This year, veteran Eagles beat writer and current Comcast sports NFL columnist Jordan Raanan will be joining us every week with a review of the previous Sunday's Eagles game. This week he offers his notes and thoughts on the Eagles win over the Jets.
It's been a tough year for a lot of Eagles. Michael Vick hasn't been able to stay healthy or avoid throwing passes to the opposition. Nnamdi Asomugha hasn't been able to do pretty much anything the Eagles expected. DeSean Jackson hasn't been the game-breaker he's been in the past. And those are just the superstars.
But nobody's had a more difficult season than Juan Castillo. The offensive line coach turned defensive coordinator has basically been put on a pedestal with Rich Kotite as a defensive mind. That's a place nobody wants to sit, especially a first-year coordinator learning on the job.
For a few weeks at least though, the criticism has ceased. And with good reason. The Eagles defense has played two straight dynamite defensive games, with Castillo concocting his most innovative game plans to date.
That's in stark contrast to early in the season when it was all vanilla, when the Eagles thought lining up and unleashing their dominant front four would be enough. It wasn't.
Even the best defenses need some variety. Last week in Miami and in this Sunday's 45-19 demolition of the Jets, Castillo brought all 31 Baskin-Robbins flavors. Against the Jets, Castillo's Eagles defense looked more like the late Jim Johnson's Eagles defenses than ever before.
How did he get so creative? More pressure, more blitzes, more exotic blitzes, more unique looks, varying defensive fronts. The Eagles did it all, confusing the Jets into mistake after mistake. Just as it was drawn up.
Let's take a deeper look at some of the ways Castillo attacked the Jets:
• The most obvious was the unique third-down look where the Eagles only had two down linemen. Defensive ends Trent Cole and Jason Babin were standing up several yards off the line of scrimmage in sort of a linebacker's position and had running starts. It was unclear what part of the line they were going to attack. The Jets had trouble deciphering who would block Babin and who would block Cole. Mostly, they did neither effectively. The Eagles used this 2-down-linemen formation on four plays. Two resulted in Jason Babin sacks. Consider this look an overwhelming success.
'• The Eagles also blitzed more than usual. Castillo dialed more than four rushers on eight of 19 pass attempts in the first half. They produced three sacks and a forced fumble when they blitzed in the opening half. Holding a big lead, Castillo scaled back in the second half.
• Everybody blitzed too. On one play it was just safety Kurt Coleman, who spent most of the afternoon targeting Mark Sanchez. On another it was Coleman and Casey Matthews. On another it was Akeem Jordan and Brian Rolle. Castillo did a good job of leaving Sanchez guessing who was coming next.
• Even when the Eagles didn't bring extra bodies, they confused the Jets offensive line with stunts and twists, sending the defensive ends from the outside to the inside and the defensive tackles from the inside to the outside. A sack and several pressures came courtesy of stunts.
• They attacked the right side of the Jets offensive line. Clearly, that was part of the Eagles game plan. It was something Castillo noticed while watching tape. The Eagles constantly blitzed from the left side of their defense and even shifted their defensive line on some passing downs. On several plays, the Birds even had three pass rushers lined up across from the Jets' right tackle and guard. It was a tactic the Jets seemed unprepared for on Sunday.
• Another example of Castillo's excellent preparation was in the screen game. Four times the Jets tried to run screens. Four times they were sniffed out. Once by Matthews, once by Brian Rolle, once by Jordan and once by Joselio Hanson. Clearly, the Eagles were ready for the screen game.
From beginning to end, it was a Castillo masterpiece ... for the second straight week. It's possible he's finally getting the hang of this defensive coordinator thing. And just in time before the season was a total waste.
Other Notable Observations:
• The entire Eagles offensive line was dominant on Sunday afternoon. Aside from the usual strong performances from tackles Jason Peters and Todd Herremans, rookie Danny Watkins had perhaps his best game of the season. The first-round pick didn't allow a pressure in the contest and stymied the stout Jets defensive ends.
• A direct result of the offensive line's performance was that Michael Vick only took eight hits in the game. Compare that to early in the season when he was hit 21 times in the opener and 14 times in Week 2. And of the eight hits on Sunday, only two came in the pocket. Most were a product of Vick running around trying to make plays.
• Phillip Hunt led the Eagles with six tackles in the rout. Yes, Phillip Hunt, who also had a sack. It was the former CFL star's second straight strong showing.
• Even in a game where the Eagles defense was dominant, Nnamdi Asomugha allowed a touchdown catch and was flagged for a penalty. The prize free agent has now allowed 4 TDs and committed seven penalties this season. In comparison, Asante Samuel has allowed 2 TDs and been flagged twice.
• The Jets looked an awful lot like the '11 Eagles most of the first 14 weeks of the season. Too many turnovers, an inordinate number of penalties, way too many missed tackles and some flat-out dumb plays. New York had four turnovers, 11 penalties and a taunting infraction that came when they were down 18 points. You can't make this stuff up.