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]

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

NEW ORLEANS -- The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans' tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn't keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players' first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists (see full recap).

LeBron triple-double powers Cavs past Knicks
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday's trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Pistons rally from 18 down to beat Hornets in OT
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 33 points, including three 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter during a pulsating Detroit rally, and the Pistons outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 114-108 in overtime Thursday night.

Caldwell-Pope scored Detroit's last 11 points of regulation, and his 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play tied the game at 100. Kemba Walker scored Charlotte's final nine points of the fourth, but the Pistons forced him to give up the ball on the last possession, and Marco Belinelli missed a 3-pointer that could have won it.

Detroit, which was behind by 18 in the third quarter, never trailed in the overtime. Caldwell-Pope's 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining put the Pistons up 110-102.

Charlotte led 85-70 at the start of the fourth but missed 14 of its first 15 shots in the period, enabling Detroit to cut into the lead.

Walker scored 34 points. Tobias Harris had 25 for the Pistons (see full recap).