Andy Reid Isn’t Playing Fantasy Football

In the real world, keeping Juan Castillo is a smart move. Like, Dick LeBeau smart.

Andy Reid is keeping Juan Castillo for a second year as Eagles defensive coordinator, and

 the reaction has been predictable. Reuben Frank at CSN speaks for almost all Philadelphia sports fans when he writes that re-signing Castillo is a bad move.

With the news Monday that Andy Reid will retain Castillo for a second year as defensive coordinator … the odds of the Eagles’ winning their first championship in more than half a century just took a big giant punch in the stomach.

This is a whole lotta nothing. This is same ol’, same ol’. This is status quo.

And if owner Jeff Lurie keeps his word, status quo means the end for Reid.

When Reid hired Castillo a year ago to become the Eagles’ third defensive coordinator in four years, I wrote that he was staking his career as Eagles head coach on the move. It was a bizarre and risky call, wayyyyy out of the box, and based on an 8-8 record and five blown fourth-quarter leads in 2011, it was a failure.

I have a lot of respect for Frank as a writer and reporter, but in this case, his point exists in the same place a lot of points made by fans and radio talk show hosts exist: in a vacuum. Yes, in a perfect world, the legendary Dick LeBeau would quit his job as Steelers defensive coordinator and come to the Eagles, and then all would be right with the defense.

But that’s not going to happen. So we’re left with two trains of thought: either keep Castillo, who guided a defense that finished eight in the NFL in his first year at the helm, or blow this thing up just for the sake of blowing it up and throw a sacrificial lamb to the fans.

Judging by the comments found on Twitter and in comments sections of most local blogs, fans want blood. Now that they don’t have Donovan McNabb to blame for everything from receivers’ dropped balls to global warming, they’ve needed a new scapegoat. Since Castillo was an unusual hire, and the defense blew several fourth-quarter leads, they seem to have found one.

They seem to think that it was Castillo’s fault that the team started the season with no qualified linebackers, that Michael Vick looked like a poor man’s Bobby Hoying this season, that Juqua Parker hopped offsides on that punt against the Bills, that DeSean Jackson half-assed it all year. They seem to think that this is fantasy football, and that at the end of each season if you don’t win a championship, you just blow it up and start all over again. There is an NFL franchise that does that. They are the Oakland Raiders, and they are the laughingstock of pro football.

Was Castillo terrific? No, of course not. The Eagles looked clueless against a mediocre Seahawks team. They let a guy named John Skelton lead a ridiculous come-from-behind win, and they were embarrassed by the great Tom Brady. But when you take the season as a whole, Juan Castillo had a successful rookie effort … certainly a better first year as Eagles defensive coordinator than local legend Jim Johnson did in 1999.

Despite Johnson’s belief in a heavy pass rush, they were 21st in the league in sacks with 37 that year. Under Castillo, the Birds were tied for first in the league with 50 sacks. In Johnson’s first year in Philly, the team was 24th in the NFL in yards allowed. Under Castillo, they were 8th. The Johnson-led Eagles allowed 357 points. The Castillo defense, playing in a much higher-scoring league (there were over 1,000 more points scored in 2011 than in 1999), allowed 328.

There is no denying that Juan Castillo performed admirably in his first year at defensive coordinator. Was he a defensive mastermind? No, but neither was Dick LeBeau the first year he was a defensive coordinator (for the Bengals in 1984). In fact, their numbers are freakishly similar (for example, the Bengals that year gave up 3,391 yards, and the Eagles this year gave up 3397), and both the ’84 Bengals and ’11 Eagles finished 8-8. So did the Bengals give up on LeBeau? Did they consider the LeBeau experiment a “failure,” as Frank considers the Castillo hire? No, and LeBeau turned out to be the greatest defensive coordinator in NFL history.

I’m not saying that Castillo is the next Dick LeBeau. But I’m saying that he performed well enough for a first-year coordinator to get a second chance. The bottom line is that the defense was tremendous during the final month of the season, and when things finally clicked they were among the best in the league. Castillo’s first season as defensive coordinator was frustrating at times, but by the end of the season, there was no doubt that it was heading in the right direction. It would be foolish to ignore the positives of his first year as defensive coordinator just so the team could learn their fourth different system in five years. In an instant gratification culture, “status quo” has become a dirty word. In this case, however, status quo was exactly what was needed. This was a smart move by the Eagles, regardless of what 99 percent of their fans think.