A Simple Plan For The Eagles Defense

Posted: May 16th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: | 15 Comments »

When I was in first grade any talk of KISS was based upon the “hottest band in the world” and their incredible guitar player Ace Frehley (still a favorite of mine to this day). In junior high I learned a new meaning for KISS…Keep It Simple Stupid. I think it was my math teacher, Mr. Baker, who first told me about the phrase and the concept behind it. Since then, I’ve heard it many times and from many people.

Juan Castillo has made it a point to tell people one of the changes to the defense will be to simplify it. As he points out, you can’t play fast if you are thinking. There is some truth to this. But what about Bill Belichick and his complex game plans? What about Jim Johnson and all the stuff he did?

I’m finishing up the book The Games That Changed The Game by Ron Jaworski. It’s a great read and I’ll write a review of it when I’m finished. A couple of chapters talk about defense. One of the interesting aspects is finding out what works schematically and philosophically.

Tony Dungy learned the basic ideas of his defense from Bud Carson. Dungy decided to simplify the system. He made it as player friendly as he could. Dick LeBeau came up with the complex zone blitz scheme. He was able to make this work because he is such a brilliant teacher.

Both coaches wanted their teams to play fast and be aggressive. Dungy stuck to the KISS principle. LeBeau was able to keep his defense complicated, but only because he was such an effective teacher that he could make his players feel like it was a simple defense.

I can’t stress enough that the biggest problem of the Sean McDermott era wasn’t a lack of talent or a lack of good gameplans, it was a lack of Sean’s ability to communicate well with his players. He came up with some really interesting gameplans and ideas, but did such a poor job of teaching them that players were confused in practice and in games.

A coach’s concepts are only good if he can teach them to his players and then get the players to correctly execute the ideas on the field. Jim Johnson was obviously a good teacher. He was able to get Eagles players to carry out some complex gameplans. McDermott couldn’t do this consistently. You’d see some weeks where the defense showed promise and others where the guys looked completely lost.

Castillo is still a curious choice as defensive coordinator, but give the man credit for instantly recognizing the biggest problem the players had…paralysis by analysis. Castillo will come up with a simplified scheme and go let the players play. He isn’t going to try and out-smart offenses. He understands that he’s not Buddy Ryan, Bill Belichick, or Bud Carson.

Young coaches want to prove themselves. They want recognition for the original ideas they come up with. They want to out-scheme opponents to build up a reputation for themselves. That’s just human nature. Castillo doesn’t have this burden. He’s been in the league. He knows winning games and playing well on your side of the ball is what keeps you employed. Brilliant concepts alone don’t mean squat. You need good players and you need the ability to get those players to understand your scheme so they can execute it.

Castillo has a reputation as being a good teacher.  He’s going to give his players less to think about and also will help them better understand what they are doing.  This should make the players more confident on the field.  It is better to know a simple gameplan through and through than to have a limited understanding of a complex one.  Again, the whole point is to get players to play faster.  Cut down on the information they have to process on each snap and let them go play.

Don’t take all this talk of simplifying things to mean the Eagles will be completely basic. Castillo spent a lot of time over the years discussing blitzes and how to attack pass protection schemes with Jim Johnson. Castillo will keep blitzing a part of the defense. Castillo is taking over a young defense. He needs to start simple and build upon that as he sees how the players handle his ideas.

I really am excited to see how the defense plays in 2011.  There is the possibility that Castillo will completely bomb and fall flat on his face, but there is also the possibility that he’ll fit right in running the defense and do a pretty good job.  One thing I do know…no matter what, the Red Zone defense won’t be any worse.

* * * * *

Former NFL Safety Matt Bowen wrote an interesting column for the National Football Post where he supported Castillo’s focus on simplifying the defense.

Here is an article on Castillo and what he’s doing during the lockout to get prepared for when he does actually get to coach his players.

15 Comments on “A Simple Plan For The Eagles Defense”

  1. 1 Thunderlips said at 12:28 PM on May 16th, 2011:

    I’m glad there’s still some football left to talk about and this article didn’t turn into a 5000 word analysis of “Detroit Rock City,” although, that would have been good too.

  2. 2 Tommy Lawlor said at 12:48 PM on May 16th, 2011:

    I came very close to just doing the whole column on how the live version of “Shock Me” has shaped my life. Figured I’d save that for June. My take on the underrated greatness of “Fractured Too” will be coming in July.

  3. 3 Ben said at 1:02 PM on May 16th, 2011:


    Great post. Promoting Castillo to DC is a very interesting move. The Eagles support the move by arguing that Juan has always been a defensive minded guy and that he understands defense because he has spent the bulk of his career coaching against them. After all, many defense attorneys began their careers as prosecutors.

    However, not only is Juan moving from offense to defense but he now is responsible for calling the plays and coordinating the defensive unit rather than five guys on the offensive line.

    Are these things that Juan can possibly learn in one offseason?

    I really hope it works out because Juan seems like a wonderful guy and a guy Philly fans will really get behind if he succeeds.

  4. 4 mcud said at 3:02 PM on May 16th, 2011:

    I just don’t feel very good about hearing the word “unprecedented” with regard to our choice of defensive coordinator resume, while at the same time trying to be on the short list of teams capable of winning the Super Bowl.

    Its unbelievable how unbelievable some of the decisions that have been made over the last twelve months really are. Vick as our QBOTF and Present was one that seems to be working out. Heres hoping that our choice of DC will have similar success…

  5. 5 Tommy Lawlor said at 3:48 PM on May 16th, 2011:

    I was blown away when I heard Juan was going to be the DC. That choice hit me completely by surprise. I’m both fascinated and horrified by it.

    The one thing that does give me a sense of relief is that there wasn’t one DC candidate that I was absolutely enamored with. Had we turned down a really good DC to go with Juan…that would have been really tough to live with.

    I get the feeling Juan is a good enough football coach that he can do a competent job. The problem is that I want more than that. I want a really good defense. It will be interesting to see if Castillo can live up to that standard.

  6. 6 Baloophi said at 4:20 PM on May 16th, 2011:

    The one McDermott game that — in hindsight — is super confusing to me is the Colts’ game. I felt maybe he had turned a corner and “connected” with the players but then we quickly returned to mediocrity.

    Was he just throwing such crazy things out there that it confused Manning? Like a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing in a poker game messing everybody up? (By the way, that’s me…)

  7. 7 McG said at 5:10 PM on May 16th, 2011:

    The one that had me befuddled last year was watching my main man Trent Cole and Brandon Graham dropping back into zone coverage on 3rd and long… Really McDermot… Really?

  8. 8 Thunderlips said at 6:11 PM on May 16th, 2011:

    Does the over complicated scheme business explain anything about the Red Zone problems last year? Is Red-Zone D inherently more complicated, or did we just not execute well?

  9. 9 Morton said at 6:34 PM on May 16th, 2011:

    Simple can work, but you need the talent to make it work. The Tampa-2 Dungy ran with the Bucs wouldn’t have been anything more than a mediocre defense if it didn’t have a Hall of Fame DT named Warren Sapp applying interior pressure, and an All-Pro LB named Derrick Brooks and an All-Pro S named John Lynch keeping RBs and TEs from getting additional yardage.

    Castillo will look like a genius if the Eagles sign someone like Asomugha and manage to obtain an elite DL player. But if they don’t improve the overall talent on the defense, scheme will be irrelevant because the defense will suck regardless of what he draws up. As it stands, the LBs, DBs, and DL on the roster are simply not good enough to make the Cover-2 work, but if they make some significant upgrades in trade/free agency, and some younger players develop, it might.

  10. 10 Barbera Walters said at 8:38 PM on May 16th, 2011:

    I am more curious then excited as to how Castillo will run the offense. I read an article the other day that said that since Castillo couldn’t understand Jim Johnson’s blitz schemes he was going to keep his defensive game plan simple. I then told myself that I would no longer to read what national media experts have to say about the Eagles. Then I read Gonzo and listened to Cataldi, and decided to no longer read or listen to the local media. I guess I;m stuck with you Tommy.

  11. 11 NCIggles said at 9:53 PM on May 16th, 2011:

    I can’t say that I agree that McDermott had the personnel last season. He had the worst starting CBs the team has had since Izel Jenkins. Both Patterson and Hobbs were awful at times last season. I do think McDermott didn’t help himself. Dropping Trent Cole into coverage in clear passing downs was just stupid. Also the Redzone defense should have been able to at least luck into as stop. I don’t think it was just scheme but whatever it was McDermott was unable to fix it.

  12. 12 BigEFly said at 8:02 AM on May 17th, 2011:


    What defense can we expect from Johnnie Lynn. Do we expect him to mold to Juan and JJ or play what he ran in Carolina, NY and SF?

  13. 13 TobbDogg said at 1:30 PM on May 17th, 2011:

    The great thing about Johnson was that he was able to consistently put together a good/very good defense, year after year despite personnel. We had years with poor secondary, poor linebackers, even poor D-lines: but our defense was always at least above average.

    McDermott had some big shoes to fill by replacing Jim Johnson, so it’s not exactly fair to compare. But when Sean stepped in our defense immediately was worse than it’s been in decades.

    I’m curious to see what Castillo can put together. Was Sean that bad of a fit? Or was Jim just really really good?

  14. 14 Tommy Lawlor said at 3:48 PM on May 17th, 2011:

    RE: Johnnie Lynn

    Not sure what to expect. He has run defenses before, but he’s just here as the CBs coach.

    RE: McD

    Wrong guy at the wrong time. Had to overcome the shadow of JJ and that changed Sean’s personality. He was a very popular member of the staff for years, but had issues with a few players in his 2 years of running the D. He’s got a much better chance to succeed in Carolina where he can just be Sean McDermott and he’s not dealing with any legacy.

  15. 15 texasbart said at 10:13 AM on May 18th, 2011:

    Tommy hit the key concept – simple does not mean less complicated, it means that the players understand it. Driving a car is not a simple task, but with practice we grow to understand it and it transforms to a simple task.

    My eighth grade team at St. Micheal’s in Levittown played a team that ran a tight-end delay. This is a very complicated play for middle school, but they practiced it every day and just ate our lunch with it as the linebackers could not stop coming up to attack the run fake. Complicated becomes simple if well practiced.

    Calling defensive plays is really about having a feel for how the opposition offense will work. All of the time on offense could certainly help. However, in the end, the biggest addition might be the toughness that Castillo exudes. That means a ton on defense.