I'm not going to lie, defending Juan Castillo has become something of a pet project of mine. Since the defense blew its first fourth-quarter lead way back in Week 2, I've maintained the issues weren't all on that side of the ball, that any attempt to paint it as such was misinformed or disingenuous, perhaps both.
Since then, I've shown you how field position backed them into a corner. I've proven that offensive giveaways were the biggest difference makers, and tied giveaways to winning throughout the league. Finally, I demonstrated in great detail how field position, giveaways and additional miscues -- putrid short yardage and red zone offense, issues on special teams, and individual mistakes largely unrelated to coaching -- were epidemic in all five of the Eagles' blown leads this season.
Now I'm here to tell you that, faced with all of those problems, not to mention saddled with inexperienced and/or ineffective linebackers and safeties, Juan Castillo did an incredible job. He did an incredible job, not just for a first-year coordinator, not just for an offensive line coach.
He did an incredible job with what he was given to work with, period.
Am I making the case Castillo is an elite defensive coordinator right now? No, but I would make the case that, based on what he accomplished this season, he could become one. Despite finishing with the second-most turnovers in the NFL, the Eagles' defense ranked 10th in points allowed. That may not sound all that sexy, but it's impressive considering how many of those 38 turnovers amounted to free points, and the many more that could have had the defense not bailed them out occasionally.
In what games did the defense even perform poorly? Eight times this season, they held their opponent to 21 points or less. Only three times did they allow more than 24, since interceptions were returned for touchdowns against Buffalo and Seattle. If I would have told you before the season began the Eagles were going to allow 24 points or less in 13 games, how many games would you have guessed they would win, returning the entire core of their most prolific offense in franchise history?
The three teams that surpassed the 24-point threshold: the Falcons, Giants, and Patriots. The Eagles aided Atlanta and New York wins with, no surprise, poor red zone production and turnovers on offense, while New England whipped the Eagles when they were missing Michael Vick and Nnamdi Asomugha, among others. And frankly, Tom Brady makes a lot of defensive coordinators look foolish.
I reject the idea that this was somehow a horrible showing for the defense. In fact, no measurement conventional or otherwise indicates this was an overall bad defense. They're ranked eighth by the NFL standard, yards. Football Outsiders has them 12th in DVOA. ProFootballFocus.com has them fourth based on cumulative individual scores.
Obviously, something isn't quite adding up here. You are being led to believe this was an incompetent defense desperately in need of new leadership, yet somehow, amazingly they also had one of the better units in the league. What a terrible job that Castillo has done!
What's more, I am starting to believe, contrary to what has been reported, that the Eagles are not searching for a new defensive coordinator at all. The only name the club has been tied to is Steve Spagnuolo, and not a peep has come out of the organization regarding those rumors. As far as I can tell, they're based entirely on the premise that he is available, he has roots in Philadelphia, fans have heard of him, and everybody in the world has determined Castillo is inept, rather prematurely at that.
I doubt Andy Reid has come to the same conclusion about a man with whom he has worked with for 13 years, nor has Spagnuolo for that matter, who called Castillo's promotion a 'great move' only a year ago. "Juan is a football junkie who has always studied the entire game. He's a detailed, aggressive, and passionate football coach -- all attributes vital to coaching defense. I wish him all the best."
Maybe it's just because this was the easy, neatly packaged story line of the offseason -- Offensive line coach turned defensive coordinator winds up Reid's scapegoat after five fourth-quarter leads slip away in disappointing 2011 -- but there really doesn't seem to be any great desire to go back and actually break down and reflect on what transpired this season.
Because if that's all you've got -- those five team losses, and a predisposition to an unconventional coaching hire -- that's awfully thin for torches and pitchforks, my friends. What you are saying is the game of football could not possibly be more complex than a team gave some leads away, and that was strictly a defensive problem, one that begins and ends with having an inexperienced defensive coordinator.
Me? I'd like to see how last summer's additions improve with another year in the system. I'd like to see what Juan can do with a big-time playmaker or two at linebacker. I'd like to see what he could do with a full offseason to teach their young talent.
I'd like to see how far the Eagles could go when their offense and special teams stop holding them back.