Evaluating Juan Castillo

Posted: September 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 45 Comments »

That’s the subject of my new SB Nation Philly column.

I wasn’t able to cover every angle in there.  I easily could have doubled the column in length as I tried to hit on everything.  Wanted to keep it somewhat readable.  I’ll address a couple of other angles here.

Mike Krzyzewski is the first coach I ever heard say that a coach’s primary responsibility is putting his players in a position to succeed.  Simple idea, but too many coaches miss the boat.  You want your players to succeed so you use them in a role they can handle.  That isn’t to say you can’t experiment.  Sometimes you have to do that to find things out.  The point is not to rely on a guy to do things he simply can’t on an ongoing basis.

How has Castillo done in this regard?  Mixed bag.  The DL all fit the new scheme.  No complaints there.  Antonio Dixon is struggling a bit, but he’s just got some technical stuff to work through.  Some will fault Castillo for what he did at LB.  I understand the thinking behind moving Chaney to SAM.  That’s your best athlete.  Why not try to use him on TEs, a perennial problem for the defense?  Disagree with the move if you like, but there is some logic to it.  This wasn’t some blind stab in the dark.

Castillo’s use of the DBs is more confusing.  I understand that he’s got a lot of pieces to try and work in, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear plan.  The plan at DL worked fine.  LB didn’t go so well, but there was a plan.  DBs…I’m not so sure.

I flat out don’t understand the whole switching the name of SS and FS.  That’s just weird.  Okay, move on from that.  We’ve got 3 good CBs.  We tried DRC in the slot.  That doesn’t look so good.  He’s more of an outside cover guy.  I can live with trying it out, but I’m not sure there is much wisdom in doing it any more.  You’ve got Joselio Hanson, a natural slot corner.  Put him in there.  Nnamdi has shown the ability to play inside.  Move him in and put DRC out wide.  They did some of that last week.

Injuries supposedly were the reason that Nnamdi didn’t cover Tony Gonzalez in the ATL game.  Okay, I’ll buy that, but with all the CBs healthy this week we better not see Moise Fokou as the primary cover guy on Vernon Davis.

As for not letting Nnamdi press enough…that’s tough to evaluate.  He is playing some bump ‘n run, some press, and some zone.  We do need a mixture.  Oakland is the only team that goes 99% man to man and their DBs will tell you it’s dumb because offenses know what the coverage will be.  That makes it easier to gameplan.  You must have a variety.

Does anyone have numbers on how much Nnamdi is pressing vs playing off?  If he is playing press coverage less than 50% of the time, then that isn’t enough.  That should be his primary coverage style.  That’s where he excels.

Juan has some very good pieces to work with.  He’s got to find the right combination.  And that leads to a key point.  All coaches do some tinkering early in the year.  Last year Dom Capers had to figure out how to use his personnel with the Packers.  He moved guys around until he finally got the right group on the field.  Dom wanted to play a lot of Nickel, but early on the Packers were getting gashed by the run.  They couldn’t stop people.  He kept making lineup and schematic adjusments.  In the first 8 games the Packers allowed 124 rushing yards per game.  In the last 8 games only one time did a team run for that many yards.

Think about how Jim Johnson tinkered with the lineup when he was in charge.  In 2002 he was all over the place with how he used Barry Gardner and Levon Kirkland at MLB.  In 2003 the team traded for Mark Simoneau and introduced him as the new WLB.  Something like a week later the team signed Nate Wayne.  He was introduced as the new WLB and Simoneau moved to the middle.  In 2004 the whole world wanted Jeremiah Trotter to be the MLB, but JJ waited until after the Steelers debacle at midseason to make that change.  In 2006 JJ replaced Matt McCoy with Omar Gaither at midseason.  In 2008 JJ replaced Omar Gaither with Akeem Jordan at midseason.

Mixing and matching lineups is nothing new to the Eagles or any other team.  Coaches aren’t idiots.  They have a variety of reasons for making moves that seem odd.  There is a specific thought process going on.  Sometimes it is to address a weakness.  Castillo thought Chaney could help us cover TEs better if he played at SAM.  That didn’t work.  Sometimes the coach moves one player in order to get another guy on the field in that spot.  Howard Mudd did that with the OL.  He liked 2 LGs, but no RTs.  Solution?  Move Todd to RT and let Evan Mathis play LG.  That’s worked well so far.

Juan shuffled the LBs last week.  This week he replaced Casey Matthews with Brian Rolle.  He also replaced Kurt Coleman with Nate Allen.  Let’s see how the revised lineup does.  There is also a chance Darryl Tapp gets back on the field.  That will help the DL rotation, which should help the pass rush be more effective in the 4th quarter, something that hasn’t been the case in the 2 losses.

* * * * *

I fully understand the criticism of Castillo.  His unit has underachieved and has blown leads in consecutive games.  I don’t get the notion that he’s shown himself to be incompetent.

Back in 1998 the Eagles offense was horrible.  I’ve written and talked about it plenty of times.  The group literally could not function correctly.  It was lacking in talent, but that group scored just 1 TD in the first 3 weeks of the season.  They had just 2 games of 300 or more yards prior to December.  Dana Bible ran the offense for a while, but Ray Rhodes replaced him around midseason because the group was so dysfunctional.  Bible is a fine college coach, but was clearly in over his head in the NFL.  He was incompetent.

I don’t see anything like that with the defense.  There are some things going right.  The defense has looked outstanding for parts of games.  You can see the potential the group has.  Juan has some stuff to build off.  If he can get the group to play in the 4th quarter like they do in the 2nd and 3rd, the defense might turn out to be pretty darn good.

Can he do that?  I hope so.  I sure can’t say “yes” with any sense of confidence.  Right now Castillo must show that he can solve problems.  He’s made the lineup changes.  Now he needs to show us good results.  There aren’t a whole more changes to be made.  This is the group.  They have to get the job done.

I’d be screaming for Castillo’s head if I thought the guy was incompetent and he was the one thing holding our defense back.  As I point out in the SBNP column, coaches like Gregg Williams, Dom Capers, and Bill Belichick all have worse defenses than us.

This week is critical.  We’re facing a poor offense.  If Castillo and the D can’t handle the Niners, then we’ve got some serious issues to deal with.

* * * * *

Reuben Frank did an interview with Castillo a couple of days ago.  Juan needs some coaching on how to handle the media.  He doesn’t realize that telling us about effort and hard work is somewhat meaningless.  We get it, Juan.  No one questions your intentions, work ethic, or drive.  That’s not the issue.  We need answers on defense.  I don’t expect him to give us the playbook, but he’s got to figure out how to sell his ideas to reporters.  The “we’ll work harder” thing has been used up.  Learn some new non-answers that other coaches use.  Talking while saying nothing is an art form.

If the defense starts to play better, then he’s welcome to talk about effort and hard work as much as he wants.  That’s a fair deal.

45 Comments on “Evaluating Juan Castillo”

  1. 1 Anonymous said at 5:20 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Tommy – I watched his meet with press today on the pe.com…absolutely terrible…hes talking to a press guy and saying how when he started he must have written a bad column and then go back to the fundamentals and do it again and over again and over again…gosh – what a horrible comparison…my money is on him losing the DC job after this season – he “may” be a good OK coach but I really don’t think he will cut it as a DC!

  2. 2 Anonymous said at 5:34 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Yeah, his metaphors with the press are terrible for the most part. Football and writing are vastly different. I should know. I’ve sucked at both. I did get better at writing, but it had nothing to do with fundamentals.

  3. 3 Anonymous said at 7:26 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    I don’t know. I think your syntax and past participle usage has really improved. You could stand to work a little on your euphemisms.

  4. 4 Anonymous said at 7:30 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Your stoopid!!!

  5. 5 Anonymous said at 8:40 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    I think this comment represents your best work yet. Your hard work is really paying off!

  6. 6 Anonymous said at 9:29 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    I had dinner with Casey Matthews and his family.

  7. 7 Anonymous said at 5:21 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    PS: I really do hope I am proved wrong and the Defense starts playing “lights out”

  8. 8 Anonymous said at 7:14 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    So you want us to pick up Shawne Merriman?

  9. 9 coldtaxi said at 5:38 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    I think the best way to approach the SS/FS thing is to look at it as Castillo changing the responsibilities of the positions rather than the names. The SS still aligns to the strong side of the formation and the FS to the weak side. It’s just that the FS gets a primary run responsibility in the base coverage as opposed to the SS, so you want your better run coverage guys at FS instead of SS.

    Greg Robinson’s defense is another one that does the same thing, so it’s not exactly unheard of. Maybe they should come up with some alternate naming scheme for them — “free hitter safety” and “strong zone coverage safety” 😛

  10. 10 Anonymous said at 6:26 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Thanks, that is the first explanation for the safety name change that makes any sense

  11. 11 Anonymous said at 8:17 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Seconded. Good explanation.

  12. 12 Anonymous said at 6:30 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    How much you blame Castillo depends on how much his voice was responsible for walking into a season with alleged Super Bowl intentions and zero NFL-caliber linebackers along with zero NFL-caliber safeties.

  13. 13 Anonymous said at 6:42 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Picking on the LBs is fair game, but I disagree at Safety. I liked Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen. Jaiquawn Jarrett was a mystery (and still is). Jarrad Page looked like a really good pickup for a while. These guys have underachieved since the regular season began, but I thought they would be a solid unit. Very disappointed in what we’ve seen from them.

  14. 14 Anonymous said at 7:33 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    What abt how Castillo’s handling of the DB’s – I think we have the best in the NFL right now but handled poorly

  15. 15 Anonymous said at 8:02 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    I remember during the preseason thinking that we got the steal of free agency with Page. I remember wondering how so many coaches let this guy walk….well, I’ve got my answer.

  16. 16 Anonymous said at 8:55 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Yeah, we all bought into that. Page has had some good moments. He’s just had some bad ones as well. Coleman is the guy I’m really disappointed in. I hope he turns it around.

  17. 17 Anonymous said at 12:10 AM on September 30th, 2011:

    Actually, I may get pilloried for saying this, but I have reserved hopes for Page. The thing about him is that he has been SO close to making plays. He is in position, but has just missed so many times. He has made some impressive plays in the preseason and even the Rams game(almost interception). So I will hold out hope for the guy to turn it around. I actually have more trust in him that Nate Allen or Coleman.

  18. 18 Anonymous said at 9:06 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Coleman last season looked exactly like a 7th round pick from a big conference school thrust into playing time. He was an adequate, replacement-level player with no room for projection whatsoever. It’s fine to keep that guy under contract and to pencil him in as a special teamer who won’t single-handedly torpedo your season if injuries once again force him into a game. It’s not fine to pencil him in as a starter and start spending your resources on luxury additions.

    I liked Nate Allen early last year and saw a lot of room for projection. But the moment he tore his PCL in December, the reasonable plan of action was to plan your roster as if he was suspended for the next 12 months. If this were the first time we had been burned by the foolish assumption that a player’s major knee injury suffered at the end of the season would actually be healed by the start of the following season, maybe I’d be more forgiving. But the reality that guys aren’t going to “recover ahead of schedule” continues to be one that we conveniently ignore.

    Jarrett was a project. It’s fine to take projects.. assuming you aren’t in a position where you need something more.

    There were quality veteran safeties available (Mikell, Weddle, Harper, Landry, Nakamura, Zbikowski to name a few). The team chose to ride with the collection of replacement-level players it had. It didn’t make sense at the time, and it’s a fatal flaw of the team going forward.

  19. 19 Anonymous said at 9:32 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Going forward? Nate Allen is a 2nd rounder with very good upside. Jarrett was taken in the 2nd round. The team thinks highly of him. Lets’s see how these guys pan out before saying that Safety is a position that must be fixed long term.

  20. 20 Anonymous said at 9:34 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    This season. Fatal flaw of this team over the next 13 weeks.

  21. 21 Anonymous said at 10:46 PM on September 29th, 2011:


  22. 22 Anonymous said at 10:39 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Not to nitpick, but I think it was his pateller tendon, not his PCL. It shouldn’t be quite as tough of a road back.

  23. 23 Anonymous said at 10:42 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    I’d actually bet that the pateller tendon has a longer recovery period than PCL, if not pretty close to identical. In either case, it’s high time that people start translating major leg injuries (ACL, PCL, pateller, achilles) that occur in December to mean “player will not be available next season.” There needs to be a point at which we’re no longer surprised to learn that someone really wasn’t recovering ahead of schedule.

  24. 24 Anonymous said at 12:49 AM on September 30th, 2011:

    I can agree with that. Two years after the injury, without fail, the media and fans seem surprised to realize that, in retrospect, so-and-so wasn’t back to 100% last year.

  25. 25 Anonymous said at 10:42 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    I’d actually bet that the pateller tendon has a longer recovery period than PCL, if not pretty close to identical. In either case, it’s high time that people start translating major leg injuries (ACL, PCL, pateller, achilles) that occur in December to mean “player will not be available next season.” There needs to be a point at which we’re no longer surprised to learn that someone really wasn’t recovering ahead of schedule.

  26. 26 Anonymous said at 7:49 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Everyone on Twitter is blowing up about Gocong’s new contract, and how we messed up big time with that trade… Do people really lack the common sense to realize that the Browns run a 3-4, which Gocong was best suited for coming out of college. Ok, we traded away a good linebacker… but we traded away a good 3-4 linebacker, a sub par 4-3 linebacker. The point is moot, sorry fellas.

  27. 27 Anonymous said at 8:20 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Sometimes I wish people on twitter really would blow up.

  28. 28 Anonymous said at 8:39 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Cleveland plays a 4-3 🙂

  29. 29 Anonymous said at 8:44 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Sorry Iowa, but the Browns switched back to 4-3 this year with Chris “T-Rex Arms” Gocong playing the Weakside LB. He was a passable weakside ILB – in their 3-4 last year.

  30. 30 Anonymous said at 8:50 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    After I hit post, I thought to myself… unless Juron runs a 4-3… I don’t understand why they are giving him around $5Mil a year..

  31. 31 Anonymous said at 8:59 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Gocong was a solid run defender here. He’s solid there. One difference is that they face PIT (power running team), BAL (power running team), and CIN (power running team). Only the Giants fall into the category here.

    Gocong sure isn’t putting up big numbers. 9 total tackles, 1/2 sack, 1 TFL, 1 PD. Maybe they meant to pay D’Qwell Jackson and got confused.

  32. 32 Anonymous said at 9:36 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    They’re in negotiations with D’Qwell for a long-term extension as well.

  33. 33 Anonymous said at 9:08 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Two things are true simultaneously. One: Gocong is best suited to a 3-4, not a 4-3. Two, Gocong would have been the best LB on the team both this and last year.

  34. 34 Anonymous said at 8:39 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Great article Tommy. I think one of the reasons for the dissatisfaction with Castillo is something that was out of his control to begin with. Certainly, our defense has not played great so far, and it’s easy to relate that back to the DC (and we may end up finding out it is that simple), but Castillo was fighting a losing battle to begin with.

    Our defense was bad last year, and part of it had to do with our coordinator. Going into this season, instead of getting an established, highly viewed DC, or even a positional coach who was getting national attention, we went with our Oline coach. More specifically, the coach of one of the offensive units that was struggling. It was an unprecedented move that had most people scratching their heads.

    On top of that, we went and signed several big names on the defensive side of the ball, namely Nnamdi, DRC, and Jenkins. Those signings had some fans forgetting the struggles we had on defense last year and assuming we could stop teams from throwing a single completed pass.

    Lastly, we brought in Washburn, a guy that rearranged our dline using the wide 9 technique which naturally led some fans to question if Washburn or Castillo was the leader of the defense. All of those changes put a lot of pressure on Castillo to prove immediately that he can be a quality coach, which frankly is unrealistic. It may turn out that Castillo is not the right guy for DC, but after 3 games, I don’t think there is really any way anyone can say he is an incompetent coach, especially when we have seen the defense have some stretches of very solid football.

    The one thing I will say is I would be OK not hearing Castillo talk. As you mentioned, the “work harder” message is meaningless, and I couldn’t stand all the quotes about Casey’s family. I’m sure the team drafted him for things they saw on the field, not because he was related to Clay. The comparison is something the team should have wanted to get away from, not actively promote.

  35. 35 Anonymous said at 9:00 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Good points.

  36. 36 Morton said at 8:47 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    All you need to know about Juan Castillo’s competence (or lack thereof) you can glean from his unhealthy man-crush on a marginal LB prospect from Oregon (who displayed little to no NFL skills in his college tape) and Castillo’s stubborn insistence on installing him as the starter from day one with no competition, all during an NFL season that featured an abbreviated offseason and training camp.

    Of course, listening to his press conferences doesn’t exactly ease your skepticism of his coaching ability either.

    The sad thing is that there were plenty of competent DCs available. Dick Jauron, Mike Trgovac, and Ray Horton all would have probably done a better job at this point. Rob Ryan, if they had a chance to sign him away before the Cowboys did, would have been the best hire of all. All of these guys even spent some time as defensive coaches in some capacity at a level higher than high school. Imagine that.

  37. 37 Anonymous said at 8:56 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Yes, signing Rob Ryan and changing our defense to a 3-4 without the proper personel and little to no offseason would have work out just swell. Ever imagined trying to take a dump with a paper a$$hole… that’s how well it would have worked.

  38. 38 Anonymous said at 11:56 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    Ryan has experience as a 4-3 coordinator as well, no?

  39. 39 Anonymous said at 9:02 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    I had no interest in Jauron. Trgovac didn’t seem to want to leave GB. I would have liked him.

    Horton is more of a 3-4 zone blitz guy. We’d have had to shake up the D. I’m glad we passed on him.

    There weren’t great candidates available. That’s part of the reason Juan did get the job.

  40. 40 Anonymous said at 9:37 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    I have spent a lot of time fantasizing about the brief Jeff Fisher rumor. I imagine Fisher coming in on a one year deal (before moving on to a new head coaching gig next year), and Juan taking a job as LB coach (with the understanding that he’d take over for Fisher next year).

  41. 41 Anonymous said at 9:33 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    RE starting Matthews from day 1:

    Juan is a rookie. He’s making mistakes, but he’s making them full speed.

  42. 42 ike said at 11:52 PM on September 29th, 2011:

    I don’t think Rob Ryan would have had any problem running a 4-3 defense. None at all.

    Regardless, I don’t think there’s a chance in hell that Laurie or Banner or Reid would allow another Ryan to be an Eagles coach. EVER.

    Several reasons make this clear, it seems to me.

    Reid’s relationship with the fans is frosty already. Bring in someone named Ryan and the Eagles have an ASSISTANT coach whom the fans — or a big enough number — give their unconditional support to . . . something Reid doesn’t have in those same numbers (IMO).

    Second, Reid lets his DC’s talk to the media. Ryan would be trash talking — maybe not right away, but soon and for the rest of his time here — and the fans would eat it up.

    Contrast Reid’s usual flipping off of the media (in relative terms) with a Ryan talking smack, and again you’d have the fans loving the DC. More distance gets put between the fans and Reid.

    Third, factor in Ryan’s style. Same as JJ and McD. Add the trash talking and the beer gut. And how can you not love the guy.

    Finally, if Rob Ryan had come to the staff, we’d have a “back up QB syndrome”.

    The clock would be ticking for when Ryan would become the coach. Not from the front office’s view . . . but imagine the talk shows. Great stuff.

    True enough that Buddy Ryan underperformed, under-coached, and drafted about as well as Reid — on the defensive side versus Reid on the O-side. (Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, Eric Allen, Ben Smith, Byron Evans . . . pretty good stuff.)

    But I don’t know of another coach who had better 1-liners, treated the Cowboys like crap, and got the fans to love him besides Ryan.

    Laurie/Banner/Reid are as corporate as you get.

    The Ryans . . . not so much.

  43. 43 Steve H said at 4:37 AM on September 30th, 2011:

    You’re right, its much better to have a coach thats relatable and has great one liners and that the fans adore than a coach that wins in the postseason. 1 and done every year is a small price to pay for someone with entertaining quotes.

  44. 44 Anonymous said at 1:17 AM on September 30th, 2011:

    I can’t blame Juan – it’s the guy who thought it was a good idea to put him in there – the same guy who thinks we don’t need a true short yardage back, who was alright with using guys who never returned punts return punts, who just about killed Winston Justice’s career on a Monday night, who thought it OK to let a Pro Bowl kicker go the year that we’re supposedly “all-in” to win a SB, who runs trick plays against inferior opponents instead of just steamrolling them, who thinks it’s OK to call two QB sneaks for his $100 million QB coming off a concussion, who is one of the worst at game-day coaching (both adjustments and clock management) and who wants to be known as the smartest coach ever but – at this rate – looks like he’s gonna go down instead as a stubborn-a$$ loser (with no SB victories).
    Sorry AR, but without your security blankets (JJ running the D and McNabb taking most of the heat), the spotlight is squarely on you, babe – the times yours.

  45. 45 Game 4: 49ers @ Eagles – Preview | Eagles Endzone said at 12:08 PM on October 2nd, 2011:

    […] frame as a linebacker will be a hindrance long-term. As Iggles Blitz’s Tommy Lawlor points out, this game will be a big test to see if defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is actually capable of ru…. He hypothesizes that there were mitigating circumstances in the first three games but if […]