Was Juan Castillo Right?
I'll be totally honest with everyone: There wasn't a moment this season where I believed Juan Castillo would succeed as a defensive coordinator. He looked over-matched from the moment he took the job, his unit played like garbage, and talented players seemed to play worse under his watch. The only thing I admired about Juan Castillo's approach to coaching the Eagles defense? His faith in how things would turn out.
That's right. While you, me and everyone who watches football were busy blasting Juan for his inexperience and how lost his team looked on a week to week basis, he was busy believing the hard work would pay off. Here is a quote from August 22nd, or right around the time the first questions about how his young linebackers would hold up started to arise:
“Remember, it takes 16 weeks, and then really whoever is playing their best during the playoffs. So when you look at it, there’s time to develop. You can say that there’s not, but the key is, who’s playing or fundamentally who’s the best come Week 8, 9, 10 – and during that crunch time. And over the years we’ve been pretty good during that time, and we’ll continue to do that. The young kids will get better just because they’re working the proper fundamentals.”
Lost in the dissapointment of this 6-8 season has been Juan's unnerving belief that he would get this thing fixed at some point. As easy as it is to joke about his likely one year tenure as Eagles defensive coordinator, he might have been onto something all along.
Over the first five weeks of 2011, Juan's defense allowed 140 yards per game on the ground, while allowing 5.0 yards per carry. Not surprisingly, the Eagles were allowing 26.4 points per game.
Over the last ten weeks, the same unit has allowed 98 yards per game on the ground, while allowing only 3.9 yards per carry. Again, not surprisingly, the Eagles have allowed only 19.9 points per game over this larger span.
The last two weeks have given credence to the tide finally beginning to change. This maligned Eagles defense has rebounded from embarrassing efforts against Seattle and New England to post back to back dominant weeks. A total of 29 points, 13 sacks, 7 forced turnovers, and only 6-of-28 converted third downs is as dominant as people hoped for in the off-season.
Regardless of how this season ends, it's impossible not to notice the improvements in this defense from earlier in the season. Castillo was handed a deck perceived to be more stacked than it was. He made many, many, many mistakes over the first couple months. Casey Matthews should have never started. Jarrad Page should have never played. Nnamdi Asmougha was asked to do more than he could handle. Kurt Coleman was asked to make plays he couldn't make.
As we have seen lately, Casey Matthews does have some play making ability. The defensive line can be totally dominating when allowing them to do different things up front. Brian Rolle has a pulse. The team can get after the quarterback when they get a lead.
Would Juan have succeeded with better talent? A full off-season? An offense that protected the football? Probably, but it doesn't matter.
All that matters is playing your best as the biggest games approach. Juan can't change how people felt about the early part of his tenure, but he just might have been right about where they eventually got to.