Lately we've been running Filmroom Friday around this time, but you may have noticed my plate has been a little full this week, so I didn't have a chance to really dig into the coaches' film. I expect my schedule to remain hectic next week as well, so if you've been enjoying those posts, we'll try to get back at it over the bye.
But now that some folks are finally starting to come around on Juan Castillo -- very slowly, I will add -- we thought it would be helpful to look at some of the numbers that explain why.
Truthfully, I don't think Castillo has been given quite enough credit for the Eagles' defensive turnaround yet. Sure, it's only been four games (although really eight dating back to last season), so it's understandable some are still skeptical. Then again, four games into 2011 people were already calling for the man's job, if they ever gave the hire a chance in the first place.
Another dynamic at work here is the Eagles haven't exactly seen many top offenses yet. Cleveland and Arizona have two of the least efficient attacks, and the Giants were banged up. The Steelers, Lions, Falcons, and Saints are the next four opponents, and each figures to test what this unit is made of.
Regardless of competition, nobody can say Castillo's crew hasn't their job though. Here's a rundown on some of the numbers:
POINTS PER GAME
Philadelphia is in a three-way tie for 10th as opponents are scoring 20.8 points per game -- but hold the phone. Two touchdowns against the Eagles this season were opposing defenses taking Michael Vick turnovers to the house. Even if you want insist the point after counts anyway, the Birds' D is actually allowing 17.8 points per game, which would be tied for sixth.
That number is even better going back to 2011. Per Reuben Frank, the Eagles have been the second-stingiest defense in the NFL over the last eight games, allowing 13.8 PPG. Coincidentally, only the Steelers have been better.
By the NFL's standard, Philadelphia has the sixth-ranked defense in the NFL -- allowing 298.2 yards per game -- and they're getting it done by being solid all around. They are 12th against the run (91.5), 11th in yards per carry (3.8), and are even more impressively seventh against the pass (206.8), tied for third in yards per attempt (6.2).
Of course, the passing numbers are probably aided by the fact that Brandon Weeden and Kevin Kolb are among the four quarterbacks they've faced, but still solid nonetheless.
A big difference for the Eagles this year has been their ability to get off the field on third down, especially in a long distance situations. Opponents have converted just 14-of-52 tries on third down, a rate of 27% -- third best in the NFL. They've held strong when the offense goes for it as well, allowing the sticks to move one time in four tries on fourth down.
Teams were successful at protecting the football against the Birds last season, but at least quarterbacks are turning the ball over at a higher rate. Philly is tied for fourth with four other teams at six interceptions a piece, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie owning three of them alone -- which also happens to be tied for the league lead.
Surprisingly the Eagles haven't had much luck with loose balls, recovering just one fumble so far, though they did have a second one called back due to a penalty.
The Eagles have been horrible in the red zone the past few years, historically bad even. That won't be the case in 2012. Philadelphia is tied for fourth in red zone scoring, allowing a touchdown only 33% of the time. That means two out of three trips will either result in three points, or none at all. Certainly that's made a huge difference in all those tight one- and two-point victories.
Curiously, while the defense has posted some tremendous numbers through four games the defensive line hasn't really gotten it going just yet. They've certainly made an impact pressuring quarterbacks and stuffing the run, but a season ago they finished with 50 sacks. So far in 2012, seven, ranked 21st in the NFL. They're on pace to finish with almost half of last year's total.
So while you might argue the level of competition has helped skew the numbers in the Eagles' favor to a degree, imagine how much better they could be if Trent Cole and Jason Babin start to get hot. My guess is once that happens, and after a few strong efforts against some of the top-flight competition coming up, soon everybody will be happy to admit the Castillo's defense is one of the toughest units in the league.