I've gotten some emails and tweets from people who say they will be just fine, if the Eagles decide to do nothing to shake up their defensive decision-making hierarchy, in the wake of Steve Spagnuolo signing on with the Saints. Their thinking, of course, is that Juan Castillo's defense improved dramatically down the stretch, that players talked of having needed time to come together and grasp their roles, get a sense of one another, so on and so forth.
No question, the Eagles' defense improved, allowing no more than one touchdown in each of its last four outings, yes, against subpar quarterbacks, but looking much better than it had looked against equally subpar quarterbacks earlier in the season. (Ryan Fitzpatrick? Tavaris Jackson?)
Castillo is an earnest, decent man who doesn't deserve to be cast aside summarily. And if you're going to retain Jim Washburn and the Wide 9, which seems advisable, the easiest way to do that is to keep Castillo in place. Still, I want to see a prominent, experienced voice given a position of power on the defensive side, with Juan, in place of Juan, whatever.
The Eagles missed the playoffs for two reasons: Turnovers and Castillo's learning curve. The turnover thing they're going to have to fix by beating Michael Vick over the head with it all offseason. The Castillo problem isn't just magically cured by the former offensive line coach having one season on defense under his belt now.
Yeah, they'll shore up the linebacker position and maybe safety, too, and that will help. But how do we know Castillo won't stand and watch Larry Fitzgerald beat him again when Larry Fitzgerald is the only real weapon on the field for the other team? As much as I like Juan, I don't want to see him matching wits with, say, Bill Belichick, or even Drew Brees, in the third quarter of a close game. There is no way Castillo is going to have the grasp of defensive nuance of someone who has worked on the defensive side for many years, no matter how hard Juan works. My feeling down the stretch was that players and other coaches got Juan to simplify things, to blitz more, to junk the complex zone coverages he'd designed. I don't trust the man's instincts, based on what he planned for his rookie season.
I still think it's inexcusable that the Eagles missed the playoffs in large part because Andy Reid couldn't forsee that making his offensive line coach the defensive coordinator in a lockout year, with no offseason preparation, was going to be a disaster. The lockout didn't just sneak up on anybody. Teams knew it was coming, for a couple of years.
I don't think "well, what the heck, Juan seemed to be catching on there, let's see what happens" is a good way to prepare for a Super Bowl-or-bust season. Reid was incredibly lucky that last year's Castillo decision didn't cost him his job. This year's Castillo decision still could.
Note to people who might read a couple of the comments below: The Eagles' ranking of 8th in defense pertains strictly to yardage, which is close to meaningless. Ask the Patriots, who ranked 31st there.
The Eagles gave up 27 touchdown passes last season despite having rich talent at the cornerback position. That figure ranked 24th in the NFL, and that stat DOES mean something. They were 30th in red zone defense. They tied for 17th in the league in interceptions, despite tying for the league lead in sacks. When you're getting such good pressure, it ought to convert into turnovers. It didn't.
And I don't think I'm the one bending stats to fit an agenda.