It was merely 20 days ago that the Philadelphia Eagles were on a long plane ride home from Seattle after suffering a demoralizing defeat at the hands of Tarvaris Jackson and the Seahawks.
It was their fourth such kind of loss out of their previous five games and the season was all but over. The pitchforks and torches were out in Philadelphia and everyone wanted the heads of Andy Reid and Juan Castillo on a platter.
At the very minimum, Juan Castillo had to go. Sure, everybody knew that ultimately Reid had put Castillo in that position, but it was more about Reid owning up to his mistake.
Simply put, Castillo was just in way over his head and it killed the Eagles’ chances of making the playoffs. The team absolutely needed a new defensive coordinator to compete in 2012.
There was even this tasty little nugget from Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network where he reported that Andy Reid was likely to remain coach as long as he hired a new defensive coordinator.
The Eagles’ defense was a complete mess; blown fourth-quarter leads, blown coverages, players looking confused and without confidence, poor tackling, horrible in the red zone and of course, couldn’t stop the run — were all painfully obvious to those who witnessed the debacles.
Fast forward three weeks and two straight victories later…
Now everyone is singing praises for Juan Castillo and the recent defensive success. Granted, the defense has played better these past two weeks and Castillo does deserve some credit.
The statistics for the past two games tell the story of just how well the defense played:
Total yards given up – 445
3rd down efficiency – 8 for 25
Red zone efficiency – 3 out of 8
First downs allowed – 24
Sacks – 13
Turnovers – 7
Points allowed – 29
Nnamdi Asomugha credits the defensive turnaround to Castillo’s development as a coordinator. Basically, Asomugha thinks Castillo has learned to call defenses better and therefore the players are more confident in what they’re doing.
Conversely, Castillo thinks that the recent resurgence is more due to the players finally catching on.
Whatever the reason, the defense has played better these past two weeks. It’s more likely a combination of the two because it is logical to think there would be a significant learning curve for the inexperienced coordinator and a bunch of new players.
However, another reason for the recent defensive success could have to do with the quality of the offenses they have faced.
Ron Pasceri of Bleacher Report posted a nice article showing how the offenses of the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets have been playing pretty good football over recent weeks, but struggled against the Eagles.
Basically, the premise is that he’s trying to say that the Dolphins and Jets’ offenses are not as bad as you might think and that you shouldn’t discount how good of a job the Eagles defense actually did.
On one hand, I don’t disagree. The Eagles’ defense played very well in forcing turnovers, pressuring the quarterback, limiting first downs and most importantly, limiting red zone scoring.
If you can do that against any NFL offense, that’s an accomplishment.
However, I just can’t get over the fact that it was the Jets and Dolphins. Their offenses are ranked 21st and 26th in the league and both have quarterbacks that are mediocre at best.
Yes, the Dolphins’ offense has been playing better recently. But if you recall, they lost two key players on offense against the Eagles: left tackle Jake Long and QB Matt Moore.
The loss of Long allowed Trent Cole to record three sacks and Moore was replaced by J.P Losman. Not exactly a winning combination there so of course that would limit the Dolphins’ offense.
Mark Sanchez and the Jets’ offense work best when they’re able to run the ball. Since the Eagles jumped out to a 28-0 lead early in the game — thanks to turnovers — it took the Jets out of their game plan.
Sanchez is no Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or even Eli Manning. He is not the type of quarterback capable of taking over a game with his passing. Once he was forced into pass-mode, the Eagles were able to just tee-off on him.
And even on his best day, Sanchez is just an average quarterback.
Therefore, I have to conclude that ultimately, you have to put an asterisk next to these last two defensive performances. Yes, they played well but their level of competition was not stellar.
Furthermore, the Eagles were able to jump out to healthy leads these past two games because of early turnovers. That’s great, but, what if they didn’t get those turnovers?
Would the Eagles be able to go mano e mano with anyone if there were no turnovers (by either team)? Would the defense be able to hold up in a tight game where the opposing offense wasn’t forced into an obvious passing situation?
At this point, I’d still say that no, they couldn’t. Not until they prove it, that is.
And how would the defense perform against an offense in the top half of the league? The Eagles have played three non-divisional teams who have offenses ranked in the top 15 and were lit up by all three (Falcons, Bills, Patriots).
Just three weeks ago, the defense was lit up by the 28th ranked Seahawks offense.
I think Juan Castillo is a good guy that has the motivation to become a good defensive coordinator. However, I still think Andy Reid should never have put him in this position.
Maybe Castillo will become a good coordinator, maybe he won’t.
The problem is, just three weeks ago we were all certain that Castillo had to go. Now, with the past two wins, the picture just became cloudy again.
If the Eagles defense finishes out with “decent” performances against Dallas and Washington, is that good enough to bring Castillo back next season? Would four good weeks, three of which are against questionable offenses, be good enough to keep the faith in Castillo?
Or do you go by what we saw for the first 12 weeks of the season?
These last two games will go a long way in determining Castillo’s future. If the Cowboys blow up the Eagles’ defense this week, I think that will seal his fate.
If they play well and the Eagles win, is that good enough for Castillo to earn a second year as defensive coordinator?