Reid's defensive plan comes into focus

The Eagles defensive staff is tasked with improving a defense that was historically bad in the red zone. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

Andy Reid told us he had a plan. But on the night he promoted his offensive line coach to defensive coordinator, many fans and reporters, including myself, were quite skeptical.

His vision, though, came into much clearer focus Wednesday when we got our first chance to talk to Reid’s new cast of assistants on defense and the offensive line.

As many reporters noted today, much of what Reid and Juan Castillo hope to do on defense centers on simplifying the game plan and building around what defensive line coach Jim Washburn does up front. Castillo told us the night his hire was announced that his plan was to have the linebackers and secondary “complement” Washburn’s attacking philosophy on the line. That point was underscored Wednesday when nearly every assistant talked in the same terms and talked about simplifying the scheme. Here’s Jeff McLane’s full report from the Inquirer.

The addition of Johnnie Lynn to coach cornerbacks is worth noting too. Put it all together, as Reid said he was doing, and you have veteran coaches on the defensive line and in the secondary to go along with Castillo, who played linebacker. Lynn has been a defensive coordinator and can be a resource. Washburn might be too, though he said he doesn’t see himself as a coordinator.

I spent most of the media session yesterday talking to Howard Mudd, the new offensive line coach who replaces Castillo and whose hiring was largely overlooked, since it was announced on the same night as the DC move. But it should not be dismissed as part of Reid’s puzzle (his word). Mudd’s track record in 12 years with the Colts, which we reported on today, is outstanding. In eight of his years in Indy the Colts finished first or second in fewest sacks allowed. Even accounting for the help Peyton Manning provides, that’s a fantastic record.

(An aside here: we could feel the years of experience pouring from Mudd and Washburn when we spoke to them. Washburn has been in the NFL since 1998, Mudd since 1974. They make an odd couple of close friends, but they seemed like grizzled sides of the same coin, well versed in football and confident in their own tested and proven systems. While Washburn was salty and politically incorrect, and Mudd was professorial and used phrases like “junction point” to describe his plans, both had this in common: each said they plan to make things simpler for their men. Here’s a guess that it’s a lot easier to do that when you’ve seen as much football as these two have and know what works and what doesn’t. )

(One more aside: we don’t know when we’ll next get to talk to these two, since the Eagles generally keep assistants off limits. Here’s a hope (plea) that the policy changes, because they provided great insight and color.)

OK, so here’s where we add caveats, despite the enthralling interviews:

-- We’ve heard much of this before. It’s nice to talk about attacking with the front four and Washburn has a great track record in that regard, but Sean McDermott also said he planned to get after the quarterback with just four men and it didn’t work last season. It remains to be seen whether things change this year. Also, there was a secondary coach by the name of Dick Jauron around last year. He was supposed to bring a veteran presence to help an inexperienced coordinator. Instead, Jauron and the coordinator are both gone. Bottom line: it’ll be a long time before we can say with certainty whether all the puzzle pieces fit together to make a pretty picture, or if Reid has just re-arranged a jumble.

-- The defense is still Castillo’s to lead. He’ll have get advice from Washburn and Lynn, but the big in-game decisions still come down to him, and – and this is worth repeating – he has not coached defense since coordinating a high school squad in 1989.

-- Ray Horton’s hiring by the Cardinals Wednesday reminds us that the Eagles could have had other options. Horton coached the Steelers’ defensive backs. Packers linebackers coach Winston Moss is rumored to be a consideration for the Raiders. These are experienced defensive coaches who had hands in the two best defenses in the NFL last season. As I wrote in Sunday’s Inquirer, it’s still odd to me that the Eagles didn’t bother to at least talk to any of them to see if they could fit with the staff Reid has assembled. If Castillo was still more impressive, then he was still around to promote. Obviously, the Eagles believed so deeply in Castillo that they didn’t think it was worth even checking out. We’ll see if they were right.

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