How Good Can the Eagles Defense Be?

Posted: May 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 26 Comments »

That was the subject of my SB Nation Philly column.

It may seem like a strange question to some.  The defense was so erratic last year that just being consistent this year would be a big step.  Looking beyond that…is it realistic?

I think so.  Keep this simple.

DL better?  Yes.

LB better?  Yes.

DB better?  Maybe.  If the Safeties play as hoped, that spot will be improved.  If DRC returns to 2009 form, the outside CBs will be fine even with Asante being traded.  If Boykin wins the nickel job and plays as hoped, that could be an upgrade.  And of course Todd Bowles could be a big help.

Speaking of coaching…what of Juan Castillo?  He should have enough talent to work with that he doesn’t need to be a great DC.  I think everyone expects he’ll be better than 2011.  How much better?  The bar wasn’t set all that high last year.

Juan now can look back at what worked and what didn’t.  The addition of Bowles will help with coverage.  The addition of DeMeco Ryans will help with getting a feel from the players of what’s going on.  That’s an angle that is probably overlooked.

You can picture Buddy Ryan and Mike Singletary discussing what an offense was doing and how they needed to adjust.  You can picture Ray Lewis talking to one of his 37 DCs over the years and doing the same thing.  Maybe Derrick Brooks and Monte Kiffin.  Or Trot and JJ.  The image of Jamar Chaney and Castillo discussing the offense would lead to a great caption contest at BGN.

Now Ryans can come to the sideline and give Castillo a good idea of what he’s seeing and offer some ideas of what they can do.  Castillo will have his own ideas and the two of them can talk out the situation.  It always helps a coach when a player can come over and share what he’s seeing since the coaches are watching from far away and a very different set of angles.

Juan Castillo will not suddenly become a defensive guru.  Anyone who expects that is way off base.  Can he improve enough to be a solid DC?  That’s a more realistic question.  He’s headed in the right direction, but that doesn’t mean that he’ll ever get there.  Castillo’s maturation and improvement as a defensive coach is going to be one of the most interesting and most important storylines this year.

It is easy to make Castillo jokes and I get that mentality.  Big Red made one of the strangest moves in modern NFL history when he made Juan the DC.  That said, if you could see the way his peers treat Castillo, you might feel a bit differently.  I kept a close eye on Castillo at the Senior Bowl in order to see which players he was studying.  He talked to all kinds of coaches, offensive and defensive.  Many of those coaches sought him out.  They wanted to say hello or chat him up on an issue.  Castillo might be a joke to some fans, but he is highly respected by other coaches.  That says something to me.  I think you’re really underestimating him if you don’t think Castillo can get better as DC.

How much better?

And is that good enough?

Those are the crucial questions.


26 Comments on “How Good Can the Eagles Defense Be?”

  1. 1 pjxii said at 8:18 PM on May 27th, 2012:

    Excellent perspective, Tommy. I certainly never considered just how important having a veteran Field General like Ryans etc communicating in game with the coaching staff is, as well as directing his teammates. That alone will be a big upgrade this season.
    I think that there were so many changes last year (players and DC) that it was almost a given that they wouldn’t be on fire from the start. With a season of working together and a full off-season of OTAs and TC, I have a good feeling about 2012.

  2. 2 Håkan Sandström said at 8:26 PM on May 27th, 2012:

    Im not the most knowledgeable guy about these things but mustnt Juan Castillo have gotten a high recommendation from JJ ?
    There were lots of talk about him and JJ watching film together.
    Is this who Castillo impressed enought for Andy Reid to give him a shot at being DC?
    If so, the skys the limit. I trust JJ.

    If not, there doesnt seem to be a rational excuse for giving him the job?

  3. 3 DanM said at 8:48 AM on May 28th, 2012:

    Maybe if they used a ouija board. That is after they played light as a feather stiff as a board.

  4. 4 Mike Perrie said at 9:24 PM on May 27th, 2012:

    Last year they finished “top 10” I think this year they can be a legit top 10.

    It will be fun to watch TC, A ton of battles even though there isnt a lot of big holes.

  5. 5 Mike Perrie said at 9:26 PM on May 27th, 2012:

    Last year they finished “top 10” I think this year they can be a legit top 10.

    It will be fun to watch TC, A ton of battles even though there isnt a lot of big holes.

    DT Will especially be fun, Whos behind Jenkins/Cox/ Patterson. How will Patterson be after surgery ect.

  6. 6 LiamGarrett said at 12:06 AM on May 28th, 2012:

    I think we’re all being very cautious with our hopes, here. Maybe we’re feeling a little gun-shy after last year’s Vince Young “Dream Team” ordeal? Maybe we don’t want to jinx anything? Jinx it by saying that this defense has the pieces to potentially be dominant. Our line is possibly the best 4-3 line in the league, we have 2 LB’s who could end up being star players for us, and the secondary has 2 Pro-Bowl corners who are great fits for our system, and a young safety duo who are healthier, wiser, and now have more help (and less Asante jumping routes).

    And, with regards to Juan, he really IS a widely-respected coach, and there must be reasons for that. I think we might hero-worship a little much when talking about great DC’s, rhapsodizing about them as if they’re part of the elect. Forgive me, but we’re talking about a game, here. These guys coordinate football defenses, and some of the best were just talented coaches who were in the right place at the right time. With all the things going on in the league and with the Eags last year, neither the time or the place was right for a DC to thrive. Now, Juan has a year under his belt, and we all know that he has been obsessing about this season non-stop. What he lacks in years of defensive experience, he might be able to make up for in tenacity and intelligence. Plus, he has the appropriate amount of time to install and tweak his system, and a personnel that has also been tweaked to fit that system.

    Personally, I think more than a few NFL QB’s feel anxiety about facing our potential defense this season. And while I know it can all go horribly wrong, I still have a lot of hope.

  7. 7 LiamGarrett said at 3:09 AM on May 28th, 2012:

    Tommy, I just read your SBNation article. You successfully make the point I was trying to make. Go Eags!

  8. 8 D3Keith said at 12:29 AM on May 28th, 2012:

    I’m not nearly as anti-Castillo as the fan base; from watching the games last year, I thought a lot of their problems were bad execution of good schemes, which is fixable with practice time and guys who are willing to buy in.

    The personnel is improved this year. The fits are better. The coaching could be improved. The depth is good — outside of DeMeco and Nate Allen, no injury would be devastating. Losing either of the CBs would be bad too, but we could lose a DL or OLB and not miss a beat. I don’t even think Boykin needs to beat out Hanson for the D to be better (though we could use the roster spot).

    The safeties and WLB are below-average, but need only be adequate (aka not weaknesses) to let the above-average parts of the defense thrive.

    SO MANY reasons to be optimistic about the D this year. By quick bullet point:
    — True leader in DeMeco Ryans
    — CBs planning to play press man
    — Full offseason to implement defense, important because of so many young players
    — Brandon Graham healthy, possibly about to deliver on first-round potential
    — Mychal Kendricks
    — Todd Bowles
    — CBs willing to play either side, follow any scheme.
    — Ridiculous DL: Babin-Patt-Jenkins-Cole backed up by Graham-Cox-Dixon/Landri-Curry (Hunt/Tapp?)
    — Season of experience for Juan Castillo
    — No players that Castillo has to scheme around because they refuse to do certain things
    — Anything we get from Brandon Boykin, Jaiquawn Jarrett is gravy

    If healthy, I see no reason why this defense should not be very, very good.

  9. 9 DanM said at 8:59 AM on May 28th, 2012:

    Yes but part of a DC’s job is to get his players to execute properly, so on that it does fall on Juan. However, personally I’d agree with you cause the weakness everyone is talking about, the safeties, should be less of an issue with the d-line we have with the upgraded depth and the press man, which will give the dline more time to get to the qb, and less time to expose our safeties. Plus, an extra year for Allen to heal and extra year for 3 young guys to grow into the position (and learn from Bowles), granted it could get worse, but the odds are they get better. As long as Kendricks can use his athleticism to cover TE (considering he faces some solid ones in his first year) and our slot cb can keep up, knock on wood, looks like we have all the pieces to step up and have one of the dominate defenses in the league. Now hopefully we can have less turnovers so they are on the field less and in better position.

  10. 10 D3Keith said at 5:18 PM on May 28th, 2012:

    I wasn’t posting to absolve Castillo of blame, just to point out ways in which it’s reasonable to be optimistic for this season.

    Castillo dealt with a handful of circumstances — being a rookie, having three star CBs who had limits on what they could star at, introducing a new scheme but not having a true offseason to implement it, getting a bunch of young players and new free agents at the same time — that aren’t going to repeat.

    And if you pick a play from last year — any horrible one you can think of will do — it was very often a case of the player being in the right position but missing a tackle (Cruz 74-yard TD, Turner 62-yard run vs. ATL/Fokou, Marshawn Lynch vs. entire D), being slow to recognize the play and a step behind (Casey vs. Jacobs Giants 1) or a guy just blatantly not running what was called and getting burned by it (Arizona game).

    So those things are all still Castillo’s fault, but since a lot of the offending players have reduced roles or no roles here at all, and there’s time to get everyone up to speed this year, and the scheme is so simple DeMeco Ryans understood it completely before his first OTA, AND since there’s a lot of new talent on board, I like our chances.

    There were the debacles against NE and Seattle, and Castillo trying to do too much with Nnamdi or being slow to recognize that DRC can’t play the slot, and we’ll still have mistakes this season. It won’t be the Purple People Eaters out there. But there’s plenty of talent, and more favorable circumstances for the inexperienced DC, and probably just the overall feeling from the offense that they don’t have to carry the team and press to live up to the [name that shall never be repeated] moniker. Even a slight improvement from the D — and it’s capable of a major improvement — would be a big boon for the team.

  11. 11 A_T_G said at 9:20 AM on May 28th, 2012:

    And remember, we won’t need to deal with Asante’s selfish antics this year.

    Oh, you did remember. Four times. I’m glad I’m not the only one that finds that particular problem frustrating to the point of absurdity. Had the team been able to foresee the bounty he was going to bring in trade, I bet they would have cut him. What a message that would have sent.

  12. 12 D3Keith said at 5:21 PM on May 28th, 2012:

    I’m glad you noticed. I was going to say “I definitely alluded to it more than once.”

    I loved Asante, and maybe Castillo’s greatest offense last year was not having enough clout to put a stop to that “I don’t play press man” and “I don’t play on the right side” stuff from beginning. It’s cool to have areas you excel at, but what’s the use of being great at one style if it is so rigid it limits how effective the other, less talented players can be?

  13. 13 Eric Weaver said at 7:29 AM on May 28th, 2012:

    I don’t think most of us had any worries about Juan’s pre-game plans. It’s his ability to adjust in-game that concerns a lot of us.

  14. 14 LiamGarrett said at 8:54 AM on May 28th, 2012:

    My hope is that his other qualities can compensate for that, but you’re absolutely right. If the scheme and execution are perfected, his abilities of in-game adjustment should come into focus. He was baptized in fire last year, and this year is going to be the ultimate test for him.

  15. 15 D3Keith said at 5:22 PM on May 28th, 2012:

    So then basically Juan is a lot like the man he works for.

    That seems like something that would improve with experience, but even so, IMO, the defense would play stretches of games great and then have a major mishap. Even if Juan is again slow to adjust, eliminating the major mishaps by making the easy tackles, and by playing faster because players know what they’re doing would seem to spark an overall improvement.

  16. 16 Kevin_aka_RC said at 9:27 AM on May 28th, 2012:

    Our starting DEs were old and now a year older. Our MLB got traded from his original team because he couldn’t play to his previous level. Kendricks may be too small to play in the NFL. We have the smallest LB corps in the NFL. Our starting NT just had brain surgery. The #3 DE on the team is a bust because he tore his ACL. Our best DB is now firmly in his 30s when CBs decline. And of course, we have Juan Castillo as our DC.

    This team may finish 33rd in total defense.


  17. 17 T_S_O_P said at 9:30 AM on May 28th, 2012:

    Or it may not. Half empty is the other perspective though.

  18. 18 TommyLawlor said at 11:17 AM on May 28th, 2012:

    Funny stuff, RC.

    I have been planning on presenting a “what could go wrong” post. Just haven’t done it yet.

  19. 19 GeorgeFleep said at 12:10 PM on May 28th, 2012:

    ESPN beat you to it

    im sure you can be more creative then they can

  20. 20 Jack Waggoner said at 1:26 PM on May 28th, 2012:

    Unfortunately things could really go to hell for any team, including the Eagles, if certain players got injured. If certain older players started looking real old real fast. And if certain younger players turned out to be not as good as we thought.

    You can never really be sure going into a season what you have… nor can you have the depth to handle any possible situation well.

  21. 21 D3Keith said at 5:23 PM on May 28th, 2012:

    That’s why the NFL is such great entertainment. You spend 6 days anticipating and analyzing what you saw, and it can all be out the window in a matter of minutes.

  22. 22 M0rton said at 1:02 PM on May 28th, 2012:

    I’m actually kind of hopeful about this defense this year, to be honest.

    I love the DL and hope that Graham and/or Curry contribute in a big way.

    I like the LBers much better than the ones they had last year, but don’t think they will be special.

    The only unit I really have reservations about are the DBs – they could be great, but there are also alot of question marks among the FS/SS positions and the CBs. Very hit or miss kind of group this year.

    This could legitimately be a top-3 defense if things break the right way. Of course, this could also be a bottom-10 defense in a heartbeat. This 2012 unit will be a very high ceiling, low floor type of defense, in scouting terms.

  23. 23 D3Keith said at 5:24 PM on May 28th, 2012:

    Appreciate the honesty.

  24. 24 Chris said at 11:54 AM on May 28th, 2012:

    With the Browns and Saints both looking at missing players for portions of next season (Browns: Phil Taylor) and Saints (Will Smith) and the Eagles being well stocked with D lineman, could you see us making a deal with one of these teams or both for players who lose the battle for a spot on our line? Tapp is the first name that comes to mind.

  25. 25 Mark Sitko said at 3:10 PM on May 28th, 2012:

    Castillo gets a horrible rap – I even think your stance is not giving him enough credit. We ended the year top ten in three of the 4 major categories – passing yards, points, total yards. The only one we sucked at was running yards – but we were in the top 20 there at least. Compare those stats to the Giants – the Super Bowl champs – and we BLOW THEM AWAY. Their D was horrible last year…why don’t we hear about the Giants firing their DC – or tons of jokes about him not knowing what he is doing? He clearly isn’t half the DC that Juan is, and I would bet any cash money you like that he wouldn’t even kno where to start with an O line.

    Bottom line – Castillo will be a top ten DC – I am sure of this because he already accomplished that last year with a ton of new toys, a whole new defense, and no off season. This year we will have the best D we have had since the passing of a true defensive genius, JJ – and Reid and Castillo need to get a lot more respect for the things they accomplished last year…

  26. 26 austinfan said at 7:39 PM on May 29th, 2012:

    Juan did this with a new DL system, a group of late round inexperienced picks at LB, a mismatch at CB, 3 young safeties and a DB coach who was mailing it in. He had a horrible first five games, but guess what, so did all the coaches named as possible alternatives. It was an impossible situation for a new DC on any team where they were changing systems/personnel, it’s not surprising the one successful new DC is a veteran going to a team that retained the same system and mostly the same personnel (SF).

    The Eagles steadily improved as the season progressed, FO had them rated #7 weighted toward the end of the season. Since then they’ve strengthened the DL (tell me how much you’ll miss Parker and Laws this year, having to put up with Graham, Hunt, Curry, Cox, and Dixon in their place), added Ryans and Kendricks, moved DRC into Asante’s spot, Boykin to challenge Hanson and have a half dozen young players who should improve with a full off season. Guys like Hunt, Thornton, Chaney, Rolle, Marsh and Jarrett are all candidates to make a big jump.

    I will be disappointed if the Eagles don’t end up as a top 5 defense this season.