Here are five thoughts on the Eagles, in light of news from the past two days:
1. LOSING OUT ON SPAGS
I was surprised Andy Reid was so forthcoming in admitting he offered Steve Spagnuolo a spot on his coaching staff. Without coming outright and saying so, he basically said part of his offseason plan was to get Juan Castillo some help.
You can look at how that turned out in one of two ways. One, he was unable to land a candidate to fill that role. Or two, Todd Bowles is that guy.
Earlier this month, when I made the case for Spagnuolo, my thinking was simple: He had led a Super Bowl defense, which allowed an average of 16.25 points in four playoff games. Under Spagnuolo, the Giants limited Tom Brady and the Patriots to two touchdowns and never allowed more than 20 points in the postseason. It's the kind of run that will be necessary if the Eagles want to get to the Super Bowl next season, going through Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Eli Manning and others.
It's the kind of run the Giants will have gone on again if they hoist the Lombardi Trophy Sunday night and go through Rodgers and Tom Brady, perhaps the two best quarterbacks in the NFL.
2. FAIRLY EVALUATING CASTILLO
We don't know if Castillo is capable of orchestrating such a run, so Reid was smart to try and get him some help.
What we learned about Castillo's defense from last season is that it was wildly inconsistent. Football Outsiders uses Variance to measure how each team's performance fluctuates from week to week. Only the Chiefs had a more inconsistent defense than the Eagles last season.
Some point to the final four games as evidence of improvement, but to be fair, the Eagles played well against a couple above-average offenses earlier in the season. In the Birds' first loss to the Giants, Manning picked them apart, completing 69.6 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and no interceptions. The second time around, the Eagles limited Manning and the Giants to just 10 points.
In Week 8, the Eagles shut out the Cowboys through three quarters en route to a 34-7 victory. So yes, there were some good moments to go along with the bad. But the bottom line is this will be Castillo's second season as a defensive coach in the NFL. That's why skepticism about whether he can game-plan against Rodgers, Brees and company is justified.
3. HOW BOWLES FITS IN
In the end, it appears Reid viewed Bowles as a guy who could help Castillo and the defense. When asked if Bowles would have more of a role than other position coaches in terms of game-planning, Reid was quick to point out that this is still Castillo's defense, and he is in charge. And really, that's the stance Reid had to take.
When he moved Castillo from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator, players (whether they admitted it or not) had their doubts about the move. After a disappointing 2011, Reid waited until 30 days after the season ended to confirm that Castillo would be returning in the same role. Now that his staff is in place, Reid has to do his best to make sure the players in the locker room believe in Castillo.
But looking at the defense as a whole, Jim Washburn is in charge of the front four. He had success in his first season here and should be able to build on that in 2012. Perhaps the plan now is to give Bowles (who had been interviewed for a pair of head-coaching jobs) a similar level of autonomy, making things easier on Castillo.
4. FOCUSING ON THE OFFENSE
When asked about the team's blown leads, Reid pointed out that the Eagles' offense only scored three points in the fourth quarters of those games.
This is probably something I should have done earlier in the season, but I went back and looked at those games, against the Falcons, Giants, 49ers, Bears and Cardinals. The Eagles' offense had 13 drives that started in the fourth quarters. The results were:
4 - Turnover on downs
3 - Punts
3 - Interceptions
1 - Fumble
1 - Missed field goal
1 - Field goal
Look at those numbers. Simply a horrible lack of production from the offense. To be fair, Mike Kafka was the quarterback for three of those drives (one turnover on downs, two interceptions). Jeremy Maclin had a key drop and a fumble. Michael Vick had his share of issues. And Alex Henery missed a 33-yard field goal against San Francisco.
In other words, Reid's point was a fair one. Yes, the defense let the Eagles down. But the offense needs to realize it came up short on several occasions as well.
5. SHIFTING NOW TO PERSONNEL
Now that we've heard from Reid and he has his staff in place, the pressure shifts to Howie Roseman. This team has certain things it does very well: running the football with LeSean McCoy, rushing the passer with the front four.
It has to upgrade at linebacker. It has to figure out what to do with DeSean Jackson, and have a plan in place if Jackson doesn't return. And it has to decide whether to deal Asante Samuel.
There are other issues to sort out, but those are the main ones. Teams can start using the franchise tag on Feb. 20. The combine takes place in Indy Feb. 22-28. And free agency starts at 4 p.m. on March 13.
The Eagles have no built-in excuses for 2012. They'll get a full offseason. The only major change on the coaching staff is Bowles replacing Johnnie Lynn. And Vick gets a full offseason to work with Reid and Marty Mornhinweg.
It's time for Reid and Roseman to put together a Super Bowl-caliber roster in the next three months.
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