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.