Todd Bowles is now running the Eagles defense. The players have had meetings with him and a couple of practices. Bowles isn’t making drastic changes. The basic scheme and concepts stay, which I think is a good thing.
What changes? Bowles told the players he wanted to be less predictable. That is good to hear.
You can run a simple scheme if you have great players that execute it at a very high level. Tampa ran a simple scheme under Monte Kiffin and put out some of the best defenses in the last 30 years. He had a Hall of Fame DT in Warren Sapp. He had a Hall of Fame LB in Derrick Brooks. He had a very good SS in John Lynch and a very good CB in Ronde Barber. That defense didn’t miss assignments or tackles. They made plays. Kiffin got creative every now and then, but really focused on execution. Kiffin had worked on elements of that scheme since his time as an assistant at Nebraska in the 1970s. He had 20 years to learn things and how to teach players exactly what he wanted. Castillo tried for a similar approach (not the scheme), but he simply didn’t have the ability to coach players to perform at an elite level.
The basics of the Eagles defense are very good. The front does get pressure or eats up blocks. The LBs are much improved from 2011. The secondary has done a very good job this year. The pass defense has some great numbers. They are #1 in opposing QB completion percentage. They are #3 in opposing QB passer rating.
So what’s wrong? 2 things. The defense hasn’t made enough plays. We are last in the NFC in sacks, with just 7. That isn’t good, even if teams are scheming to negate the pass rush. You still need more sacks than that. Takeaways have disappeared since the opening couple of games. The Eagles had 6 takeaways after their 2-0 start. Since then, there have been just a pair of interceptions and a 1-3 record. Those 2 stats are not unrelated. You must come up with turnovers. Those are game-changing plays.
The 4th quarter is another area of weakness. This is when veteran coaching comes in to play. You see teams trying something new, sometimes out of desperation. I’m not saying you automatically change what you do on defense. If it has worked well, stick with it. However, there will be some critical plays in the game. You need to have something special saved for those moments. I mentioned Monte Kiffin and Tampa earlier. I think we all remember the wrinkle he had saved up for the Eagles in the 2002 NFC title game. Ronde Barber faked a blitz and then dropped into a passing lane and picked off Donovan McNabb. Pick-6 and the end of The Vet in one horrific moment.
Veteran coaches know whether to blitz or not blitz. Who to bring. Who to drop. Do we go with a 3-man line? Do we play zone or man? Juan simply didn’t have the experience to know how to handle moments like this. You must be able to read your opponent and have an idea of what they will do.
I think Bowles will be a better 4th quarter coach than Castillo. And that can make a huge difference. The biggest single problem of the Castillo era is blown leads. Bowles won’t be perfect. No coach is. He’s got a good foundation to work with. The defense has plenty of talent. Bowles just needs to push them over the top.
The players were very aggressive in praising him. I think these guys are dying to be coached. Sean McDermott was a new DC when he took the job in 2009. Sean was very bright, but didn’t always communicate well and at times could rub people the wrong way. Then Castillo came in. The players loved him as a person, but he was completely new to defense and there were lots of communication issues.
Finally the defensive players get Bowles. He is a former NFL player. He can tell you stories about shutting down Randall Cunningham or Troy Aikman. He has coached on a variety of teams and for a variety of coaches. Bowles doesn’t know just one way to do things. He’s been exposed to a multitude of systems and styles. Bowles knows football, knows defense, knows how to communicate, knows how to coach, and he knows how to lead. He should be exactly what this defense needs.
What are realistic expectations?
I demand shutouts in the first 4 games. Or fire him. Okay, maybe that is asking a bit much. There aren’t specific numbers I’ve got in mind. I want 3 things: sacks, takeaways, and wins. If he can do those 3 things, I’ll be a happy camper. I do think we should be closer to the Top 5 in most defensive categories than we are now. Bowles is taking over midseason and we do face some good offenses so I don’t think it is real fair to set specific yards/points goals.
If he can deliver a shutout, I’ll worship him for a decade. He’ll become Saint Bowles.
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Our good friend Jimmy Bama is now doing some writing for the Allentown Morning Call. He writes blog articles 3 times a week. For his first, he took a look at how much the Eagles miss some guy named Jason Peters. Name rings a bell, but I don’t remember him. Probably a practice squad guy or something.
Make sure to read Jimmy’s stuff there. Maybe they’ll eventually give him a full-time job.
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Mr. Bama and I did a podcast last night. We covered the OL and a variety of things.
One of the subjects we talked about was Sean Lee, the Dallas ILB. He is out for the year with a toe injury. This is a huge blow to Dallas. Lee was the key to the middle of their defense. DeMarcus Ware is their best player and a dynamic rusher, but Lee was a run stuffer and good coverage LB.
Former PSU teammate Dan Connor will probably take his starting spot. Connor is a solid player, but is a big drop-off from Lee.
To replace Lee on the roster, the Cowboys signed…Ernie Sims. It is hard to quantify the difference in those 2 players. Sean is one of the most instinctive LBs I’ve ever seen. Ernie has ZERO instincts. Or less. He runs fast. He hits hard. He usually has no idea where the ball is.
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For PE.com, I wrote about the state of the team. Some of the material is stuff I’ve already covered here, but there may be a couple of new nuggets worth checking out.