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Domowitch: Eagles' defense physical, aggressive

PITTSBURGH - After the Eagles had five takeaways in their 17-9 preseason win over the Tampa Bay Bucs last week, somebody asked defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz whether he puts particular emphasis on forcing turnovers.

PITTSBURGH - After the Eagles had five takeaways in their 17-9 preseason win over the Tampa Bay Bucs last week, somebody asked defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz whether he puts particular emphasis on forcing turnovers.

"Well, you can emphasize it all you want," he said. "You can do drills all you want. But you've got to have players (who can force turnovers). Standing up and giving a speech or putting a PowerPoint up or making an emphasis in a drill doesn't get it done on the field."

The turnover fun continued Thursday night in the Eagles' 17-0 win over the Steelers. Yes, that was Landry Jones at quarterback in the first half and not Ben Roethlisberger. And yes, All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell also had the evening off.

But the preseason is for building confidence, and Schwartz's defense added a few more bricks of it against the Steelers, intercepting four Jones passes in the first half. Cornerbacks Nolan Carroll and Aaron Grymes and safeties Jaylen Watkins and Malcolm Jenkins all had picks.

Last season, the Eagles' defense had only three interceptions in the final eight games. In their first two preseason games, they already have seven. It means nothing, and it means everything.

Schwartz has brought a new 4-3 scheme to Philadelphia, along with a new, aggressive mentality. Billy Davis's two-gap 3-4 was a read-and-react defense. Schwartz's defense is all about attacking and being physical.

He brought in three former players - cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks and linebacker Nigel Bradham - to help instill that approach to the rest of the defensive players. It's working.

"We've got to be the unit that takes over out there,'' defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "We've got to be the guys who take over games.

"It's basically about being disruptive. It's going to create a lot of havoc. Getting after the quarterback. Stopping the run. It's going to be a real fun year once we just get in that room together and believe in each other."

Watch the Eagles' defensive backs and you can see the difference between last year and this year. Following McKelvin and Brooks' lead, they are much more physical, disrupting receivers off the line of scrimmage and battling them for every ball.

"I think our demeanor is a little different now," Carroll said. "I think we're taking more of a responsibility to set the tone for the whole team early on in the game. I think it's been our mindset the last couple of weeks, and even during training camp it was like that."

Carroll, who missed the last five games last season after breaking his leg, muscled his way in front of Steelers wide receiver Sammie Coates in the first quarter, intercepted Jones' pass and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown. Sure, it would've carried a little more weight if it had been Roethlisberger throwing to Brown. But it still was a nice play.

"To start the game, they tried to go deep against me," said Carroll, who broke up a deep ball to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey on the Steelers' first play of the game.

"I knew they probably wouldn't go deep again on the next series. Judging from the stem (of the route that Coates ran), I knew it was going to be something quick."

Later in the first quarter, Jones tried to hit wide receiver Cobi Hamilton with a lob pass in the end zone. But McKelvin battled him and deflected the ball right into the hands of Jenkins.

In the second quarter, Grymes, a former all-CFL corner who signed with the Eagles in the offseason, made a terrific interception on another end zone pass, this one also to Coates. Grymes got himself in better position to catch the ball than Coates and made a diving grab.

"I kind of expected a deep ball there from doing film study and the formation they came out in," Grymes said. "And they had just thrown a ball on me and completed it on the sideline. So I felt they would come back at me again.

"I was just ready for it. Luckily I was in the right position and went and got it."

Grymes has played his way into position for a roster spot. So has Watkins, who had the Eagles' fourth interception.

Grymes went undrafted out of college. He has spent the last three years playing in the Canadian Football League. But this summer, and in the first two preseason games, he is proving he belongs in the NFL.

"Every day that goes by I think I've played a little bit faster, a little bit smarter," Grymes said. "I'm just feeling more comfortable with our aggressive playing style. I've played it the last three years up in Canada.

"The more I see the formations and the players and the routes, the more comfortable I get with the American game and the faster I play."

In their first two preseason games, the Eagles have allowed a total of nine points, 536 yards and have nine takeaways.

"We still have room to grow, still have things we need to fine-tune so that we don't make the same mistakes we've been making (in the past)," Carroll said.

"There were a couple of drives that got extended just because of little things that we need to clean up, which I think we'll do."

@Pdomo Blog: