In Defense of The Defense


Castillo didn't have much to smile about this season, but doesn't deserve all the blame (

Jeffrey Lurie announced earlier this week that Andy Reid will be the head coach for at least another season, and for purely academic reasons that debate still rages on. But soon the ire will be refocused back to the defensive coordinator. I wholeheartedly support hiring Steve Spagnuolo or another good veteran coordinator to replace Juan Castillo, since it would be an upgrade. However, it isn't completely fair to place most of the blame on the defense for the 8-8 season, since by every objective measure, the defense was better this year than it had been the previous two seasons under Sean McDermott. 

Some may have forgotten how porous those defenses were, because the team won anyway, but that was largely a result of a dynamic offense. And while it certainly wasn't always pretty, the 2011 defense did exactly what most people predicted they'd do: start slow with a lot new players, and  finish strong.

Going into this year, we all had questions about the linebackers and safeties, along with Castillo learning on the job and molding a defense that would have at least five new starters. But for those who predicted the Eagles to win 10+ games, the expectation was that the offense would need to carry the team until the defense gelled by mid-season. 

So if the defense actually improved, why didn't it translate into more wins? Part of the answer is the offense. This team was built around the idea that its explosive offense would simply outscore teams. And this season the offense was just "pretty good," but not great. During a "juiced ball" kind of year for NFL offenses, where a record 11,386 points were scored, and the league had it's highest per-game scoring average since 1965, "pretty good" wasn't good enough.

The Eagles scored 396 points this season, down from the 439 in 2010, 429 in 2009, and 416 in 2008. It's the first time their offense has finished with less than 400 points scored since 2007. The 396 points scored only put them 8th highest in the league, bunched together with other offenses who have less talent, like the Giants (394), 49ers (380), Ravens (378), and Jets (377). The Eagles offense should have scored significantly more points than those offenses. The defense allowed 328 points this year, a number bested by only nine other teams, and only the 49ers and Seahawks in the NFC. The 328 points the Eagles allowed is also their lowest total since 2008, Jim Johnson's final season, when they gave up 289. And more notably, the defense improved in a year where there was a league-wide offensive explosion.

Points only tell part of the story, though. The NFL ranks offensive and defensive units by yardage gained and allowed, and the Eagles ranked well there, finishing 4th overall in offense and 8th overall in defense. The theory is you add those numbers together, divide by two, and that's roughly where your team should rank. By that measure the Eagles should have been the 6th best team in the league, which they weren’t. 

Red Zone efficiency is certainly still an issue, but the real killer is that Eagles committed a staggering 38 turnovers, including 25 INTs by the QBs, which resulted in a giveaways/takeaways total of minus-14– tied for 2nd worst in the league. Turnovers hurt in two ways: They kill scoring drives, often after the team drives 50+ yards, which helps pad yardage gained stats, but doesn't translate to points on the scoreboard. And secondly, they often set up the opponent with good field position and allow points to be scored without the opposition needing to gain much yardage. Usually, when a team underperforms their yardage rankings, it's due to turnovers and/or poor special teams play. And with the Eagles, it was definitely the turnovers. 

Finally, Michael Vick and the Eagles offense had ZERO 4th Qtr comeback wins this year, after notching four last season. Much has been made of the five 4th Qtr leads surrendered by the defense, but in each of those games the offense had a chance with plenty of time remaining to stage a game-winning drive, and they failed. Not all of that is Vick's fault, but the bottom line is most other top QBs engineer a few game-winning 4th Qtr drives every season. 

To take one example in the division, Eli Manning had six such game-winning drives this year. In a sport where usually in half of the games the difference between winning and losing is getting or preventing one late score, game-winning 4th Qtr drives are almost a requirement for good QBs on teams with playoff aspirations.

So ultimately, yes, the defense was disappointing, overall, and changes are needed. But the main reason the Eagles aren't hosting a playoff game this weekend is because their offense scored fewer points and turned the ball over at a ridiculous rate, highlighted by the subpar performance of the franchise QB. 


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15 Responses

  1. Solid points actually. Didn’t realize the D was actually that good. Would rather a vet signal caller then Castillo however..and I want Morhenwig gone.

  2. “the 2011 defense did exactly what most people predicted they’d do: start slow with a lot new players, and finish strong”
    Dec 11 PHI 26 @ MIA 10
    Dec 18 NYJ 19 @ PHI 45
    Dec 24 PHI 20 @ DAL 7
    Jan 01 WAS 10 @ PHI 34

  3. The Bears, Cardinals, and Seahawks were most frustrating games. Wins vs Cowboys and Giants most impressive.
    Otherwise they mostly surrendered points vs good offenses and held bad offenses down, which is pretty much what every other defense in the league did this year, except SF, Pitt, Balt, Houston, and Denver. The Seattle game was mostly on the offense. Young had what like 5 turnovers that game, handing Seattle like 14 or 17 of their 31 pts. And vs the Cardinals they were ok, except for the last drive, where the CB and safety blew a coverage on Fitzgerald. Their offense also went like 2 straight qtrs without a first down in that game.

  4. Well I guess we can agree that Andy is the cause of the problems since he put both the offensive and defensive systems in place.

  5. Atlanta – Kafka leading a game winning drive – Maclin drops TD pass on the 5
    SF – Ronnie Brown fumbles a run/pass option play up the gut at the 1 – kicker misses two chip shots
    Buffalo – 5 turnovers? – 2 4th Quarter fumbles/bumbled pass into INT by Avante —
    yeah — blame Juan Castillo for missing the playoffs

  6. I’m sorry, but I can’t take those last four wins in which the defense played well since they came at the expense of two bottom feeders (Miami, Washington), a kennel of underachieving mutts (New York Jets) and a squad in preseason mode (Dallas after Tony Romo was pulled for injury). When the games counted most, this defense rolled over and played dead, or has everyone forgotten those two blowouts at the hands of New England and Seattle? As far as I’m concerned, there’s still a lot to do before this defense can be called championship worthy.

  7. On some level turnovers are more luck than skill or coaching. Vick probably played as carelessly last year in a high risk/high reward style, it’s just that defenders were often dropping balls that were catchable, or just missing INTs by a step. All during his INT-less game streak there were numerous balls that were nearly INT’d every game.
    Also, SF was +28 in takeaways/giveaways this year. That’s a ridiculous number to be almost +2 over your opponent in turnovers on average every game. So if they are only like +5 overall next year and play exactly the same way otherwise, they probably go 8-8 instead of 13-3, and then everyone will wonder why Harbaugh became such a dummy and Alex Smith turned back into Alex Smith.
    Sure good teams can often “make their own luck” as the saying goes. But there’s no denying that there are a lot of breaks that have to go your way on the way to a SB run, injuries, turnovers, etc.

  8. I just don’t see any of Andy’s teams creating too much luck for themselves when Big Red still can’t figure out not to let 1 second expire when you need a kick at halftime…

  9. If the Eagles can shore up the glaring holes at LB and safety, this will actually be a pretty good D. Vick and Big Red get 1 more year.

  10. The team’s failure was global, from Lurie to big red to Roseman to the players. Whether he was given the proper tools (no lb’s specifically) or not, Juan failed at his job.
    Do I think Spagnulo can come in and do a better job with the team and the wide 9 and no lb’s, maybe, but no coordinator can make players what they aren’t.
    You want starter level lb’s, then you have to draft starter level lb’s.

  11. Juan’s getting shitcanned they’re just waiting for the playoffs to start so it doesn’t top any NFL headlines. Least they can do for a guy who’d been here since ’95 and put in a spot way over his head by Fat Andy.

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