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]

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- With Joel Embiid's excitement to be on the court following two years of injuries comes the reality of his lengthy setback.

Embiid is participating in his first NBA training camp this week. While he has impressed with his natural abilities and improved skills, Embiid is facing challenges as he gets accustomed to the league.

"Everything is kind of off right now as far as catching the ball or shooting," Embiid said after practice Wednesday. "I've still got to get in the flow of the game."

Embiid has yet to play since being drafted in 2014. For the past two years he has worked out individually and in controlled settings. Practices, even in training camp, are different. 

"You see all the time when you realize he hasn't played basketball for a long time," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. "He's trying to gather his feet and find his balance, he's trying to figure out stuff in real time speed on defensive assignments and rotations."

On Wednesday, Embiid went through practice without any minute restrictions and was feeling healthier from the cold and virus he had been battling (see story). Teammates have praised his physical presence and eagerness to compete. He makes an impact with his 7-foot-2 presence alone, but there is more he wants to improve. 

Embiid is adjusting to the speed of the game. He has been facing challenges with getting the ball in the post and spoke to the coaches about his frustrations. The staff explained they are focusing on pick-and-roll defense and getting out to run during training camp, but he will get that desired location in game situations. 

“You continue to see the size of Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “He's a big man and he's got a mindset to back up his physical gifts. He really wants the ball. He wants to get deep catches. He wants to dunk on people.”

Embiid always has been realistic about his transition to his rookie season. He has pointed out many times that he is a fast learner, and is anxious to soak up new knowledge and apply it to the court.

"It's really frustrating," he said. "But like I've said, you've got to trust the process, which I've been doing."

Tonight's lineup: Cody Asche starts in place of injured Roman Quinn

Tonight's lineup: Cody Asche starts in place of injured Roman Quinn

With Roman Quinn's season over with an oblique strain, Freddy Galvis moves up to second in the Phillies' lineup Wednesday night against the Braves.

Quinn's showing in the majors this month was a microcosm of his pro career to this point — he showed his speed with four steals and several infield hits, posted a .373 OBP in 69 plate appearances, but suffered another injury. Health has always been his roadblock.

With Quinn out, Cody Asche gets a start in left field against Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, who he's homered off of. The presence of Quinn and Aaron Altherr has limited Asche's playing time — he's started only three games since coming back from Triple A on Sept. 10.

Asche bats seventh, a spot ahead of Aaron Altherr, who is 7 for 52 (.135) in his last 18 games and has four extra-base hits in his last 133 plate appearances.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Adam Morgan, P

Matt Kemp, who sat last night, returns to the Braves' lineup.

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Adonis Garcia, 3B
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Matt Kemp, LF
5. Tyler Flowers, C
6. Dansby Swanson, SS
7. Mallex Smith, RF
8. Daniel Castro, 2B
9. Mike Foltynewicz, P