First, the Ravens called them dirty. Now, the Steelers are calling them cheap shot artists. They is the Philadelphia Eagles defense.
That’s right, Juan Castillo’s much-maligned unit — at least a year ago — has gained quite a reputation over the first five weeks of the 2012 NFL season. Two opponents from the AFC North, known universally as the league’s black-and-blue division, are upset at the way the Eagles play defense. Steelers guard Willie Colon said the Birds were targeting Ben Roethlisberger’s head.
"Yeah, Ben was mad. He thought they were going after his head," Colon told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "They were cheap shot artists all day. They were hitting us in the back. I know I lost my cool once or twice. It is what it is. You have to play through it."
On Wednesday, many in the Eagles’ locker room shrugged it off.
“Any defense is going to want to be relentless, physical, that’s what defense is all about,” said linebacker DeMeco Ryans “It’s about playing hard and playing hard to the whistle … it’s about being nasty on defense, that’s football.”
Kurt Coleman actually ripped off Andre Brown’s cleat, impeding the Steelers receiver’s forward progress as he was speeding to the end zone. Then, the safety flung it off the field.
“I really didn’t see much dirtiness,” said Coleman. “I seen a couple dirty plays, if you really want to go back and forth like that. But it’s football, it’s between the whistles, it’s between the lines and I really don’t think anybody is trying to inflict or cause injury, but we want to set the tone and empower our will on the other team.”
Brandon Graham and Roethlisberger also got into a heated exchange, after Graham just missed clocking the Steelers quarterback on a potential sack. Roethlisberger was visibly upset and started shouting at Graham. The defensive end posted a freeze-frame of the exchange on Instagram.
“Everybody takes cheap shots, you know, it was an emotional game,” Graham said. “We were not really worried about it. Shoot, the game’s over, they won the game and we move on to the next.”
The topic was still making the rounds Wednesday on ESPN’S "First Take," with former Eagle Brian Dawkins chiming in. Dawkins admitted that games between the Eagles and Steelers — and Eagles and Giants — got especially heated.
“There was some hitting after the whistle, stuff happens in the heat of battle,” he said.
Whether it’s real or perceived, the 2012 Eagles are playing with a noticeable chip on their shoulder. It’s a nasty edge that hasn’t been displayed since Dawkins was patrolling the secondary. Both Graham and Coleman acknowledged the new attitude.
“Absolutely,” Coleman said, without flinching. “We take the field with aggression. It’s almost with a sense of urgency to get off the field as fast as we can — and whatever we have to do, we’re going to do it. It’s definitely an entirely different mindset than what we’re used to taking.”
The reason for the change is two-fold. Graham credited the leadership across all fronts, from the defensive line to the linebackers to the secondary.
“I feel like with the leadership, from DeMeco [Ryans], [Jason] Babin, Trent [Cole] and Cullen, [Jenkins] you know, on the defensive line voicing their opinion on a lot of things, and you got Nnamdi [Asomugha] in the secondary, you know, there’s a lot of people out there really trying to stay aggressive.”
Coleman cited a frustrating 2011 season, when the Eagles seemed to crumble at the worst possible times, for helping to establish a new mindset.
“Just going through what we went through last year, it really allowed us to understand what our capabilities were but why weren’t we achieving really what our full potential was and I think what it came down to was our mental mindset, our attitude every time we took the field,” Coleman said.