Five Things To Remember About the Eagles’ Defense

Throughout 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.

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