Eagles' young defenders letting it fly

The Jets' Santonio Holmes loses the ball as he is hit by Casey Matthews (left) and Kurt Coleman, two Eagles who have improved.
The Jets' Santonio Holmes loses the ball as he is hit by Casey Matthews (left) and Kurt Coleman, two Eagles who have improved. (MICHAEL PEREZ / Associated Press)
Posted: December 22, 2011

Kurt Coleman saw the play develop in front of him: Santonio Holmes caught a short pass and turned to run. Coleman, knowing he had linebacker Casey Matthews also in pursuit, lined up Holmes and unloaded.

The hit jarred the ball loose, and Juqua Parker recovered and ran it back for a touchdown, sparking the Eagles' rout of the Jets on Sunday.

It was the second touchdown Coleman had set up in two games - he ran an interception back to Miami's 1-yard line the week before - and the hit reflected a new, aggressive mind-set the safety said he has taken on since returning to the starting lineup.

"Coach Reid's been stressing to me, just let it go, just let it go," Coleman said in the locker room after the game. "Early in the season there was things that I knew I could do, but I wasn't doing to my fullest. . . . That's been kind of a transition in my mind-set, I'm just letting it fly."

Coleman's improved play after being benched for two games earlier this season has helped the defense rally the last two weeks.

He is one of several young defenders who have rebounded from disappointing starts, along with Matthews and fellow safety Nate Allen, each of whom was benched at one point this year.

All three have played better the last two weeks, though they face a bigger test Saturday against Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, a deep group of receivers, and tight end Jason Witten.

"When something is taken away from you, you really come back . . . and you know how awesome a thing it is to start in the NFL," said defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. "It's a privilege."

For Coleman, sitting after missing a key tackle in Week 3 was difficult. Thoughtful and eloquent in the locker room, Coleman lets his emotions out on the field.

He doesn't have star size or speed, but he has good instincts and, at his best, plays with passion and toughness. Early in the year, Coleman admitted, he wasn't getting the most out of those attributes.

"It's not fully trusting what you're reading, and at this game, any type of error, any type of mistake, it's usually leading to a big play," Coleman said.

But when he returned to the starting lineup against Washington, he made three interceptions and felt his instincts really take over starting against Chicago.

Allen, slowed as he recovered from knee surgery earlier in the season, also has improved. He broke up two potential touchdowns to Miami's Brandon Marshall.

"We just stayed with it," Allen said. "I know Kurt, mentally strong guy. We just kept our faith and looked at the bigger picture. It's not just about us, it was about this team."

The two are close, having roomed together as rookies at training camp last season. Allen, a second-round pick subject to more scrutiny, is the cerebral one of the pair.

"He's dealt with [being benched] probably a lot better than I did," Coleman said. "Nate's real reserved, you can't tell if he's had a bad day at all. He's always got a smile on his face. I'm the emotional one."

Matthews, meanwhile, still chafes at the criticism he faced earlier this season, but he said his time on the bench taught him about the business side of the NFL and gave him a better chance to learn the defense.

"I got the whole first three games blamed on me, but just worked to get back out there and prove them wrong," Matthews said. "I was learning on the go. The first couple weeks I didn't even have a full grasp of the defense yet."

Since early in the season - around Week 5 or 6 - middle linebacker Jamar Chaney has helped organize an extra Saturday morning film study for safeties and linebackers, the young players responsible for making adjustments on the field and blamed for many of the defense's struggles. Coleman, Allen, and Matthews all join in. They sit with play sheets and watch tape, calling adjustments based on what they see on the screen.

The idea is to reinforce the mental part of the game, so when it comes time to make plays, they can just let it fly.


Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214, jtamari@phillynews.com, or @JonathanTamari on Twitter.

 

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