This did not come from nowhere. Andy Reid's decision to dismiss Juan Castillo from the role as defensive coordinator and replace him with Todd Bowles was done with conviction and with the confidence that Bowles will restore a roar to a defense that should be so much better than it has been these last couple of weeks.
Reid is one who does things his way, and this move is all Reid, just as the move to make the unprecedented move of moving Castillo from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator was all Reid. He thought it would work then, and he thought the 11.5 points per game allowed over the last four games of 2011 plus a full offseason of teaching would make a defense that added impact players like
It didn't happen. Oh, the defense played very well in the opening-game win in Cleveland, and preserved wins over Baltimore and New York with last-drive stops. The red-zone defense has been much improved over previous seasons.
But the Eagles have shown serious leaks in the last few weeks. They haven't had a quarterback sack in three games. They have been gashed in the running game by the Steelers and the Lions, two rushing attacks not particularly known for their ground prowess.
Internally, there was concern about the lack of pass rush and the infrequency of defensive takeaways in recent weeks. Sunday's meltdown against Detroit was the final straw for Reid.
The Eagles, after dominating Detroit for three quarters, allowing just 9 first downs, 163 total net yards and pitching a shutout (0 for 8) on third downs, completely fell apart in the fourth quarter and in one possession of overtime.
Detroit racked up 14 first downs, 286 total net yards and converted 3 of 5 third downs as they erased a pair of 10-point deficits to beat the Eagles 26-23 in overtime.
Reid was fuming after the game, understandably. He is not the least bit pleased with a 3-3 record, and he let every player and every coach know how he felt at Monday's team meeting at the NovaCare Complex. The first dramatic move, and there could be more to come this week, was moving Castillo out of the role of defensive coordinator and inserting Bowles, a former defensive coordinator and interim head coach in Miami.
Bowles has a lot to work with here, and he also has a lot of challenges. That the Eagles have gone without a sack for three games is remarkable. The Eagles are loaded with talent up front, and they have certainly seen a lot of three-step drops and double teams in the first six games. But on Sunday the defensive line didn't beat one-on-one battles, and then didn't create pressure in other ways. There has been no creative blitzing this year, no "downhill" football. In football parlance, the scheme has been extremely vanilla and, in some ways, conservative.
That speaks to everything Reid is not. He is an aggressive coach who wants to deliver the first punch and keep throwing haymakers. If you could hear Reid behind closed doors, as I did for 20 minutes on Tuesday morning after the announcement was made, you would feel the energy to run through a wall. He wants his players to play that way. He wants there to be trust among every member of the roster and from player to coach and vice versa.
Clearly, and this was apparent early last year and then at times this season, the players didn't play with all that much trust in Castillo. Those strides the defense made last year when it allowed just 11.5 points per game in the final four games weren't carried over into this season. Where were the out-of-nowhere blitzes? Where was the pressure defense on third and 12 against Pittsburgh? Why would a coach lay back in zone coverage on third and 12? Jim Johnson certainly would have brought the heat ...
And, see, that's the standard. That's what this defense needs to get back to becoming. Jim Johnson's defense dictated to offenses. Reid admitted on Monday after Sunday's loss to Detroit that "We were adapting to their offense."
Once Reid said that, and for those of you who know Reid and how to decipher what he says and what he means, you knew a major change could be forthcoming.
And so it has. It may not be the last one of the week, either, although just how subtle or substantial things change in the week to come remains to be seen. Everyone is on high alert here. Reid understands that this football team is too good to be 3-3 this season. The Eagles have a lot of areas to fix -- the offense ranks 31st in points scored, the special teams have not had a substantial return all season -- but they think they have a team capable of reaching the playoffs and doing damage there.
Good luck to Juan Castillo. Reid put Castillo in a tough spot when he hired him as the defensive coordinator and the head coach knows it. Reid thought it was a move that would work. He thought his players would buy into Castillo's work ethic and his enthusiasm. That happened to a degree, especially in those four games to end last season.
Ultimately, though, the Eagles need more than hard work and rah-rah energy. They need solutions for the defense. They need pressure, and they need takeaways and they need to be more physical. The players need to trust the calls coming in from the sidelines, and that just didn't seem to be the case here.
The job now belongs to Todd Bowles, a no-nonsense guy who isn't going to be bothered by the media or the outside world in the NFL. He isn't going take an ounce of crap from a single player on this roster. A new day is here for the defense, hopefully in time to save the 2012 season and put the Eagles where they think they should be at the end of this regular season -- in the playoffs playing heck-raising defense and carrying forth a standard we haven't seen for a number of years.