One of the things I never thought I’d say about new Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo was that his schemes are too complicated. And while overall his system seems to be an order of magnitude simpler than ex-coordinator Sean McDermott, Castillo still shares his predecessor’s maddening tendency to overcomplicate things in some respects.
When I re-watched the Eagles pass defense in their loss to the Falcons on Sunday, some defensive breakdowns were apparent. There was poor coverage here and there by all the linebackers as well as the safeties. Overall, though, I wasn’t as discouraged by the performance of the players as one particular scheme that Castillo came back to on multiple occasions.
That scheme involved bringing one or more of the safeties, Jarrad Page and Kurt Coleman, up into the box or into underneath coverage on a receiver. Either Asante Samuel or Nnamdi Asomugha dropped back and played center field instead.
Now, it may seem obvious why this sounds like a flawed plan. For starters, you’re taking one of the two best coverage players in the entire NFL away from a receiver they can cover. Plus, neither player has much, if any, experience at safety. This scheme actually takes one of your top defensive assets and turns him into a liability.
Turns out that’s exactly what happened against the Falcons. Let me highlight two plays in particular.
On the first play, the Falcons had 1st and 10 in the red zone during the third quarter. Asomugha was at safety, while Page moved up to cover Tony Gonzalez in the slot. Page gives fair coverage on Gonzalez, but isn’t athletic enough to mark him perfectly. The ball comes in the seam up the middle, and Page is slightly beat.
This is where a safety might come in handy. But Asomugha indecisively shifted over to the opposite side, where Samuel already had good coverage on his man. When Gonzalez made the catch and pushed in for the touchdown, Nnamdi was still 8 yards back in the end zone.
The Eagles played a similar scheme later in the quarter. Samuel is matched up on the outside against Roddy White, who runs the only pass route on a play action play. Asante takes the outside coverage on White’s slant, expecting safety help in the middle. But Asomugha doesn’t read the play in time. He’s still backing up when the ball reaches White for a 17 yard gain.
Maybe there are benefits to this scheme that I’m not aware of, but all the evidence from the Falcons game suggests that it’s a poor strategy. Castillo would be better off putting his best cover corners on the opponent’s top receiving options and letting them do what they do best. Then put the safeties in their normal spots, and let the opposing teams try to beat them.
Don’t overthink it.
Photo from Getty.