Reflecting on Eagles' defense in Castillo's first year

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(Clem Murray/Staff file photo)

EAGLES BEAT WRITER Les Bowen made the following observation about the team's linebackers following a preseason game in Pittsburgh:

"A confused, porous half of work against a really poised, honed Steelers offense does not necessarily portend disaster," he wrote. "But it's always troubling when something you suspected might be a weakness really seems to be shaking out that way, in spades."

For most of the fall, the defense often seemed out of sorts, out of position and out of talent. But the unit turned it around late, cynics will point out against inferior competition, and rookie coordinator Juan Castillo will be back in 2012.

Here is a look at the highs and mostly lows in Castillo's first year:

ROUGH START

On the first regular-season defensive snap, Rams running back Steven Jackson ripped off a 47-yard touchdown run. The horse of St. Louis' backfield injured himself on the play, however, and had only one other carry. Eagles won, 31-13.

RED-FLAGGED

In five trips to the red zone, the Falcons came away with five touchdowns. A huge scab from the 2010 defense had been picked and blood was dripping.

GIANT DAY

Eli Manning threw for four touchdowns and completed nearly 70 percent of his passes in a 29-16 Giants win over the Birds. "Thank heavens," Bowen wrote, "the Eagles worked so hard in the offseason to improve their secondary."

ANOTHER COLLAPSE

The defense failed to hold a 23-3 lead as the Eagles lost again, this time 24-23 to the 49ers. In their last three games, the Birds have been outscored 36-0 in the fourth quarter. "Stuff like that can't happen," said cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, a prized free agent. "It's not good. It's not good right now. Everybody's embarrassed."

KURTAIN CALL

Let's skip another dreadful loss (to the Bills) and salute Kurt Coleman, who had three of the Eagles' four interceptions of Rex Grossman. The 20-13 win over Washington ended a four-game losing streak.

COWBOY UP

On the night the Birds put late d-coordinator Jim Johnson in the honor roll, the Eagles put together their best performance of the season in a 34-7 win over Dallas.

CARDINAL SIN

The defense made John Skelton look like John Unitas as the Cardinals, two-touchdown underdogs who had lost 11 consecutive road games, rallied to beat the Eagles, 21-17.

BITING THE BIG APPLE

Jason Babin's sack and forced fumble late in the fourth quarter wrapped up a terrific defensive performance in the Birds 17-10 win over the host Giants.

BRADY CRUNCH

The fears that preceded the meeting with the high-flying Patriots were justified as Tom Brady carved up the Birds for 361 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-20 drilling. Nnamdi Asomugha was limited by a knee injury and replacement Brandon Hughes was scorched. Things couldn't get worse.

LYNCH-PINNED

Things got worse when Marshawn Lynch's 148 rushing yards often made the Eagles' defense look like 11 matadors (Ole') in a 31-14 Seattle win. "It's been the perfect storm of negatives for him," Darryl Tapp said in defense of his coordinator. "I feel bad that all the stuff is getting directed at him, because we all have a part and we all understand that right now. But all you can do is just move forward."

MIAMI-VICED

The defense, which has shown more personalities than a Joe Conklin comedy routine, dominated Miami in a 26-10 victory. "We played like men today," Jason Babin said.

GANGED GREEN

Castillo's cast badly outplayed Rex Ryan's crew as the Eagles drilled the Jets, 45-19. The victory kept the Birds' playoff hopes on life support.

PLUG PULLED

A Giants win over the Jets eliminated the Eagles from playoff contention. But the Birds' four-game winning streak to close the season saved Castillo's job. Fired Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo's decision to be the defensive coordinator for New Orleans probably didn't hurt either.