No Eagles fan is happy right now.
I understand all of the angst felt by people and how that leads to them calling for all kinds of changes. One thing that helps me get through tough times is perspective. I'm an Eagles fan. I'm also a football fan. I watch a ton of college games. I watch a lot of NFL games. I'm able to put the Eagles situation into better context because of that.
Let's look at a few issues and how putting them into context might affect your perception. This isn't to say the problems don't exist. They absolutely do. Let's try and better understand them.
The State of the Defense - The Eagles defense is off to a rough start. Really rough. We knew there would be some bumps in the road, but not this. Is the problem all on Juan Castillo?
Not the way people think.
What do Gregg Williams, Peter Carroll, Ron Rivera, Perry Fewell, Dom Capers, Mike Smith, John Fox, Steve Spagnulo, Mike Nolan, Rod Marinelli and Bill Belichick have in common? They are the head coaches or defensive coordinators of teams that allow more yards than the Eagles. Those guys are defensive gurus who have done brilliant things over the years. I think Castillo himself would tell you those are all better defensive coaches than he is. Those coaches have deep playbooks, lots of experience and lots of wisdom. Those coaches have defenses that are struggling just like the Eagles.
Does Castillo need to get better? Absolutely. He'd be the first person to admit that. The point of this is to understand that the problems the Eagles are having on defense are a combination of things. Even if a veteran coach who has a great track record were in charge of the Eagles defense it would have guaranteed nothing more than what we've seen already. The difference would be that people wouldn't question the coach. They'd focus on personnel and other factors.
As for going with a young guy, Dennis Allen is one person the Eagles did interview. He got the job of running the defense in Denver. The Broncos are behind the Eagles in yards and points allowed. Allen may prove to be a good coach down the road, but he wouldn't necessarily have been any better than Castillo. Both guys would be new to the job. Allen would just have the more conventional resume.
The Linebacker Situation - Did anyone watch Monday Night Football? Brian Urlacher has a good chance to be a Hall of Fame player. Lance Briggs is a perennial Pro Bowl selection. Those guys got lit up in the game against Detroit. They were beaten on run plays and pass plays. The Bears have an impact defensive lineman in Julius Peppers, the two standout linebackers and a good cornerback in Charles Tillman. The defense, as a whole, isn't functioning well and Chicago is ranked 29th in yards allowed. Putting a stud linebacker like Briggs or Urlacher in the Eagles lineup wouldn't magically solve the defensive issues.
|Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He was a finalist for Philadelphia's Most Influential Blogger Award and is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com
It isn't just the Bears. The Falcons and Packers each have a good set of linebackers. Those teams are struggling to slow people down, let alone stop them. Go back in time. The 2006 Eagles had a thumper like Jeremiah Trotter in the middle and couldn't stop teams from running the ball.
The Eagles do need better linebacker play. That has been a major issue this year. The point here is that good defense is about a unit functioning well together. There are breakdowns at each level. The linebackers get picked on because of the shuffling, but those guys aren't solely to blame. Had the Eagles added a stud linebacker, that would have guaranteed nothing different.
The Wide-Nine Technique - Let's go back to Monday Night Football. The Lions played pretty good defense. They use the wide-nine. I'm sure their system isn't exactly like the Eagles, but it is similar enough. Detroit's head coach is Jim Schwartz. He was the defensive coordinator in Tennessee and worked with Jim Washburn so you can bet the basics are pretty much the same.
The wide-nine isn't the problem. Trying to change the basic scheme of the defense right now would be dumb and counter-productive. The defensive line was built for this system. The line is the group playing best of any defensive unit. Why mess with that?
There are some weaknesses to the wide-nine and teams will exploit it from time to time. Chicago had a few run plays that went for nice gains on Monday night. There are weaknesses to every system. The worst defenses in the league are a mixture of 4-3 and 3-4 teams. Some are big, some small. Some aggressive, some conservative.
The real key here isn't the scheme, but rather how you execute it. If the Eagles switched schemes and didn't execute any better, the results would be the same. They would just look a bit different. It is much easier to leave the current scheme in place and focus on the players playing better.
LOOKING BACK AT THE TAPE
As I went back and re-watched the Buffalo game, there were some reasons to have hope. Safety Jarrad Page had a very bad game. He was put in position to make tackles on a handful of plays, only to miss or come in so wildly that he got out of position. Page was replaced by Kurt Coleman late in the game. Coleman did OK. If you could get Coleman to make the tackles that Page missed on Sunday, the defense is worlds different.
I know the counter to that. Coleman struggled early on and had the disastrous missed tackle against the Giants. How could you trust him? Coleman is a young player. Those guys are erratic. I think spending time on the bench had an effect on him. He really flew around the field in the fourth quarter on Sunday. Nate Allen played his best game of the year and one of the best of his young career. He showed no hesitation or issues with his knee. Maybe he's all the way back from his injury.
Let's be honest. Poor safety play has been as much of an issue as the linebacker struggles. If Allen can build off that game and Coleman can get back to where the Eagles thought he would be, suddenly the defense is much tougher. A lot of the big plays given up by the Eagles have been due to missed tackles and poor angles to the ball by the safeties.
Bad safety play plagued the Bears on Monday night. Chris Harris and Brandon Meriweather really struggled. I get asked why the Eagles didn't go sign a stud safety or make a trade. Right now, there are not 64 good safeties in the NFL. That is a position where a lot of players fail as they go from college to the NFL. I don't have a simple answer.
The Eagles remain high on Allen. He has the potential to be a Pro Bowl type of player. The other spot is more of a mystery. I was a big fan of Coleman's before he was even drafted. He played with an edge at Ohio State. That was lacking early in the year. He might have gotten it back on Sunday. I'm certainly hoping so.
We all want to see Jaiquawn Jarrett. The Eagles took him in the second round because that's a player they really believe in. They are being cautious with him. Based on what I mentioned earlier about the number of busts, it is probably wise to take it slow and make sure he's ready when he does play. Defensive backs can have their confidence destroyed quickly. Once that happens, they might be "gone" forever.
Danny Watkins had an up and down game in his NFL debut, but he showed very good potential. His issues were of the mental variety. As he gets experienced and learns to know what he's dealing with, Watkins will eliminate those problems. Physically, he was fine. He can be a very good run blocker. He anchors well in pass protection. Watkins is a solid athlete who can block down the field. With him, Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis, the Eagles might have the most athletic trio of interior blockers in the NFL.
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