Philadelphia Eagles Defensive Improvement is Vindication for Coordinator Juan Castillo

Any time you try something new or different you open yourself up to ridicule and skepticism. It's a hard fact of life that applies as much in the NFL as anywhere else.

Philadelphia Eagles assistant Juan Castillo invited that kind of negativity when he accepted the post as defensive coordinator prior to last season. Moving from offensive line coach to defensive play-caller did nothing to improve the credibility of a man who was changing a long-established and popular scheme.

Castillo implemented a system based on heavy pressure from the front four and tight man coverage in the secondary. That's a combination that hasn't been in favour since the late eighties and is far removed from the complex zone blitz pressures brought to Philadelphia by the late, great Jim Johnson.

In 2011 there were some bumps in the road. Castillo's fondness for the wide-9, sprinter-stance alignments of his defensive ends, drew plenty of ridicule.

Purists claimed Castillo didn't fully understand the pressure he was putting on the middle of his defense with this unorthodox alignment. However, the real criticism was saved for the coverage schemes.

The Eagles adherence to press man coverage was considered archaic in a league where zone concepts and fire zone pressures are fashionable. Undeterred, Castillo persisted and eventually removed the zone elements from the playbook.

He allowed Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to play the kind of bump and run coverage they thrive in. By season's end the Eagles defense had shown significant improvement.

They tied for the league lead in sacks with 50 quarterback takedowns. Rush ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole, were using their wide alignments to terrorise protection schemes.

They finished 10th against the pass and have started the 2012 season as the dominant unit of the team. While the turnover-happy offense continues to be plagued by mistakes, Castillo's defense has keyed victories over the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants.

They currently rank sixth overall and seventh against the pass and that's with a pass rush that has yet to hit the heights of last season. The numbers and performances are sweet vindication for Castillo and head coach Andy Reid.

Many may have mocked Reid when he turned to a former offensive line coach to lead his defense. However, those sneers ignored the intelligence of the move.

Castillo has an inside knowledge of pass-protection schemes, including how best to defeat them. By allowing his ends and tackles to take wider rush lanes, Castillo has forced opponents into regular one-on-one matchups with Philadelphia's talented pass-rushers.

In doing so, he has proved that in the age of the pass-first offense, it's still possible to pressure the quarterback without relying on complex blitzes. Castillo's system may not be as schematically intriguing as Dick Lebeau's zone blitz, but it's no less daring.

He has also shown the rest of the league that defenses don't need multi-layered zone concepts to contain today's physically intimidating wide receivers. It's still possible to rely on press man coverage to slow down a passing game.

Castillo's combination of relentless outside pass rush and aggressive coverage, is applying pressure to every level of an offense. Maybe now an old offensive line coach's ideas about defense don't seem so out of touch.

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