Castillo future a big D-cision for Birds

Juan Castillo, the Eagles' defensive coordinator, made adjustments throughout the season, but did he make enough to save his job?
Juan Castillo, the Eagles' defensive coordinator, made adjustments throughout the season, but did he make enough to save his job? (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: December 27, 2011

ANDY REID did the press-conference thing yesterday, and was asked a bunch of pointed questions about his team's future and about his personal future, and answered none of them with any real substance. Which is what any thinking person would expect after listening to Reid for the last 13 years.

He also was asked about defensive coordinator Juan Castillo's future. And Reid told reporters, "You guys are in a different place than I'm at right now. I've got another game left to coach and get ready for. My mind doesn't go in any of those places. You guys know what I think of Juan. I know you have to ask that question, but we are focused completely on the Washington Redskins."

But if Reid is staying as coach, the Castillo question is the biggest one of the upcoming offseason. We all know the history, how Reid reinvented his old offensive-line coach as his new defensive coordinator, and how everyone scratched their heads and wondered if Reid wasn't committing professional suicide, and how they blew all of those fourth-quarter leads at the beginning of the season and, well, you know.

The point of demarcation is Game 5, the 31-24 loss at Buffalo in which Michael Vick threw four interceptions and the tackling on defense was particularly heinous. Since then, a lot has changed and nobody really can pretend it hasn't. The problem is figuring out what it all means.

If the season started on Week 6, the Eagles would have a 6-4 record - 5-2 with Vick at quarterback - and would control their destiny in the NFC East with one game left to play.

Since Week 6, they have allowed only 18.6 points per game. In that time, they have given up only 97 yards per game on the ground (sixth in the NFL) compared to the first five games of the season, when they gave up 140 rushing yards per game (30th in the NFL).

Let's stop there, then, and ask the fundamental question: Was the problem in the first five games that Castillo was overmatched, or was it an overall lack of talent up the gut of the defense?

You can answer it either way, but there is a problem. If you decide that Castillo was overmatched at the start of the season, you can only conclude that he isn't overmatched anymore. And if you decide that the problem was a talent problem at linebacker and safety, well, now that the numbers and the results are so much better, what exactly is the issue?

(I know, I know, the issue is that they are 7-8 and out of the playoffs.)

The point is that there are a lot of moving parts here. People who say Reid and his staff don't make adjustments really have been blinded this season by their rage. This year, the Eagles actually are ranked higher in rushing attempts (tied for eighth in the NFL before last night) than they are in passing attempts (tied for 13th). With a more athletic offensive line, with the emergence of LeSean McCoy, and with all of the interceptions thrown by Eagles quarterbacks, Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg really have changed their approach.

On the other side of the ball, there have been lineup changes, and there has been more blitzing in the second half of the season, and the tackling overall has been more sure. Reid says it is young players who are getting better. Maybe it's that. Maybe it's Castillo getting better.

The problem is that the first 5 weeks determined the outcome of the season, and there is no getting around it. The Eagles lost this thing in September and October and they all know it. The narrative was the same for so long - a story of underperformance and late collapses - that new facts have not altered the basic storyline. That's just the way it is.

When you are talking about the defense, the people on the inside know the answer. The guess from here on the outside is that Castillo will end up being reassigned on the defensive staff and that a new coordinator will be brought in. But it becomes a harder question to answer with each succeeding game, and everyone should be honest enough to admit at least that much.


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hofmanr@phillynews.com,

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