It's looking more and more like a Dust Bowl is heading toward Philadelphia sometime soon after the 2012 NFL football season. Tuesday, the winds began to kick up, as the Philadelphia Eagles fired defensive coordinator Juan Castillo after just a season and six games in the position. Secondary coach Todd Bowles will take over coordinator duties for head coach Andy Reid, who removed Castillo after his team blew a 10-point lead in the 4th quarter at home against an undisciplined and unimpressive Detroit Lions team.
There are a couple of key words being uttered around the Delaware Valley amongst fans this Tuesday. Scapegoat seems to be the predominant term. Reid intimated that the move was solely his decision. Fans, via Twitter and article comment sections, seem to want to know if it's possible for Reid to fire himself. Of course, that is tongue in cheek, but this move is a scathing indication that Reid knows finally that he's in a battle to save his own skin.
Reid said that at 3-3, the team's record indicates that they are an average team. He believes they are better than their record indicates. Are they? This team could easily be 0-6. Of course, this team could easily be 5-1 as well. The question is whether or not late wins over the hapless Cleveland Browns and good teams like the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens are an indication of what they are capable of, or are they the team that squandered the opportunity to steal a win on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and couldn't finish the job against an underachieving Lions team. The answer is probably clearer than we'd like it to be. This team is simply average. We've heard it a lot lately -- you are what your record says you are.
Reid, as the proverbial broken record often heralds, took full responsibility for all the ills of his football team. He took full responsibility for the hiring of Castillo, a former offensive line coach that hadn't coached defensively in more than 15 seasons, as defensive coordinator. Castillo has been a coach under Reid for all 14 seasons of his tenure as the head man in Philly. They are, or were, as close off the field as they were on it. The hiring of Castillo had to have been born of Castillo's falsely believing he could do the job and selling his friend Reid that bill of goods. Reid's job is to be intelligent enough to be able to talk a friend down off the ledge when he knows he's in over his head. To his own detriment, Reid allowed Castillo to dive off the high dive into the deep end, and he had to have some idea that there was a good chance Castillo wouldn't be able to swim. The hire was a massive risk. Now, with his own hide all too close to the branding iron, he's drowned his buddy.
"I put Juan in this situation," Reid said. If the move was such an epic failure, it is egregious enough to warrant Reid's firing midseason as well. Eagles' owner Jeffrey Lurie, loyal to a fault, will never make that move, but Castillo's dismissal indicates that Lurie's decree that last year's 8-8 season was unacceptable was also brought to Reid personally.
On the surface, the Eagles' defense would appear much improved from last season. Numbers indicate the Eagles' D is in the middle of the pack. They are 11th in overall yards allowed and 14th in points allowed. They've improved their third down defense and their red zone defense, but their fourth quarter numbers are terrible, which shows some quit. The 4th quarter is not the time to stop playing. It's the time to crank it up a notch.
The Eagles' defensive line racked up 46 of its league-high 50 sacks in 2011. At current, the Eagles haven't put a quarterback on the deck in 13 quarters and an overtime. That's three entire football games. That's bad for teams with bad defensive fronts. The Eagles' defensive line is supposed to be one of the deepest and most talented in the NFL. Getting pressure isn't always good enough. Defenses need to make plays. Peyton Manning didn't come back on Monday night from 24 points down all by himself. The Broncos' defense caused five turnovers in the second half. They made plays. Aside from an interception 45 yards down field by Nnamdi Asomugha Sunday, nary a play was to be found from Eagles' defenders.
Castillo dialed up just six blitzes in Matthew Stafford's 48 dropbacks. Nobody ever asked Castillo to be Jim Johnson, but there needs to be some imagination. The blitzes I did see mostly came from tip-toeing safeties that got nowhere near the backfield. That is part of the problem. The Eagles' safeties are still terrible. It almost seemed as if Wide 9 guru and defensive line coach Jim Washburn assured Castillo that the front four would need no assistance in rushing the passer. Washburn deserves to be accountable as well. But with personnel in place to play that style of defense, it seems counterproductive to remove its creator.
Reid indicated that he is still evaluating the team from the coaching staff to the guy that collects the kicking tee. I'm just not sure what other changes he can make. Removing Michael Vick from the starting quarterback job is a waving of the white flag. If Reid makes that move, he is asking a rookie that no one in their right mind expected anything from to save his 14-year legacy in Philadelphia. If we know anything about Reid, it's that he's as stubborn as they come. Besides, if Reid leaves Vick in there long enough, he'll have no choice but to insert Foles because it's hard to imagine a scenario where Vick stays healthy for too much longer.
This team's biggest problem right now is it's offensive line. Injuries to Jason Peters and Jason Kelce have devastated this unit. Back up center Dallas Reynolds is woefully overmatched. Left guard Evan Mathis looks ancient. Right guard and 2011 first round draft pick Danny Watkins looks like a bust. We can say that because it's not like we're waiting for him to develop in his second year at 27-years old. Peters' replacement at left tackle, Demetress Bell, is just plain slow and not very powerful.
Vick took a massive beating at the hands of Detroit's pass rush. Some of it is his inability, or refusal, to get rid of the football. Some of it ensues from the snap with his jump-step pull away from center. It's as if he's never been taught to get to his six as quickly and as deep as possible. But the kind of beating he took can't be all of his fault. This line is a shambles. Reid says his evaluations could lead to more change. I'm not sure what you can do to fix their offensive front, but it needs to be addressed.
One thing we know is clear, the dust is starting to swirl in Philly. When the storm rolls through Lincoln Financial Field after this season, it's becoming highly likely we're left with an unrecognizable Philadelphia Eagles.
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer and a Philadelphia sports enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.
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