Rich Hofmann: Defense's burden falls on Castillo, whether he deserves it or not

013112-400-hf1hofm1
Now that he is going to be back for another season, the truth about Juan Castillo has yet to be written. (Ron Cortes/Staff file photo)

FROM THE DAY he was given the job as the Eagles' defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo had a perception problem. You know, that he wasn't qualified. A year later, nothing has changed.

The defense blew a bunch of leads early in the season and Castillo was barbecued. The defense then settled down in the last 11 weeks of the season and Castillo was told it was because he was playing against lousy quarterbacks. He will not win this argument, no matter what.

Now that he is going to be back for another season, the truth about Castillo has yet to be written. Only a handful of people really know how good or bad he is at the job. One of them is Andy Reid, who either has a death wish or has decided that Castillo and his assistants - including the newly hired and highly regarded secondary coach, Todd Bowles - are good at what they do.

But here is what stands out: Castillo's complete and total unwillingness to play the media game and maybe alter the public perception. A private conversation with a reporter . . . a whisper, here or there . . . a well-timed arch of the eyebrow - Castillo will not do any of it. He just takes the punches when, well, consider these questions:

1) When Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie seemed so genetically mismatched as cornerbacks, why was Castillo blamed?

The truth is, this was going to be a handful from the moment that Asomugha, the former Raider, was acquired in free agency. The organizational euphoria at the signing drowned out a fundamental question: How is it possible to make things work when one guy (Asomugha) is best in press coverage while the guy on the other side (Samuel) wants to play soft and act as a swooping predator? And when the third guy (Rodgers-Cromartie) has to deal with suddenly not being a starter anymore? And when none of them is really suited to play in the slot?

This is not to argue that Castillo made every right call, especially early in the season, when Asomugha found himself playing more zone than he wanted to play, and more of a hybrid-ish, safety-ish kind of position than was his custom. It is simply to acknowledge what everybody knows: that Samuel should have been traded once Asomugha was acquired, even acknowledging how good he is, and that the best match of skill sets would have had Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie on the outside and Joselio Hanson in the slot.

Castillo occasionally was asked these kinds of questions and never let on at the complications of his life. I remember asking him about it once in the middle of the season - press on one side, soft on the other, and whether it was complicated for everybody - and he said, "Well, no, that's my job. I need to make sure that it's not, so that we get this thing done."

Not even a what-are-you-gonna-do shrug.

2) Another Asomugha question. When this zillion-dollar free agent was so brutal early in the season, why was Castillo blamed?

I know, I know - he played too much zone. Fine. But so few of the surrounding pieces were really trustworthy in coverage, and don't pretend that this wasn't complicated because of that.

But the issue is even more fundamental. I don't care whether he is playing man, zone or barefoot - if he is in position to make a tackle, he has to at least slow the guy down. Too often, Asomugha failed. And when it came to pass coverage, it doesn't matter how they had it lined up at the snap - but if Asomugha is in position to win a jump ball or make a play when he is in position to make a play, then he has to do it. Too often, he did not.

That was not Castillo's fault. Week after week, though, he talked about working harder and making things simpler and on and on.

Without even an arched eyebrow.

3) Finally, when you look back at the start of the season, you have to ask yourself who exactly decided Casey Matthews should be the starting middle linebacker on Opening Day? And why was Castillo blamed for that, too?

No one has ever taken credit for this one, but do you honestly believe that, essentially sight unseen, Castillo would choose a rookie fourth-round draft choice to call the defensive signals in his maiden voyage as coordinator? That a guy who looked for all the world like a situational player would be an every-down player from the very beginning? That even without a minicamp, Matthews would be anointed by a rookie defensive coordinator?

We all saw what happened, how they first changed Matthews' position, and then got him out of the lineup, and then shuffled and reshuffled the lineup of linebackers until everybody was pretty much a situational player by the end of the season.

Castillo's fault?

Or his burden?

Again, he never said boo. It might be why Reid likes him so much.

 


Send email to hofmanr@phillynews.com,

or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at www.philly.com/TheIdleRich.

For recent columns go to www.philly.com/RichHofmann.