November 8, 2012, 6:30 pm
The Eagles promoted Todd Bowles looking for big changes in the defense. And they’ve definitely gotten big changes.
Just not quite the kind they were hoping for.
Two games into Bowles’ career as defensive coordinator, the Eagles’ defense has been worse -- dramatically worse -- than it was under Juan Castillo, and two games isn’t a very big sample, but it is 13 percent of the season, and it’s been a very ugly 13 percent.
“He’s doing the right things,” head coach Andy Reid said after practice Thursday. “He’s focusing in and working hard and coaching and I think we’ll see with time, but I’ve got confidence in him, and that’s how I feel. I think he’s doing a good job.”
But the numbers … the numbers aren’t pretty.
In six games this year under Castillo, the Eagles allowed 18.5 points and 331 yards per game. Opponents converted 29 percent of their third downs (23 of 79), completed 53 percent of their passes, averaged 4.1 yards per run and 105 rushing yards per game.
In two games so far under Bowles, the Eagles are allowing 25.5 points and 382 yards per game. Opponents are converting 55 percent of their third downs (12 of 22), completing 76 percent of their passes, averaging 4.6 yards per run and 143 rushing yards per game.
That’s a 25 percent increase in points, 13 percent increase in yards, nearly double the third-down efficiency, a dramatic increase in completion percentage and a 27 percent increase in rushing yards allowed.
When Reid fired Castillo, the Eagles were 12th in the NFL in both yards and points allowed. Over the past two weeks, they’re 22nd in both categories.
More data to mull over:
This is the first time in 40 years the Eagles have allowed quarterbacks to complete 75 percent of their passes in consecutive games.
In 22 games under Castillo, the Eagles never allowed a team to convert more than 50 percent of its third downs. Under Bowles, the Falcons (53.9 percent) and Saints (55.6 percent) both did it, the first time since November of 1999 the Eagles have allowed back-to-back teams to convert over half their third downs.
In a year and a half under Castillo, the Eagles never allowed 370 yards in consecutive games. In fact, that hadn’t happened since 2006. Until the last two games.
From 1985 through Week 6 of this year -- more than a quarter of a century -- the Eagles never allowed 230 passing yards and 140 rushing yards in consecutive games. They have the last two weeks.
Now, you have to take into account that the Falcons and Saints have two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL -- the 2012 first-half MVP in Matt Ryan and a future Hall of Famer in Drew Brees. And both teams rank in the top 10 in the NFL in total offense.
Still, the numbers are discouraging.
The Eagles did not fire Castillo to regress like this. To whiff on tackles, to blow coverages, to let quarterbacks complete more than three-quarters of their passes, to allow running backs to race up and down the field.
Bowles replaced Castillo as Eagles defensive coordinator six games into the season with the Eagles 3-3 and coming off a loss to the Lions in which they blew a 10-point lead in the final four minutes.
Since then, they’ve lost to the Falcons and Saints by a combined 58-30 to fall to 3-5.
“I don’t think you can totally attribute that to the defense,” rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “You’ve got field position, special teams -- you can’t really just say that, but I know the outside people looking in will say that. But that’s out of our control.”
Bowles came to Philly with an impeccable reputation as a bright defensive mind who could relate to his players and handle the in-game adjustments that Castillo struggled with at times.
But the Eagles have found themselves trailing early in both games under Bowles. The Falcons scored on their first six drives, and the Saints were up 21-3 before halftime, although one of the touchdowns came on a return and not against the defense.
Bowles was asked Thursday about the perception from the outside that the defense has been worse since the change.
“I don’t know whether it’s perception or non-perception,” Bowles said. “I just know I have a job to do -- get the guys better, and we all have a job to do on defense. We all have to get better.”
One of the concerns about making a switch in midstream was the transition from one voice to a new one, from one scheme to a new one, from one philosophy to a new one.
The Eagles assured us that wouldn’t happen. Boykin thinks otherwise.
“The firing of coach Castillo, people expected us to not skip a beat and come in and be better, which is really unrealistic, in my opinion,” he said. “I think, no matter who you are, when there’s change, you’re going to have some difficulty.”
But there’s no time in a 16-game season for difficulty or learning a new system or a new scheme. There’s no time for transition because two losses can knock you right out of the playoff hunt.
That’s why mid-season coaching changes are so rare in the NFL.
“It’s a new personality, so there’s always going to be a transition with that part of it,” Reid said. “The scheme’s basically the same, the terminology is basically the same. When [Bowles] uses things is a little different than Juan did. Juan did a good job with his when he used his way, and Todd’s doing it his way.”
And his way is taking some time.
“We’re still trying to get acclimated as far as knowing everything,” safety Kurt Coleman said. “So we’re still getting acclimated.
“We’re making a lot more different calls … and we haven’t had as much practice as we used to have, so we’re just getting our bearings around everything and getting used to it, and I think everyone’s going to be able to fly around and play a lot better.”
And that’s really the key to everything.
There’s only so much a coach can do. Whether it’s Jim Johnson, Sean McDermott, Castillo or Bowles, if players aren’t making plays, coaches look bad.
“When you look at the grand scheme of things, we’ve been in a lot of positions to make plays and just haven’t been able to,” Coleman said. “When it comes down to it, the players have to play better. We have to play better.”
The Eagles get another chance on Sunday, when they face the rival Cowboys in a 4:30 p.m. game at the Linc.
A win would bring the Eagles back within a game of .500, but a loss would drop them to 3-6 and raise more questions about the Eagles’ fourth defensive coordinator in the last five years.
“Coach Bowles, he’s told us he’s taken heat before, he’s gotten praise before, he knows that’s going to come, and I don’t think it phases him,” Asomugha said.
“He’s still focused, he still believes in the defense, and obviously we still believe in him and the calls. I think a lot more of it, especially recently, goes to the tackling and that sort of thing as opposed to much else. As players, we put the responsibility on us to make plays. But we understand he’s going to come under a lot of heat.”
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org.