Reid running out of time to fix Eagles defense

Andy Reid gets a shake and pat on the back from Bills coach Chan Gailey after Sunday's loss. Reid is under fire for appointing Juan Castillo defensive coordinator.
Andy Reid gets a shake and pat on the back from Bills coach Chan Gailey after Sunday's loss. Reid is under fire for appointing Juan Castillo defensive coordinator. (GARY WIEPERT / Associated Press)
Posted: October 11, 2011

The veteran quarterback, the linchpin of the team, threw four interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown and, well, even the Buffalo Bills can look good under those circumstances.

That was bad, but what decided the game was the inability of the defense to stop a Buffalo offense that does the ordinary very competently and was never forced to do the extraordinary.

Sounds familiar, of course, but that isn't the Eagles this time. That was the story of the New England Patriots three games ago in a 34-31 loss to Buffalo. Tom Brady threw those four interceptions, the Patriots defense stunk up the field, and the Bills were able to keep believing they are something they really aren't.

The Eagles did their part to follow the same script on Sunday. Michael Vick also threw four interceptions, not all of which were his fault, including one that went back for a touchdown, and the defense was unable to pick up the slack for the offense.

So another loss, and although it is probably too early to say so, either mathematically or competitively, you can write off this season. It's gone. The Eagles would have to go 9-2 in their remaining games to reach the 10-win plateau that is usually the minimum for playoff contention. They look like many things right now, but a 9-2 team isn't one of them.

Andy Reid knows this deep down, beneath all the we'll-keep-grinding and the gonna-get-it-fixed bravado. He is a hard-eyed football man, and the deep flaws in his team are as clear as the high definition game recordings that torture him through the long nights at the NovaCare Complex.

Turnovers happen, and there's no way to always prevent them. If Jason Avant - as sure-handed a receiver as they have - can be stripped twice, anything is possible. Does Vick take a chance here and there and try to extend plays and force passes when he shouldn't? Absolutely, and that's exactly the player the Eagles signed to that huge contract, and exactly the qualities they accepted in the bargain.

What is unacceptable is a defense that can't play defense, and that is what the Eagles have right now. Everyone knows the dividing line between success and failure on a regular basis in the NFL. The dividing line is 18 points allowed. If you do that well or better, you will win a lot of games. If not, you will lose.

Since holding St. Louis to 13 points in the opener, the opponents have scored 35, 29, 24, and 31 points. Seven of those against Buffalo came on the interception return, but even without that the number was still well over the line.

The offense, meanwhile, has averaged 25 points per game (subtracting the Juqua Parker fumble return for a TD against St. Louis). It's not an overwhelming number, but it isn't a 1-4 number, either.

The real problem right now is the defense, and if you want to scream about Michael Vick based on what happened against Buffalo, go ahead, but don't say you'd rather have Tom Brady. He had the same game.

If Reid is sincere about getting things fixed, and serious about trying to save the season, he has to replace Juan Castillo as the defensive coordinator. Right now would be fine. It just isn't working.

Castillo has lacked the courage or the sense to tell Jim Washburn, Mr. Defensive Line Genius, that his wide-nine alignment is a disastrously bad fit for the personnel on this defense. Castillo apparently doesn't have the respect of his players, either, or they would fear his wrath too much to employ the slipshod tackling and poor fundamentals that should embarrass them as professionals.

The defense is broken, and it won't be fixed from the inside. Reid has to hang a villager or risk losing a team that sees this terrible flaw and is waiting for him to do something about it. The players don't want to hear his happy horseshoe about putting people in better positions. They want action, not words. In the absence of that, they will shrug and increasingly go through the motions.

The head coach made a mistake with Castillo. The only question is how long it will take him to accept ownership of the mistake. His own job might ride on that calculation, because it is a lot worse to wantonly choose to live with an error than it is to make it in the first place.

Reid's strengths are organization and analysis. He can't look at this situation and fail to see what is obvious.

From a logistical standpoint, it would make the most sense, if he replaces Castillo, to wait until the bye week, which follows Sunday's game against the Redskins. If the Eagles beat Washington, maybe that buys time for Reid and Castillo. Maybe it buys the rest of the season. If they lose, you have two weeks for the defense to adjust to the upheaval of a new coordinator.

Not that it would really matter for this season, not with a 1-5 record, but it is what the head coach has to do. Otherwise, the message to the players is that the unacceptable is acceptable. They will hear that, and it will be the last time they are listening.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at philly.com/postpatterns recent columns at philly.com/bobford and follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.

 

|
|
|
|
|