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]

No. 24 Penn State at Purdue: Nittany Lions seek first road win

No. 24 Penn State at Purdue: Nittany Lions seek first road win

Penn State (5-2, 3-1) vs. Purdue (3-4, 1-3)
Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.
Saturday, noon, ABC/ESPN2

Scouting Penn State
The Lions (5-2) upended the Buckeyes, 24-21, when safety Marcus Allen blocked a field goal and cornerback Grant Haley returned it 60 yards for a touchdown with 4:27 left in the game. The Lions, who rallied from a 21-7 deficit after three quarters, earned their third straight victory.

Allen and Haley were named Big Ten co-Special Teams Players of the week, and linebacker Brandon Bell, who had a career-high 19 tackles in the game, earned the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week honor.

Running back Saquon Barkley has rushed for 681 yards, fifth-most in the Big Ten, and is tied for the conference lead in touchdowns with nine.

Scouting Purdue
Purdue (3-4) fell to Nebraska last week in the debut of Boilermakers interim coach Gerad Parker, who replaced the fired Darrell Hazell on Oct. 16. Quarterback David Blough leads the Big Ten in passing yardage (2,065) and total offense (300.7 yards per game), and has thrown 14 touchdown passes (albeit with 11 interceptions).

The Boilermakers are, however, last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (120.3), total defense (441.0), turnover margin (minus-8) and red-zone offense (15-for-23, 11 touchdowns) and next-to-last in rushing defense (249.0) and passing efficiency.

The Lions lead 13-3-1 and have won the last seven meetings, the most recent a 45-21 victory in 2013.

Storyline to watch
This is the ultimate trap game for PSU, and the Lions’ approach to it will say a lot about their leadership and maturity. They have also dropped their last four road games dating back to last season, including both this fall. Their last victory away from home came last Oct. 24, against Maryland in Baltimore.

What’s at stake
The Lions can become bowl-eligible with a victory.

Penn State 35, Purdue 21

Embiid and Okafor want to play together, but not just yet, says Brown

Embiid and Okafor want to play together, but not just yet, says Brown

CAMDEN, N.J. — If all goes as planned, a time will come when the Sixers can roll out a dominating frontcourt duo with Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor sharing the court in lengthy stretches.

That moment has to wait, though, as both Embiid and Okafor are on minute restrictions. As he returns from a knee injury, Okafor currently is coming off the bench and backing up Embiid.

“This conversation with Jahlil and Joel is more intelligent and applicable at a later date,” Brett Brown said at practice Friday. “When Jahlil’s minutes start going up and Joel can, then it’s a real conversation. I do think you may see them sooner than even I thought together. But as far as making it a real constant part of a strategy or rotation, it’s beyond too early days.”

In an ideal world, Brown could pair the two bigs now and use all of their allotted minutes (Embiid 20, Okafor 14) at once. That would leave an extensive workload on second-year bench player Richaun Holmes.

“This is a hot topic,” Brown said. “I will say it one more time: If I play Jahlil and Jo together, I hope Richaun can play 35 minutes.”

It’s an unrealistic expectation for Holmes, who averaged 13.8 minutes in 51 games last season. Brown caps the majority of the Sixers at six-minute segments to keep them competing at a high energy level.

“Right now, he’s a backup,” Brown said of Holmes. “I think he’s going to be an NBA player for a very long time. I just feel like in the role, he’s a second-year player that didn’t really have much of a role last year. He’s shown everybody that he’s for real. He really can play a role. At this early stage, that is the key word.”

Embiid and Okafor have been envisioning competing together since Okafor was drafted two years ago. They became friends long before they were NBA players and have an easy chemistry on the court as a result.

“I think it’s going to be exciting,” Embiid said. “We played a little bit together today in practice. We’re figuring out how to play with each other. It’s a process and we’ve got trust it.”

Yes, the players know they have to wait, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for them to resist an opportunity to play with one another.  

“I think once we figure it out, we can really dominate together,” Okafor said. “We were able to flirt with it again today. We accidentally keep ending up on the same team even though Coach keeps telling us to make sure we alternate. But we’re having fun. We’re trying to put some pressure on it because we want to play together.”

Is that accidentally with air quotes?

“Yeah, exactly,” Okafor said with a laugh.