DRC Takes Up For Castillo

Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.Several players this week have suggested that Juan Castillo‘s defense was predictable, and therefor vulnerable in the fourth quarter when the opposition deciphered what was coming.

Though it may have some truth to it and even come from a good place, it sure can  sound like blame-shifting after a while. As in, Juan was the issue and the issue is gone, so we can now realize our potential with Todd Bowles at the helm.

Not everybody is on board with the notion that Castillo was a hindrance, or buying into the “predictability” line of defense when rationalizing back-to-back fourth-quarter lapses.

“Of course that’s what you’re going to say, man, when things start to go bad. You’re going to pinpoint something,” said Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. “I don’t feel that way. If you look at the statistics, shoot, we’re still in the top of the running. That was a decision that was made and I can’t do nothing about it, but I didn’t see no problems.”

As for pointing blame in Castillo’s direction?

“I feel like every man should be accountable for themselves,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. “I learned in life that anytime things go wrong it’s easy to say, ‘He did this. He did that,’ instead of saying, “I did this. I did that.'”

Most of the players have had fond words regarding Juan Castillo the man, but few have stood up for him as a coach quite like DRC did on Thursday. Rodgers-Cromartie revealed that it was Castillo that transformed him into a press corner, working overtime with him to make sure the 26-year-old went through the change as smoothly as possible.

“No question. He changed my game. He turned me into a press corner,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. “He’s one of the guys that took the time with you, to make you understand the weakness in your game and keep you after practice and make you work on it. This is the NFL, you’re accountable for yourself. Not too many people are going to say, ‘Hey, you need to do this and make sure you do it.’  They tend to let you do it on your own.”

Rodgers-Cromartie is having a Pro-Bowl season. He has three interceptions and five passes defensed through six games. Opposing quarterbacks have a collective quarterback rating of 28.7 when throwing in his direction according to Pro Football Focus, good for second in the entire NFL.

The message about predictability is coming directly from Bowles, according to a couple of the players. The new defensive coordinator was asked about it on Thursday.

“I don’t think it’s excuse-making on my part. I think predictability comes from self-scouting,” said Bowles. “Every coach in the league when they self-scout on the bye week sees a lot of predictable things that are glaring to them that they try to fix. I think the miscommunication was in that part. It’s definitely not an excuse. The guys play hard and we lost because we lost and because we didn’t make enough plays to win the game. It’s not because we were being predictable or unpredictable.”

If that was the point Bowles was making, it may have been lost on a few of his new pupils.

‘We’re Not Going To Be Predictable Anymore’

Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach Todd Bowles.There were varying degrees of willingness to talk about the Todd Bowles/Juan Castillo shake-up in the Eagles’ locker room Monday. Jason Babin, for example, has never been more skittish about a subject in his two years in Philadelphia. Others forced you to read between the lines.

There were a few revealing moments, however.

The biggest one came from backup linebacker Casey Matthews, who relayed Bowles’ message to the defense upon taking the reins.

“The biggest thing he said is, ‘We’re not going to predictable anymore.’ That’s what Coach said,” Matthews revealed, the obvious implication being that the ‘D’ was predictable under Castillo.

“We’re basically still running the same stuff. A couple tweaks. Coach Bowles said he’s not here to revamp the defense. We’re running the same stuff he just wants us to play together.”

That was the common thought from player to player: that Bowles would not be overhauling the defense; just some minor alterations to the scheme.

There was no evidence of any player being outraged by Castillo’s firing, and some are feeling reinvigorated.

“It’s a whole new season for us,” said Kurt Coleman. “We have 10 games to really prove ourselves and prove our worth to ourselves and these fans, and to the whole NFL. We’re not achieving our full potential, I feel like. We look at the last two years and we haven’t been able to do it, whether that be because of closing out games or what not. But we have 10 games to really prove ourselves and that starts this week.”

One concern is that Bowles, while having a wealth of coaching experience on the defensive side of the ball, has never called a game. Or has he?

“In the grand scheme of things, I think he was helping make play calls throughout this year,” said Coleman.

“I have all the confidence in him. He’s a smart coach, he really is. He’s going to do his due diligence in understanding the game as far as how the offense is going to attack us. And you have to be able to adjust throughout the game, and I think he is going to do a great job with that.”

Several players expressed sympathy for Castillo, whom they had grown to respect as a man. But all seem to feel that Bowles is ready for the role of defensive coordinator.

“He’s well respected,” said Matthews. “He’s been on the defensive side for a while and Juan came over from the offense. A lot of people, especially vets, you don’t know if they’re qualified and stuff like that. But I think Todd will get it done.”

Asomugha: ‘I Had a Tough Time Last Week’

Last Sunday, after the Eagles fell to the Lions, Nnamdi Asomugha addressed reporters at his locker.

The Birds had shut down Calvin Johnson and the Detroit offense for three quarters, but collapsed in the fourth quarter and overtime of a 26-23 loss. Asomugha seemed to question Juan Castillo and some of the calls that were made at the end of the game. But today, he said that wasn’t his intention.

“I had a tough time last week when those stories came out, to be honest,” Asomugha said. “It was moreso a character thing. And it’s something that I would never do as a player. And I think you guys will start to know that a little bit more as we continue to get to know each other. There’s no underlying of ‘This was said, but it might have meant this.’ I wouldn’t do that to a coach and especially Juan. Just because as far as a player-coach relationship, we had been so communicative. It wasn’t a good feeling. But after speaking to him and him knowing that wasn’t the case, I think it made it a lot better. I don’t think that had anything to do with him being let go.”

Asomugha spoke positively about his relationship with Castillo.

“It’s part of the business of football,” he said. “We all respect him. I respect Juan as a man and as a coach. He’s going to land on his feet and he’s going to do well. It was tough at first to hear it because you’ve pretty much grown so much with a guy and seen him grow so much, but you know he’s going to be fine.”

Had the players lost confidence in Castillo?

“I don’t think so, I don’t think so,” Asomugha said. “We all felt like, or feel like, we’re a really good defense. We’ve played well. There were moments when we didn’t play well, but I think just the bottom line is winning games. You win games, and none of this is talked about. It might be talked about still, but it’s not going to get to the level that it got to. And I think we’ve played well enough to win some of those games. It’s just pulling it out in the end. I don’t think anybody’s questioned us as a defense. Even talking to guys today, everybody’s like ‘We think this defense is good.’ The players, everybody feels that way, so we’re still confident as a defense.”

For the most part, Asomugha is right. The unit is much improved from last year’s group, but against the Lions, the Eagles entered the fourth quarter with a lead, only to see it slip away. That’s happened six times in the last 22 games.

Asked if he felt like the players let Castillo down, Asomugha said, “I don’t know. As a player, how do you really adjudicate something like that? My mind can’t even think on that level because I’m a player. Those decisions are all for the people in upper management. I couldn’t say if players let him down or what the reason was for why he was let go. As a player, I can’t even think on those terms.”

Going forward, Asomugha will take instruction from new coordinator Todd Bowles. The secondary has been the strength of the defense so far. The Eagles are No. 1 in opponents’ completion percentage (52.7) and tied for second in opponents’ yards per attempt (6.2). Often times, they’ve been dealing with bad starting field position because of shoddy special-teams play or turnovers by the offense.

As for Bowles, the players aren’t sure yet how the Eagles’ scheme is going to change or how he’s going to call games on Sundays.

“He might call games a little differently,” Asomugha said. “It just depends on how he sees it and how he sees the situation that we’re in. But I don’t know about the plays as much. Today was more about correcting the mistakes we’ve made in the past. So you don’t really know or can gauge what he’s going to do, but there’s a lot of confidence in his abilities.”

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

All-22: What We Saw From the Eagles’ Defense

Here’s a breakdown of what we saw from the coach’s tape in what ended up being Juan Castillo’s final game as coordinator.

Play 1: Opposing offensive coordinators have to know by now that the best way to burn the Eagles for big plays is with play-fakes. The safeties seem to bite every week. On this first-quarter play, tight end Tony Scheffler is streaking down the middle of the field after Nate Allen got fooled.

But Stafford misses with his throw (or maybe Scheffler slowed down). That was a theme in the first half. After watching the game live, I thought the Eagles’ defense really did a good job through three quarters, but upon re-watching, it sure seemed like the Lions left a lot of plays on the field. Also, take a look at the bottom of the screen. Nnamdi Asomugha didn’t always get safety help. Here, he’s got Calvin Johnson one-on-one. Asomugha was really good all game.

Play 2: Here, the Lions get the Eagles with a bootleg. The entire Detroit line goes to the right, and both Eagles linebackers bite. Highlighted in the image are Kurt Coleman and Trent Cole.

Look how close Cole is to the quarterback with nobody blocking him. But the fake gets him. Coleman starts towards the line of scrimmage as Brandon Pettigrew goes right past him into his route (he initially set up like a blocker). The result is a 16-yard completion.

Play 3: While the defensive line needs to play better, it is true that the front four can affect the game without racking up sacks. For example, on this third down in the first quarter, Brandon Boykin gets beat for what could have been a touchdown.

But Cole gets pressure off the edge and hits Stafford as he sails a pass to Scheffler. If Stafford has time to go through his reads on the play, it could have been a score.

Play 4: The Lions had a chance for a big play to Johnson in the first. Stafford ran a play-fake and rolled to his right, but Johnson got free deep on the left side.

He’s pretty much all by himself on the far side of the field. Coleman (yellow circle) is the nearest defender. But Stafford doesn’t pull the trigger. It’s tough to tell if Brandon Graham was the reason Stafford hesitated. He was near the quarterback on the play.

Play 5: I wonder if Cole is getting impatient because of the lack of sacks. Look at where he is on this run play in the first.

Or maybe he was anticipating a bootleg after the earlier play? Not used to seeing this from Cole, who is generally an excellent run defender. The left tackle (No. 71) whiffed on his block on Allen, or this could have been much more than a 9-yard gain.

Play 6: I’m guessing other teams will see this play on tape and run a couple end arounds to Cole’s side. Here, he gets completely fooled by the initial fake as Nate Burleson gets the ball.

Look at where Cole is when he finally realizes Burleson has the ball.

Akeem Jordan actually doesn’t get fooled, but he does get blocked. The result is a 16-yard pickup.

Play 7: In the past, with the Eagles’ offense, we’ve shown them keep extra blockers in and let DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin try to win even if they’re outnumbered. On one second-quarter play, the Lions did the same. After a play-fake, check out the blocking.

All four Eagles defensive linemen are double-teamed. The running back chips Cole and then goes out into his route. But otherwise, the Lions only have two receivers in pass routes. Titus Young gets behind Coleman, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie trips on the play. But Young drops the ball. Otherwise, this is a big gain. Not an All-22 shot, but here you can see the close-up.

Play 8: You see it again here. Eight guys in to block four Eagles defensive linemen.

Tough to generate a pass-rush when you’re so outnumbered. Also with the max protect, the linebackers are stuck in no man’s land, waiting for the running backs and tight ends to release.

Play 9: Another missed opportunity to Johnson. Here, Allen gets matched up with him, but Johnson has a step. There is no one deep except for the official.

Luckily for the Eagles, Stafford decides he needs to get rid of the ball quickly. That was another theme of the day. Another example of the defensive line indirectly impacting the game without sacks. He actually had Burleson open for what would have been a first down (3rd-and-3), but Stafford misfired, and the Lions had to punt.

Play 10: One way to help yourself get pressure on the quarterback is to, well, play with two defensive ends. On this third-quarter play, the Eagles decided 10 players and NO left defensive end would be just fine.

For the record, coverage was so good on the play that Stafford had to tuck the ball and run for 3 yards.

Play 11: The 57-yard completion to Scheffler in the fourth is a great example of why the All-22 is so helpful. On TV, it looked like Brandon Hughes just got beat, but really, Colt Anderson deserves blame on the play. The first shot shows Anderson deep. He’s not supposed to let anything get behind him.

But it’s a broken play. Stafford rolls to his right, and Scheffler makes his way back to the sideline. Anderson cheats up – either to help on a shorter route or to chase Stafford if he scrambles.

Scheffler gets free for the big gain.

Play 12: One of the plays Asomugha was presumably talking about after the game. In overtime, Castillo sent Coleman on a blitz. It’s fair to question why he’d go with a safety blitz from distance in a game where Stafford was regularly getting rid of the ball quickly. The matchup in the slot is Rodgers-Cromartie vs. Johnson.

The Eagles tried Rodgers-Cromartie in the slot last year. It didn’t work. He’s mentioned on several occasions how he’s not comfortable there. He had gotten beaten for a 17-yard gain on the final drive of regulation in a similar situation. And here he’s got no help against perhaps the best wide receiver in the game. So you can understand why this play probably frustrated Asomugha, and it’s no surprise that Johnson beat Rodgers-Cromartie to the outside for a 17-yard gain, putting the Lions in field-goal range.

And finally, be sure to check out the Iggles Blog All-22 breakdown. Outstanding in-depth analysis on the specific coverages the Eagles used and what changed late in the game.

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

Three Thoughts On the State Of the Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.Given everything that’s happened this week, and because it’s the bye, now is a good time to assess the state of the Eagles. Below are three thoughts to consider.

1. Let’s start with the defense and Andy Reid’s decision to replace Juan Castillo with Todd Bowles. Reid went with an outside-the-box idea when he promoted Castillo back in 2011. He thought that with the talent the Eagles had on defense, if he gave Castillo capable assistants, he could grow into the coordinator role and have success. In 2011, the ‘D’ had its ups and downs. But the Eagles lost five games in which they entered the fourth quarter with a lead. The defense gave up 60 points in the final 15 minutes of those games.

After an 8-8 campaign, Reid re-assessed things. While he has said he felt good about how the defense finished 2011, it was clear this offseason that he wanted to get Castillo more help. And so he tried to get Steve Spagnuolo to come on board in an unspecified role, but Spags chose the Saints instead.

Sidenote: Before you comment about how New Orleans’ defense stinks under Spagnuolo, that’s not the point. The point is that Reid tried to get help on the defensive side of the ball.

The other move he made was to bring Bowles on board to coach the secondary – a veteran who had experience, someone who could help maximize the talent in the back end and ease the burden off of Castillo.

Meanwhile, from a personnel standpoint, the Eagles acquired DeMeco Ryans and spent four of their first five draft picks on the defensive side of the ball.

Through six games, the defense has been the team’s strength. But after a meltdown against the Lions, Reid decided he had to make a change. This move was not so much about who the defensive coordinator is from Monday to Saturday. Putting together the game-plan and running practices is in many ways a collaborative effort. This move is about Sundays. Specifically, making the right calls, avoiding meltdowns and making adjustments.

Right now, the offense is a mess. If the Eagles are going to salvage their season, it very well could be the defense that has to lead the way. They’re healthy and talented on that side of the ball. Reid could have kept Castillo on and had Bowles call the plays, but what would have been the point? This move is about getting the most out of the ‘D’ in the final 10 games. Reid believes Bowles gives him the best chance to do that.

One final thought on the defense: It’s important to recognize that Castillo’s failure is Reid’s failure. No other coach in the NFL would have made the move he did. Of all the decisions he’s made during his time with the Eagles, this could be the one that ends up costing him his job.

2. What about the offense? That’s a question many asked as soon as the Castillo move was announced. Why didn’t Reid fire Marty Mornhinweg also?

That’s flawed logic. While the two sides of the ball are connected, these are separate issues. Defensively, Reid had a coach on staff whom he felt could do a better job than the guy in place.

The offense is a different story. The Eagles set franchise scoring records in 2008, 2009 and 2010, respectively. Mornhinweg was the coordinator each of those seasons. In other words, he has a track record. It’s reasonable for Reid to think Mornhinweg can help him turn things around.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t to say Mornhinweg should be free of criticism. The Eagles are averaging 17.2 points per game – second-worst in the NFL. But again, this is about looking at the final 10 games and how they can salvage their season. Reid had a choice to make: Either continue with Mornhinweg or take over himself. Right now, it looks like he’s sticking with Mornhinweg.

The other point here is that players on both sides of the ball have to be held accountable. Take Sunday’s’ game, for example:

  • Brent Celek drops a relatively easy touchdown.
  • Celek is called for offensive pass interference, negating another touchdown.
  • Michael Vick misses DeSean Jackson deep for what could have been an 80-yard score.
  • Vick’s pass to a wide-open Jeremy Maclin on the second-to-last drive is batted at the line of scrimmage by Ndamukong Suh.
  • Dallas Reynolds snaps the ball before Vick is ready, resulting in a turnover with the offense driving in Lions territory.
  • Todd Herremans, the most talented and experienced lineman on the team, gets beat one-on-one to start the drive in overtime, giving up a sack and putting the Eagles in a hole.

None of those things had anything to do with the play-calls. Players were put in the right positions and failed to perform at the level expected of them.

3. Lastly, we have to talk about the quarterback, starting with the position the coaches have put him in. This offensive line is bad. I’ve heard some say it’s the worst of the Reid era, and I have a tough time arguing. The struggles up front make it critical for Mornhinweg and Reid to put Vick in a position to succeed.

That’s why they changed the offense after the Cardinals game. Shorter passes to negate pressure and beat the blitz? We’re seeing those. Vick has been outstanding against extra pressure the last two weeks. Just look at the numbers: 21-for-30 (70 percent) for 280 yards (9.3 YPA). The offense has really performed well against the blitz in the last three games. The coaches are giving Vick more options to get rid of the football quickly, and he’s taking often times making use of them. Are there exceptions? Sure. Tim did a good job of showing a few in his All-22 breakdown. But for the most part, the offense has been tweaked to help negate pass pressure and make up for the deficiencies of the line. Vick is completing 63.2 percent of his passes in the last three games.

What about the run game? Wouldn’t using a heavier dose of LeSean McCoy help Vick? A couple issues with that argument. One is that McCoy’s averaging 18.5 rushing attempts per game – seventh-most in the NFL and the most of his career. He also has 25 catches, second-most among running backs, behind Darren Sproles. McCoy has played more snaps than any other running back in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. In other words, for the most part, the Eagles have tried to squeeze every ounce of production out of McCoy through six games.

The other issue is this: While we tend to focus on the offensive line’s struggles in pass protection, they’re not getting the job done on the ground either. McCoy had nowhere to go against the Lions and has averaged 2.5 yards per carry in his last two games.

The truth is that while a balanced attack and a heavy dose of McCoy are good things, the Eagles are simply going to need to get more out of their passing game to be successful. Vick is actually throwing interceptions at a higher rate than even last season (one every 30.2 attempts in 2011, compared to one ever 28.9 attempts in 2012).

But it’s not just the turnovers. Going over the All-22 from last week, the Eagles had countless opportunities to hit on big plays. Against Pittsburgh, I thought Vick played well minus the fumbles. Against Detroit, I thought he left too many plays on the field. Again, it’s not just Vick. But he’s part of it. And I think that’s why you heard Reid decline to say whether he would be the starter against the Falcons.

I don’t think now is the time to make a move. I agree with what Tim wrote yesterday on the topic. But I do believe Reid is weighing all his options. Don’t forget that in the offseason we heard reports that the Eagles looked into acquiring Peyton Manning and thought about trading up for Robert Griffin III. I fully understand that Nick Foles is not either of those guys, but the point is Reid at least had some doubts about whether Vick could get it done in 2012. You didn’t see other coaches who were confident in their quarterbacks look into either one of those moves.

Vick is showing improvement in some areas (blitz, getting rid of the ball quickly), while staying the same in others (ball security). Reid is not going to make a decision based on the future. He believes he can win now, and really, he has no choice considering he might be gone in 2013. Now, Reid has to decide whether Vick is the quarterback that gives him the best chance to be successful in the final 10 games.

As of earlier this week, he was still undecided.

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

What They’re Saying About the Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy ReidHere’s a roundup of what the national media are saying about the Eagles this week.

Dan Graziano of ESPN.com says Andy Reid’s decision to fire Juan Castillo shows the head coach’s desperation:

This is about Reid saying to his team and his owner and to Eagles fans that he’s not sitting on his hands — that making this season a success remains as desperately important to him as it is to them. Bowles is a ready and capable replacement, something they likely don’t have on the offensive side, so firing Castillo is easier midseason than it would be to fire Mornhinweg. Castillo’s an easy scapegoat, too, since no one but Reid and (maybe) Castillo believed he was right for the job in the first place. Maybe this wakes up the offensive line, many of whom were taught how to play by Castillo. Maybe it snaps turnover-prone quarterback Michael Vick to attention, knowing he could be gone after this season very easily if he doesn’t get his game together. The Eagles had a ready-made fall guy, and the wake of a 10-point collapse in the final five minutes at home was an opportunity to use him to let everybody know that no one is safe.

The Eagles dropped to 13th in ESPN.com’s power rankings. Writes Graziano:

The loss that got Juan Castillo fired drops the Eagles only two spots in the rankings. Me, I dropped them from No. 9 to No. 10, mainly because I didn’t have a team other than the Broncos I felt deserved to jump them. But I have them ranked higher than everyone else does, and I’m not as high on teams like the Seahawks (only good at home) and Vikings as other voters are. Might be nearing time for a midseason re-evaluation, and I admit my Eagles ranking may still be relying more on what I think they’re capable of than what they have accomplished so far this season, but that’s where I am with it.

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com writes that Michael Vick played a role in Castillo being fired:

Vick is the biggest reason why Castillo was fired. The Eagles defense has been good this year, albeit not great. It’s certainly carried the offense overall. Andy Reid’s offense is 31st in the league in points and turnovers. Philadelphia’s last two possessions Sunday were three-and-outs. In overtime, the offense went 21 yards backwards. They had three turnovers overall. Vick and Reid have been the problems.

Paul Domowitch of the Daily News caught up with Jeffrey Lurie and asked him if he had reservations when Reid first hired Castillo.

“Yes I did,” Lurie said. “But I let Andy make that call. I respected his decision. He felt it was the best thing to do at the time, and I don’t interfere in that area.”

Elliot Harrison of NFL.com has the Eagles 14th in his power rankings:

So defensive coordinator Juan Castillo loses his job, which is essentially a “The defense is why we’ve been .500 for the better of two years” move. Or it’s a knee-jerk, “Your defense blew back-to-back late-game leads and we’re 3-3” move. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was clandestinely critical of a change in tactics late in the Detroit loss. And everyone knows that the Castillo hiring was never a popular move — due to his former role on the other side of the ball as an offensive line coach. OK, that’s all real cool stuff, but this just in: That defense ranks 13th in the NFL in points allowed, while the offense is 31st ( 31st!) in points scored. Not quite the discrepancy you were anticipating, huh? Does Michael Vick (13 turnovers) lose his job, too? Oh, and who hired Castillo in the first place?

Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com heard from one executive who ripped Reid:

The end in Philadelphia might not be very pretty. At all. Andy Reid has basically been told win this year, or else. As a response, Reid is getting desperate. He fired his defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo. Now, Castillo hasn’t been very good at times and some Eagles players have publicly questioned his play calling, but this move nonetheless appears desperate. Not to mention Castillo is a convenient scapegoat for Mike Vick’s fumbles. That’s the impression floating around football, and not from a few people, either.

“So begins Andy Reid throwing people overboard to save his own ass,” one team executive said.

Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com has the Eagles 14th:

Just when you think they take a step forward, they take two back. Losing to the Lions should not happen.

Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com places Reid atop his list of coaches on the hot seat:

Reid’s firing of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo reeks of desperation. It also reflects poorly on Reid. He was the one who so adamantly insisted that Castillo could make a successful transition from handling Philadelphia’s offensive line — and being quite good at it — after having not coached on the defensive side of the football since the mid-1980s or possessing coordinator experience outside of his days at Kingsville (Texas) High School.

Brian Billick of FoxSports.com has the Eagles 15th:

The Eagles failed to record a sack in their third straight game and their offensive possession in overtime was embarrassing. If anyone can get this fixed during the bye week, it’s Andy Reid. But it needs to be a drastically different on-field product come Week 8.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk has the Eagles 14th:

Firing Juan Castillo for being a bad defensive coordinator is like firing a race car driver for being a bad airplane pilot.

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

Eagles Wake-Up Call: What It All Says About Andy

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy ReidAndy Reid’s 14-year odyssey has come down to the next 10 hours.

Ten games, 60 minutes of game clock a pop. In that time he has to prove to owner Jeffrey Lurie that “substantial improvement” has been made, and that he at the very least has his first Lombardi surrounded. Whether he is fighting for a contract extension or a ring before time runs out, the urgency is high.

At the current rate, the 2012 club will end just like last year’s bunch did — at .500. Lurie has already deemed that outcome unacceptable.  A playoff appearance — and maybe a playoff run — seem necessary to re-establish job security. The Eagles will have to go  7-3 the rest of the way to put themselves in proper position for a playoff berth.

That is the reality Reid is operating in. It is a driving force behind his intensive bye week evaluation, one that has already resulted in the firing of longtime friend Juan Castillo in favor of Todd Bowles. The head coach sounded like he was just getting warmed up.

“So, this is one of the moves and we’ll see where this goes from here,” Reid said.

The majority will not disagree with the decision on its face. Castillo’s promotion to defensive coordinator was met with resistance across the board, and most will welcome a veteran defensive coach like Bowles, who is regarded as one of the bright young minds in the game.

But it all feels a bit knee-jerk, doesn’t it?

“It’s what I thought yesterday was the best thing as I went through it and evaluated it,” said Reid.

This is a man that helped save his own job last year by preaching consistency. He built his offseason, and his entire campaign for 2012, around the idea that it was important to keep the band together. Six games in and one of his top lieutenants has been sacrificed. If Michael Vick‘s third-down pass to Jeremy Maclin isn’t swatted at the line late in the fourth quarter, is Castillo still the coordinator?

And it’s not like the Eagles are in a big hole. Reid’s teams are often slow out of the gate. The 2003 Eagles (12-4) started 3-3. Same in 2001 (11-5) and 2008 (9-6-1). They made it to the NFC Championship in each of those campaigns. His teams get better as the season goes on.

Normally, Reid could trust in that history and stay the course. This time around, he cannot bank on faith.

This is confirmation that Reid, if this is in fact the last stand, will go down on his own terms. If you believe the L.A. Times report, he won a power struggle over Joe Banner this offseason and threatened to walk if he didn’t have more say over personnel. Now he has cut ties with maybe his most loyal follower, and has implied that no one is safe — not the quarterback, not the offensive coordinator, no one. The Eagles are a game out in the division.

One of the defensive starters talked a couple weeks back about the value of Reid being so even-keeled. Football by its nature is an emotional and psychological game, and teams are prone to large ebbs and flows during a 16-game slate. Reid steers the team around the big dips, the player said, by virtue of his steady hand.

Now Reid is spending the bye week tearing things apart (his words), and there is a greater sense of volatility.

“That’s not how I go about [my business],” said Reid, when asked if he is viewing this as a 10-game audition to save his job. “I do what I think is best for the Philadelphia Eagles, cut and dry. I think if you get it past that then you’re going to do things that are [not right].”


Plenty of reaction to the defensive coordinator shakeup.

Some of the current players were shocked by the move.

Former players chimed in as well. Asante Samuel used the opportunity to tell Reid to look in the mirror. 

Reid hints that more moves may be coming. Does that mean Vick could be replaced by Nick Foles?

Bowles addressed the media and talked about the type of scheme he plans on running. The most important thing right now, according to Bowles, is to figure out a way to close.

An emotional Castillo went one-on-one with with Vai Sikahema and made no excuses.


Castillo sat down with Derrick Gunn as well and expressed his affection for Reid just hours after being fired by him.

“I love Coach. And I’ve said it before: I’d take a bullet for Coach. He gave me an opportunity of a lifetime, man. And Mr. Lurie and the organization, an opportunity of a lifetime. I didn’t get it done. That’s hard.”

Peter King believes Castillo looks a lot like a scapegoat right about now.

Unless Reid does something to address the offense in the next few days — the Eagles have a bye this week — Castillo’s firing will be the biggest diversionary tactic I’ve seen in the league in some time. Philadelphia’s offense ranks 31st in points per game (17.2), with explosive players all over the place. It’s a disgrace.

So let’s see what else Reid has up his sleeve. Maybe it’s taking the playcalling from Mornhinweg. Maybe it’s starting backup quarterback Nick Foles, which I wouldn’t do quite yet. Maybe it’s reading Vick the final riot act — one more turnover-plagued game and he’s out. But it had better be something, or else Reid’s 14th season as coach of the Eagles may be his last.

Michael Silver over at Yahoo cautions against a QB change, and gives his take on the Castillo/Bowles move.

However, I’m still surprised that Reid would react so strongly. There are less conspicuous tweaks he could have made, such as stripping Castillo of his play-calling duties and letting Bowles handle the job (which the coach could have chosen not to publicize) or quietly leaning on Castillo and Mornhinweg to make some philosophical changes during games.

Instead, it was as if Reid chose to make a statement – to Lurie – that he has identified the reason for the team’s under-performance: i.e. someone other than Andy Reid.


Reid’s comprehensive evaluation rolls on. Whatever it yields, we’ll have it covered for you.

Bowles: Defense Needs To Learn How To Finish

When asked what the Eagles’ defense needs to focus on going forward, new coordinator Todd Bowles did not hesitate.

“We’ve got to finish at the end of the games,” he said. “We’ve got to finish and win games. The bottom line is, when you’re out there on defense, it doesn’t matter what happens when you’re out there at the end of the game, you’ve got to finish.”

Bowles’ comments especially ring true two days after the Eagles’ defense surrendered 20 points to the Lions in the fourth quarter and overtime. Of the Birds’ last 11 losses, six have come after they led going into the final 15 minutes. And in those losses, the defense has allowed 77 fourth-quarter points.

Standing in front of the media at the Novacare Complex for the first time, sporting a black Temple hoodie, Bowles said he had been informed of the coaching change 10 hours earlier. He was asked about his playing days – both with the Owls (1982-1985) and in the NFL, where he started 82 games during an eight-year span.

“Being a player, you can put yourself in the same situations because you’ve been in them,” Bowles said. “So when the guys come to you with problems, then you can refer back to your playing days. You don’t have to agree with them. You say, ‘This is why we’re doing this so this is why they’re doing this to you’ and it just helps the relationship go a lot better.”

Before joining the Eagles as the secondary coach in the offseason, the 48-year-old spent time as the interim coach of the Dolphins, earning that title after Miami fired Tony Sparano last December. In other words, Bowles is no stranger to in-season change.

“Last year probably was the biggest shock, so coming into this year, similar situation as far as it happening in-season, it kind of prepares you not to get too high or too low,” he said. “Just to be professional and do your job, and if something happens, you’re ready to do everything else also.”

Bowles has never served as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, although he did have that title at Morehouse College and Grambling State. He seemed unfazed at having to call plays on gameday.

“You just watch enough film and trust your instincts enough to make calls and make sure everybody’s on the same page,” Bowles said. “Try to take away what they’re doing, and yet not expose what you’re doing.”

As for whether he’ll coach on the field or in the box, Bowles said he’ll figure that out in the next few days.

“I’ve been on the field, and I’ve been in the box,” he said. “The box is probably a little calmer because you can’t yell at anybody, and nobody’s going to hear you. On the field, you have hands on the players, but the reaction steps are a lot quicker so you’ve got to kind of get a feel for what the rest of your coaches can do, and have a feel for what your players need, whether I’m up or down.”

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

Bowles’ Take: Blitzing, Pressure And the Wide-9

Before today, Todd Bowles was in charge of the Eagles’ secondary. Now, his job is to come up with a game-plan for the entire defense.

That includes finding a way to improve a pass-rush that has gone without a sack the last three games.

The first step is diagnosing the problem.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” Bowles said. “Part of the time, the ball’s coming out quick. Part of the time, they’re max protecting. Part of the time we’ve got to beat one-on-ones. And part of the time, coaching-wise, we’ve got to scheme it better and help those guys get free.”

As for the wide-nine, Bowles said it’s here to stay, also pointing out that he’ll still let Jim Washburn still do most of the coaching on the defensive line.

“It’s staying in-tact,” Bowles said. “I mean, we run a wide-nine. That’s what we do. But game-plan wise, it depends on whether we do other things along with it.

“The 4-3 has been around a long time. This is not a new system. They put the ends a yard wider, and everybody thinks it’s a new system, but it’s been around for a long time.”

Earlier in the day, Andy Reid talked about needing to blitz at the right time. It’s not a case of calling more blitzes, Reid said, but rather making sure the extra pressure is effective. Asked for his philosophy on blitzing, Bowles said, “If it works, it’s great. If it’s not, don’t do it.”

“Hopefully, timely pressure,” he said. “You can’t blitz too much or too little. Too much of one thing leads them to do another. So game-plan wise, and schematically, it all has to fit in during the week.”

As for the secondary, Bowles said they’ll continue to use a mix of man and zone coverages. The new defensive coordinator left the impression that he’s flexible. You’re not going to see the same thing every week. He’ll tweak the scheme depending on the opponent and the situation.

“It all depends on what you’re trying to take away,” Bowles said. “If it’s a quick passing team, all you can do is get pressure, let it go early. Depending on what we have in the back or what’s outside, we’ll either pressure or lay back more, depending on the game-plan.”

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

Emotional Castillo Reacts To Firing

Juan Castillo was overcome with emotion Monday when asked to talk about his time in Philadelphia.

The former defensive coordinator, relieved of his duties this week in favor of Todd Bowles, talked to Vai Sikahema of NBC 10 on Tuesday. Sikahema asked Castillo what he will think about when he reflects on his career with the Eagles.

“The opportunity,” said a shaken Castillo, as heard on 97.5 The Fanatic. “And not taking advantage of the opportunity and making it happen for my family, for Coach Reid, for the city and for our guys. That’s what a warrior does. We talk about that all the time. There are no excuses, man. You get it done.”

Castillo first started coaching for the Eagles back in 1995 as an offensive assistant. He was the offensive line coach from 1998-2010 before Andy Reid made the shocking move of promoting Castillo to defensive coordinator. Reid said firing his longtime friend was one of the most difficult things he’s ever had to do as a head coach.

“I think the world of him. I feel full responsibility for putting him in this position,” said Reid. “I know the kind of person he is. I know that he cares for me likewise. But again, in these types of situations, he understands that you’ve got to put those things aside. I’ve got to be as real as I possibly can. I’m dealing with a lot of men in here. And I’m dealing with an organization, a city, and you guys are all part of that so I try to be as real as I can and as honest as I can with it.”


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