Clearing Up Confusion

Posted: July 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: | 6 Comments »

That is the task for Juan Castillo and the new defensive coaches.  Too often mental mistakes led to breakdowns on defense in 2010.  Sean McDermott is a smart coach.  He had some smart players.  Somewhere there was a communication breakdown (and it did drive us insane).

One of the major themes for the offseason has been simplifying the defense.  We want players thinking less and playing faster.  Trust your eyes and go get the ball.  I mentioned in the previous post that Castillo may have been influenced by Iowa coach Norm Parker and the defense he runs because of its success and simplicity.

Some of you wondered how wise it would be for Castillo to be influenced by a college coach, if in fact that is what happened.  Other people wondered if Iowa’s lack of blitzing would carry over to our scheme.  Let’s talk about these issues.  Iowa does run a simple scheme.  It is basically the same as the Tampa 2.  I seem to recall Monte Kiffin and the Bucs doing okay with that.  And it isn’t that Iowa does anything brilliant or really unusual.  They do what they do really well.  The coaches do a very good job of getting the players ready and then the players execute the gameplan well.  What’s the point in designing a Belichick style gameplan if you can’t teach it to your players and they struggle to execute it?

I’m sure Castillo checked out the colleges that his son Greg was talking to during the recruiting process.  Castillo probably talked to a couple of assistant coaches to feel them out.  He may have watched some game tape.  Since Greg has been at Iowa you know Castillo has taken in every game.  It isn’t as if some light bulb went off and told Castillo that Norm Parker was a genius and this was the way to do things.  There are a lot fewer Eureka moments in football than fans think.  It is more likely that Castillo developed an admiration for how Parker did things and got good results.   When the situation arose that Castillo was a legitimate candidate for the Defensive Coordinator position he took a long look at the personnel in place.  Half of the defense might be new starters.  Many of those guys could be young players.  What is the best system for helping them to learn quickly?  Let’s simplify things and use some of the principles that Parker does at Iowa.  NFL coaches do these same things, but Castillo might know them best from Iowa because of how much he’s studied that program in the last few years.  We know Castillo has cited the Bears as a team to emulate in some ways.  They run a variation of the Tampa 2.

As for blitzing…Castillo learned a lot about blitzing from Jim Johnson.  I’m sure that won’t go away.  It will go down some.  Jim Washburn will coach the D-line and his system with the Titans didn’t call for as much blitzing as we did in recent years.  If the front four isn’t getting the job done, I’m sure we’ll turn the blitzers loose.   Castillo saw the impact that Antoine Winfield had in the Vikings debacle.  One player drove us crazy all night.  That kind of thing won’t be lost on Castillo.  The blitz will still be part of the Eagles defense.

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Sheil Kapadia put up a very good post where he examined the TD passes allowed by the Eagles defense last year.  There isn’t one glaring conclusion to draw, but you can see that team defense was as much a problem as RCB.  This ties into the theme of clearing up confusion.  We can’t have blown assignments and missed coverages like we did in 2010.  If the Red Zone defense can improve at all, some close wins become blowouts and maybe a loss or two becomes a win.

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There has been a lot of talk about DE Charles Johnson.  I’m not avoiding the topic.  I’ll get to him.  I’ve just been working in other areas.  I will watch tape and let you know what I think, but that will likely be next week.


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.


Defenders The Eagles Might Target

Posted: April 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: , | 8 Comments »

I was scouring some old information recently when I stumbled upon an interesting nugget.  We all know that Juan Castillo has mentioned liking the Bears style of defense a few times.  That defense was assembled and run by Lovie Smith.  Prior to being the head coach in Chicago, Smith was the defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams.  One of the scouts who helped find players for Smith was a guy named Ryan Grigson.  You may recognize that name since he is currently the Eagles Director of Player Personnel.

The nugget I found was a quote from Grigson.

Ryan Grigson, an Eagles scout, talked about finding players for Lovie Smith when they worked together. He said Lovie wanted two key things…guys who could run and guys who created turnovers.

Now Grigson is charged with finding the kind of defensive players that Castillo wants.  Since Castillo likes the Bears style of play you would think that the focus on defense would be guys that can run and guys that create turnovers.

I’m sure some people will question whether this isn’t true for all teams.  It is in a vague way.  However, teams have specific types of players they focus on.  Bill Parcells is enamored with size.  Al Davis is enamored with speed.  The Steelers seem to go for ultra-competitive, grinder type players.  The Cardinals have loaded up on versatile guys in recent years, as they try to play both the 3-4 and 4-3.  We’ll find out for sure what Castillo is looking for once the draft gets here, but I’m pretty sure Grigson’s comment nailed the situation on the head.

When we talk about “guys that can run” that doesn’t mean just looking at the top 40 times.  Running in football is a skill.  You want guys that are fast, but who also play fast.  They need to locate the ball quickly.  The prospects must have good motors and be outstanding pursuit players.  Cal LB Mike Mohammed ran a 4.7 at the Combine.  That’s a solid time for a guy that goes 239 pounds, but he’s not a great pursuit player.  Mike doesn’t lack effort.  He just always seemed to be a step away from making the tackle on plays to the outside.  That will get worse in the NFL, not better.

UConn LB Lawrence Wilson only ran 4.75 at the Combine, but put on the tape and you’ll see a guy that pursues well.  He looks good on the move and covers a lot of ground.  The 40 times shows straight-line speed, but doesn’t factor in how quickly a player finds the ball or takes off in pursuit.  Castillo will want fast players, but they must also be relentless in chasing plays down.  That’s all part of finding “guys that can run”.

As for wanting guys that create turnovers, that is pretty much what it sounds like.  Some players have a knack for knocking the ball loose or recovering fumbles or picking off passes.  There is definitely luck involved, especially with recovering fumbles.  There is skill involved in creating fumbles and coming up with interceptions.

Ryan Kerrigan forced 14 fumbles at Purdue, an amazing total.  He got to the QB a lot (33.5 sacks), but he also knew to try and knock the ball away in the process.  The sack wasn’t enough.  He focused on going for the ball.  Da’Quan Bowers had 19.5 career sacks.  He had 1 FF.  Bowers focused on getting the QB down.  That’s good, but not if you’re in a defense that stresses turnovers.  Kerrigan didn’t just go for the ball, he got it.  That’s a good skill that should carry over to the NFL.  Bowers can be taught, but we don’t know whether he’ll be good at it or not.

Some back seven players have a knack for FFs.  Dawk has 35 in his career.  That is an incredible amount for a Safety.  The great Ronnie Lott only had 16 in his career and he’s arguably the best impact hitter of the last 30 years.  Joe Lefeged, the SS from Rutgers, had 9 in his career.  That’s the highest total by a DB in college right now.  Washington LB Mason Foster has 8.  He is a forceful hitter that will jar the ball loose.

Interceptions are a tough subject.  It takes good hands and ball skills to come up with a big total.  Some guys get gift INTs when a pass rusher hits the QB and the ball is a wounded duck.  INTs also mean passes are being thrown at you, which isn’t a good thing for a CB.  Some CBs play in a system where they face the QB more and that helps their INT total.  Other guys are in press-man coverage and chasing players all over the field.  At the end of the day you still get impressed with DBs who come up with picks.  INTs are game changers in the NFL, much more than fumbles.

Here are some turnover machines that can also run and might be of interest to Castillo:

DE Ryan Kerrigan – Purdue – 14 FFs, 1 INT
LB Von Miller – Texas A&M – 10 FFs, 1 INT
DT Stephen Paea – Oregon St. – 9 FFs
DE Robert Quinn – UNC – 8 FFs
SS Joe Lefeged – Rutgers – 8 FFs, 2 INTs
DE Sam Acho – Texas – had 5 FFs this year

S Brian Lainhart – Kent State – 17 INTs, 8 FFs
S Jeremy Kellem – MTSU – 10 INTs, 7 FFs
S DeAndre McDaniel – Clemson – 15 INTs, 4 FFs
S Rahim Moore – UCLA – 14 INTs
S Mana Silva – Hawaii – 14 INTs (8 this year)
S Tyler Sash – Iowa – 13 INTs, 3 FFs
S Deunta Williams – UNC – 12 INTs, 3 FFs

CB Brandyn Thompson – Boise State – 13 INTs, 1 FF
CB Davon House – New Mexico State – 11 INTs, 1 FF
CB Rashad Carmichael – Va Tech – 10 INTs in the last 2 years
CB Johnny Patrick – Louisville – new scheme this year led to 5 INTs, 1 FF

LB Lawrence Wilson – UConn – 5 INTs, 6 FFs
LB Adrian Moten – Maryland – 6 INTs, 5 FFs
LB Ross Homan – Ohio State – 7 INTs, 3 FFs
LB Nate Irving – NC State – 4 INTs, 6 FFs   (speed is an issue)
LB Mason Foster – Washington – 4 INTs, 8 FFs  (speed is an issue)
LB Mike Mohamed – Cal – 7 INTs, 4 FFs  (speed is an issue)
LB Nick Bellore – Central Mich – 5 INTs, 5 FFs (speed is an issue)

Before anyone starts throwing 40 times at me in response to “speed is an issue”, I’m talking about how they show up on tape.  The 4 LBs mentioned are better downhill than side to side.  Running a decent 40 doesn’t automatically give them good range.

Now, just because these players have come up with a lot of turnovers doesn’t mean that they are good NFL prospects.  Some of them won’t grade out well overall.  This list is simply a helpful tool in identifying players who have been involved with lots of turnovers in college.  I do think Castillo will target 2 or 3 guys on the list.  We already know that the Eagles have talked to Paea, Homan, Wilson, Patrick, and Moore.  We don’t know if the meetings went well.  I guess we’ll find that out in 2 1/2 weeks.

* * * * *

I will be answering questions about the mock draft in a post later tonight or early tomorrow.


Big Red Talks About the Eagles Defense

Posted: March 22nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: , , , , | 12 Comments »

PE.com has a 3-part video series between Dave Spadaro and Andy Reid.  I encourage you to watch it, if you haven’t already.  A lot of the discussion is simple, obvious stuff (coaches rarely open up), but Dave did get some good nuggets from Andy. The most helpful info involved our “new” defense.

Andy reiterated that the defense will be the same basic ideas that have been here during his tenure. One thing I don’t think enough people appreciate is that things changed over the years, under both JJ and Sean McDermott. You take a basic approach and tweak it based on new personnel, changes in rules, or schematic shifts in the game. Think about some examples:

* Do you think JJ’s playbook had a section for a FS like Brian Dawkins prior to his hiring by the Eagles? Jim saw Dawk’s potential and figured out a variety of ways to use him.
* Remember 2006? JJ decided to mix things up and use Dawk like a LB in the Nickel/Dime looks. That lasted half the year (or less).
* We played our DTs in a 1-gap style for most of JJ’s tenure. He switched after the arrival of DL coach Pete Jenkins.
* We used to have pass rushing DTs. The arrival of Darren Howard led us to start mixing in DEs on the inside. Eventually both DTs on passing downs became DEs.
* With Carlos Emmons at SAM we used him to shut down TEs. Other years JJ mixed up his coverages. In 2008 he used the WLB and SS to split the job.
* With Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent, and Al Harris we played a ton of physical, press coverage. That changed as the rules changed in 2004 and as our personnel changed.

So what will happen in 2011? We’re going back to the 1-gap, attacking scheme we used to run, with some adjustments. The front is referred to as the “Wide Nine” because the DEs will line up out wide (the nine technique). Quick aside, let’s talk about alignment/terminology.

0 technique – NT in the 3-4
1 technique – NT in the 4-3, shaded to the outside of the C
3 technique – DT in the 4-3, lines up on the outside eye of the G (position that Warren Sapp made famous)
5 technique – DE in the 3-4, lines up on the outside eye of the T

4-3 DEs line up in a variety of places. In Jim Washburn’s scheme the DEs are out wide, outside of the TE even. This is the 9 technique. Keep in mind that this is a base look. There are times when the DEs move around. Washburn will use under fronts where the line slides away from the TE. This has a DE line up right over the OT. Sometimes the DE will line up over the OT to help set up a stunt. The DE goes inside and the DT loops around him.

Our DTs will basically line up in the same place as last year (and the past), but they will fire off the ball and attack. As Reid said in the interview, the goal is for the DL to play on the other side of the LOS.

LB play is going to change. Everyone sick of hearing about “downhill LBs” can rejoice. We now will have guys doing more read and react. Some people will be put off by that phrase since it sounds passive. Don’t be. Previously our LBs attacked up the field. Think of all the times we saw a guy attacking a FB on run plays. The LBs will now read the play at the snap. They have a second or so to diagnose and find the ball, then go get it.

Jamar Chaney should thrive in this system. He runs very well and has good instincts. Stewart Bradley runs well for a big MLB. He should be okay. The key for him will be finding the ball without taking false steps and getting out of position. Moise Fokou is a guy I’ll need to watch tape on. He can run, but tends to be more of a bull in a china shop. Can he sit back, read the play, and then go to the ball? That’s different than being up on the line and making contact right at the snap.

Reid didn’t go into the secondary. I think we’ll be looking at a mixture of zone and man based on how our personnel shakes out and who we’re playing that day.

Juan Castillo mentioned the Bears defense a few times after getting the DC job. Some people take that as him wanting the Tampa 2. That’s not what I took from him. He was focusing on effort and how hard they play. I’ve gotten into football discussions with friends and I always tell people that the most fascinating thing for me in terms of defense is how hard the Bears play. This defense has played with max effort for 5 plus years. How do you do that? At some point players tend to tune out a coach.

The man getting the credit now is Rod Marinelli, but Lovie Smith had the Bears playing this way when Rod was going 0-16 up in Detroit. Lovie isn’t a rah-rah guy. He’s a quiet, professional leader. Yet, he somehow gets his guys to play harder on defense than any other team in the league. Some of you may think all of this is hyperbole, but I’ve always felt there is a noticeable difference in the energy the Bears bring to the field. I was happy to hear Castillo talk about the Bears because that means I’m not the only one who notices it.

Effort, attitude, and hustle are great, but you must have talent. The Bears have signature players like Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs, and Brian Urlacher. The Eagles have some good pieces in place, but there are some holes to fill. I promise you the Eagles will add a CB, either in FA or the draft. Beyond that, I guarantee nothing. We have to see who is available and how the whole CBA mess works out.

Back to Castillo for a minute. He spent a lot of time discussing blitzes with JJ over the years. I think Juan will keep the blitz very much a part of our scheme. His time running the OL should have made it clear to him how disruptive and effective the blitz can be when done right. Juan still probably still has nightmares about Antoine Winfield. I know Michael Vick and I do.

Castillo and Washburn are working on the playbook as we speak. They are combining their ideas with JJ’s basics, maybe even a thing or two from Sean. The one section where they better get completely rid of McDermott’s ideas is the Red Zone. We were awful there in 2010. Way too passive. Washburn and the Titans were very good in the Red Zone last year so hopefully some of his ideas will help us. There’s only one way to go…up. I mean, how much more awful could our Red Zone defense be? The answer is none…none more awful (right Nigel?).

I’m actually excited to see how the defense looks. We were all shocked to find out Juan Castillo got the DC job. Now that the shock of that has subsided I’m starting to like some of his ideas. We still don’t know if he can run a defense, but I do like what I’m hearing. And I’m thrilled with Washburn coaching the D-line and bringing his ideas over from Tennessee. The whole 2-gap DT thing just wasn’t my cup of tea. I want my linemen firing off the ball and being disruptive.

As I said, I like what I’m hearing. The real proof will be in the pudding, though. We’ve got to see how all of this works in games and through the course of a season. All Juan has to do is live up to the level set forth by Marion Campbell, Buddy Ryan, Wade Phillips, Jeff Fisher, Bud Carson, and Jim Johnson. What could go wrong?