Is Juan Castillo to Blame For Defensive Woes?

Is Juan Castillo to Blame For Defensive Woes?

In today's Inquirer, Eagles beat writer Jeff McLane opined first-year defensive coordinator Juan Castillo could already find himself on the hot seat after three games. Philadelphia's defense has allowed an average of 32 points over the last two weeks, and the unit has taken the brunt of the criticism for consecutive losses -- in both of which the club held a fourth quarter lead.

But McLane also acknowledges it's been something of a Jeckyll and Hyde effort for Castillo's group thus far, a point that's gone largely overlooked by pundits. While the defense has already conceded nine plays of 20 yards or more, they have simultaneously racked up an astounding 19 tackles for loss. Those numbers suggest that as much as things aren't working, at the same time they sort of are, which is very confusing.

To be fair, nothing is entirely Castillo's fault to begin with. The wide nines look up front that exposes the middle of the field is a product of defensive line coach Jim Washburn, not Castillo. Nor is Castillo responsible for the personnel decisions that bequeathed him a cast of inexperienced and/or underwhelming linebackers and safeties to go with an otherwise tricked-out defense.

Plus, several of the huge mistakes that led to big plays weren't the result of schemes at all. It's hard to blame Castillo for Casey Matthews -- who the defensive coordinator is basically stuck with for better or worse -- after the rookie failed to cover Brandon Jacobs out of the backfield on a 40-yard score on Sunday. It's not Castillo's fault Kurt Coleman decided to go for a big hit instead of wrapping up Victor Cruz and hauling him down to the turf, turning a 4-yard play into a 74-yard play.

I realize Castillo isn't going to get the benefit of the doubt either, because many people thought he was a terrible hire in the first place. We should at least be realistic with regard to our expectations though. He can only teach and call the plays, then it's up to the guys in pads to execute.

Obviously, some of this reflects poorly on the man in charge anyway, and Castillo has to be held accountable when he does things like shuffle the entire linebacking corps two weeks into the season, or is unable to find an answer for Tony Gonzalez over the course of an entire game.

Fine, but the defense is clearly a work in progress, for reasons that go beyond who dons the headset, and despite all the glaring issues that need to addressed, there are still positives to build on. The Eagles are second in the NFL with 12 sacks, and even if Nnamdi Asomugha has been exploited a handful of times in the early goings, the secondary still boasts one of the deepest, most skilled collections of corners in the league.

Per McLane, they have also allowed just 20 points in second and third quarters, compared to 57 in the first and fourth, which meshes with what we said following the game on Sunday: the Eagles need to learn how to play 60 minutes of quality football. If they haven't figured that out by the end of the season, Castillo certainly could be the guy left holding the bag.

For now, Castillo remains the person charged with correcting course, and there is evidence to suggest his defense is not a lost cause just yet.

>> Inconsistent play by Eagles defense puts Castillo on hot seat [Inquirer]

Pro athletes react to Donald Trump's inauguration

Pro athletes react to Donald Trump's inauguration

A look at some of the reaction around the sports world as Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday:

Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Richie Incognito on Twitter
"Today is the first day on the road to Making America Great Again #Inauguration2017"

Memphis Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green on Twitter
"Hope these 4 years fly by ? #TimeToPray"

Los Angeles Angels relief pitcher Huston Street on Twitter
"Today we start a new chapter, let's work together, and remember only saying negative without an idea is creating divide, it does not help US"

Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee on Twitter
"Inauguration Day.. Some folks happier than they've ever been.. some folks madder than they've ever been.. what a time to be alive"

Former USWNT soccer player Lauren Holiday , to her infant daughter, on Instagram
"I may not be the president, baby but I'll promise to be your Mom. I'll teach you that your brown skin is beautiful. I'll show you that being a girl and a woman is a privilege. How being incredibly powerful means serving those around you and fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves. I will tell you about Jesus and how he taught us to love unconditionally. We will have many talks about equality and I will always encourage generosity. One day if you ask me what you can be, I will smile and say absolutely anything. I'll tell you whatever it is you choose, be kind. I'll fight for you, I'll cheer for you and I'll love you along the way. But most of all, I'll make sure you're hopeful. So today, baby, I'll choose hope."

Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum on Twitter
"Appreciate you Mr. 44"

Atlanta Hawks guard Thabo Sefolosha on Twitter
"The only President my 2 daughters have known. Feels strange going from them to the new guy. Thanks for the class act Barack and Michelle !"

Former Texas and NFL receiver Jordan Shipley on Twitter
"Heard God's word in the inauguration speech. I care about our country being under God a lot more than I care about politics or parties."

Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul on Twitter
"Thank You!!! #44"

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady when asked on Friday if he called Trump to congratulate him.
"Let's talk about football."

Shayne Gostisbehere was right: Let's not forget the big picture

Shayne Gostisbehere was right: Let's not forget the big picture

Shayne Gostisbehere spoiled us.

In 64 games last season, we were spoiled by his 17 goals, most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf scored 20 over a full 82 in 2005-06.

Spoiled by a historic 15-game point streak, the longest ever for a first-year blueliner.

And spoiled by four overtime winners, an NHL rookie single-season record.

With it all, Gostisbehere created a mighty and somewhat unfair challenge. He exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations and perhaps made for even greater ones as an encore.

So, naturally, questions and doubts have swirled around his quiet sophomore season. Speaking to reporters last week after a 4-1 loss in Buffalo, Gostisbehere, for the first time, expressed just a hint of frustration. In the midst of his current 22-game goal drought, he wanted to make a point.

Astutely, he did.

“I’m doing my job,” he said. “I mean, I’m a defenseman, I’m not a goal scorer.”

It served as a reminder of what many wanted to see improve in Gostisbehere’s second NHL go-round — a more sound game in his own end by honing in on the defensive skills to his position.

Yes, he can change a game offensively, but could he be reliable and responsible defensively?

After all, Gostisbehere is a defenseman, like he said. We’ve already seen the offensive potential. From the onset, defensive growth is what head coach Dave Hakstol wanted to see.

“Consistency every day,” Hakstol said in early October. “Just be an everyday worker who is pushing hard to really improve himself as an NHL defenseman.”

Now, not only is Gostisbehere in a malaise offensively with four goals and 15 assists through 43 games, but he also hasn’t been sharp or consistent defensively. That certainly is a part of the concern permeating through the Delaware Valley. The 2015-16 Calder Memorial Trophy (top rookie) runner-up has been benched twice because of it and is a team-worst minus-17 on the season.

However, the positive here is he’s focused on it. Forget scoring goals for a moment. Even with Gostisbehere’s struggles, Flyers defensemen have provided offense among the league’s best. And for a stretch of 20 games following his first healthy scratch on Nov. 17, Gostisbehere was cleaner and more active with 17 giveaways and 24 blocked shots just partially telling the story. In the 17 games prior, he had 19 giveaways and only 20 blocked shots.

“I’m here to help the team in any way possible,” Gostisbehere said last Sunday. “Right now, it’s just getting back to work and doing the little things. It’s not going to come easy. That is something that me personally, and a lot of us have to look at.”

Even some of the all-time great defensemen went through the proverbial sophomore slump. Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom went from 60 points and a plus-36 rating as a rookie to 41 and a plus-7 in his second season. Brian Leetch, also in the Hall of Fame, saw a dip in production across the board in Year 2 after winning the Calder Trophy.

But let’s not draw crazy comparisons. Let’s just understand the important thing here, which is Gostisbehere’s understanding that defense is paramount. He’s learning through his lumps, starting at the end of his breakout rookie campaign in which he looked spent from the NHL grind. He underwent minor offseason surgeries on his hip and lower abdomen, suffered a nasty face cut in the season opener, then a bone bruise on his right hand in December.

We’re just over halfway through the 2016-17 schedule. Gostisbehere is only 23 years old, a 2012 third-round pick with a cap hit less than 16 other Flyers in a season that looks more like a continued rebuild than a jump to contention.

Really, Shayne Gostisbehere should be some of the least of our worries.