to be working well.

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