Five Things To Remember About the Eagles’ Defense

Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Juan CastilloThroughout America, August is a month for optimism in NFL cities.

It’s not difficult to find stories about rookies looking great in camp, players who have had great offseasons and coaches vowing to make adjustments in the year ahead.

But every now and then, it’s important to look at the past.

So without further ado, here are five things to remember about the Eagles’ defense – some good, some bad – with an eye on the upcoming season.

Remember that… Andy Reid was interested in bringing Steve Spagnuolo in this offseason. It was way back in January, and is easy to forget now, but the head coach pretty much acknowledged that Juan Castillo could use some help. Details never emerged about what Spagnuolo’s role would have been, but given his background, the guess is he would not have been working below Castillo.

“If you could have two great coaches on defense that’s better than one,” Reid said at the time.

He took other measures to help Castillo, like adding Todd Bowles to coach the secondary and spending three picks in the first two rounds on defensive players. But ultimately, Reid’s success in 2012 will be tied to his decision to move Castillo from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator.

Remember that… the Eagles were actually good at covering opposing tight ends last year. According to Football Outsiders, the Birds ranked fourth in that category in 2011. It was one of the things the defense did well. The reasons? They rarely blitzed and often had seven players in coverage, and they used Nnamdi Asomugha inside in certain packages.

Count me among those who think using Asomugha against elite tight ends is a good idea. And while the linebackers deserve plenty of blame for last year’s issues, they too did their jobs well against tight ends.

Remember that… Asante Samuel wasn’t the only bad tackler in the Eagles’ secondary. According to Pro Football Focus, Samuel missed eight tackles last year. You know who missed more? Nnamdi Asomugha, who was credited with 12. And Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had seven of his own. As I mentioned earlier this week, the Eagles were the second-worst tackling team in the NFL last season. Getting rid of Samuel is not going to magically fix that. The Birds need the players who are still here to be better.

Remember that… the lockout-shortened offseason might not be a great excuse for why the Eagles’ defense disappointed in 2011. On the surface, it makes sense. The Birds brought in new players, a new defensive coordinator and new defensive coaches. Of course, this unit was going to struggle at first.

But then you go down and take a look at a team like the Houston Texans. They brought in a new defensive coordinator in Wade Phillips, who implemented a new system. And they signed a new starting cornerback in Johnathan Joseph, who was named a second-team All Pro. But they got immediate contributions from rookies J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed, who combined for 11.5 sacks.

New coordinator, new system, new personnel and dramatic improvement in the shortened offseason. We’ll know after this year how valid of an excuse that was for the Eagles.

Remember that… the Eagles’ defense shut down the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants in Week 11. Everyone wants to point to the final four-game stretch as a ray of hope, but really, the Giants game is better proof of what this defense can be if it plays to its potential. New York averaged 26.8 points per game (including the playoffs) but scored just 10 (tied for a season-low) that night against the Eagles.

The defense blitzed just once on 39 Eli Manning dropbacks, but hit him 10 times and had three sacks. Manning completed just 51.4 percent of his passes after torching the Eagles (16-for-23 for 254 yards, four TDs, no INTs) in the first meeting in Week 3.

In other words, there were clear signs of adjustments and improvement in a game that meant something for both teams. The Giants game should provide the blueprint for the Eagles and Castillo going forward.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

  • Peter

    Good points to remember. How quickly we forget…

  • http://twitter.com/ProtoTyler Tyler Phillips

    All valid points to consider. However, it looks like Kendricks, and Demeco should at the least reduce the # of Missed Tackles by LBs. Aso was wrapping up pretty well in the 1st preseason game, but while he may have missed 12 to Asante’s 8, at least he was trying to tackle, Asante would often avoid trying to tackle altogether.

  • Skeptic_Eagle

    I’m more optimistic about Asomugha’s future political career than I am about him playing at a high level for the Eagles. I don’t get what’s so hard to understand: He does one thing very well, and he’s being asked to do something else. OK, so he was decent against Witten–really the only case of him playing well against a TE, V. Davis burned them, for instance–but putting him in the slot and asking him to help in run support is what *caused* most of those missed tackles. I liken it to when McDermott was dropping Cole into coverage on zone blitzes every week. Moreover, I think it’s clear that Nnamdi isn’t the player we thought we signed. Even when allowed to play press-man coverage, he’s been beaten by some pretty pedestrian wideouts. The level of talent on the defensive line is fantastic, but because Castillo continues to cook up confused and ineffective zone coverages behind it, elite QBs can get the ball out before the rush gets there. I’m surprised we didn’t see gameplans like the Bears rolled out more often, max protects to negate the passrush, while Earl Bennett found soft spots in the zone against Asomugha and Hanson again and again on third down. The optimism being expressed for this team, nationally, is even more misplaced than it was last year.

    • poopdollar

      haha your name says it all. ^^ Get lost bro,

  • Philly0312

    Oh how little we know about the CB position.
    Let’s also remember that Nnamdi played SO TERRIBLE last year, that he was once again the least targeted starting CB in the entire NFL…and it wasn’t even close for second place. He also was one of only 3 starting CBs to give up less than 400 yards last season. And that was his worst season of his career in all of those numbers. Give the guy a break and realize that if QBs don’t throw at a guy – its because the guy he is covering is freakin’ covered.
    Idiots.

  • Philly0312

    And…
    How do we forget this defense finished 8th in the NFL when playing bad?

    • BirdsFanJim

      Ha! Good point. Just goes to show how much us Philly fans expect from our D after the Jim Johnson era.

  • http://twitter.com/Jason_A_Hines Jason A Hines

    I think there is one crucial difference between Juan Castillo and Wade Phillips last year. The added problem (which the lockout exacerbated) is the fact that last year we did not just have a new DC, we had a DC who was new to being a DC (or even really coaching on that side of the ball). Wade Phillips has had success being a DC, and so although he was new, he came in with confidence in doing what he can do. Castillo had to figure out what he wanted to do on the fly. I’m not saying that problem is going to be fixed this year, but the Phillips to Castillo comparison is a little off.

    • chrisr

      not to mention the fact that the Texans played a lot of bad teams last year, including the Colts twice, I could imagine the numbers the Eagles could of put up against the same schedule

  • mothra

    yeah, point taken about Wade and the Texans. But, Remember That . . . Wade had loads of experience as a D-Coordinator and implementing his system. JC was starting from scratch.

    • atvcar

      is this the same mothra from pe.com and eagleseyeblog.com???

      • mothra

        1 and the same. fancy meeting you here

  • Dom

    Why don’t we package Polk and tapp and trade for a good reserve offensive lineman

  • BirdsFanJim

    Anyone else think Castillo’s OL coaching experience was a major factor in how many sacks/hurries our front 4 were able to generate last year? To me it makes perfect sense in today’s pass happy league to blitz less, cover more and use DT’s and DE’s primarily for pressure. With help at LB (run stop) and solid coaching in the secondary, i think this scheme will most likely become very common in the nfl very soon and Castillo is laying the groundwork. Any thoughts?

    • Dweeb

      Blitz Less??? Hmmmm… Teams are blitzing more and more! Zone blitzes are becoming more frequent. This preseason, teams have blitzed much more than their usual vanilla preseason defenses. That’s why NE and other teams are using the TE more and more – to beat the blitzes and check down quickly to the TE. IMO, Castillo is learning quickly and will be a fine D Coordinator. On the other hand; MM has a PhD and no common sense. He still has not adjusted the offense to handle the blitzing that teams have thrown at Vick. He used motion in ONE game last year and it worked then never went back to it. Remember Brad Childress and the “split out Westbrook, Booker, RB, etc. / create matchup problems” talk? Haven’t seen anything creative from MM. He is a moron and will cost AR his job!!!

  • Anon

    I don’t want to hear about the LBs on TEs. Tony Gonzalez had 2 TDs that were both the fault of LBs dropping back into coverage in a manner that was far too slow.

  • Ridusofreid

    Loyalty to Juan was the reason spags is in n.o. Andy is a bit too comfortable. He needs to be put on the hot seat by mgmt.