Jim Washburn is a Quote Machine

Reuben Frank compiled the full transcript of Jim Washburn’s session with the media earlier this week in two parts. It’s so glorious I’m having trouble picking my favorite parts.

“I can’t lie,” Washburn said. “That’s why they don’t want me to talk.”

Please keep talking, Wash.

Anticipating the Impact of Todd Bowles

Todd Bowles is 6’2”, 203 lbs. Well, at least he was that big when he played in the NFL as a free safety for eight years.

Normally, the height and weight of a coach wouldn’t matter much. But in the case of Bowles, we can draw a clear line between his frame and his personnel preferences as a secondary coach.

imageAs you can see at right, teams where Bowles has been the secondary coach consistently draft tall defensive backs (the same way Jim Washburn only picked tall defensive ends). In fact, he’s only drafted one defensive back under six feet since 2003, and that was in the seventh round. Clearly, Bowles’s preference is for bigger, more physical players. He probably would not, for example, have endorsed the selections of Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard, two 5’10” corners.

More relevant: Asante Samuel is not the type of cornerback Bowles had in mind as his prototypical starter. As I’ve mentioned before, the Samuel trade was about ego, a broken locker room, and justifying the 2011 personnel decisions — not on-the-field performance or the salary cap. But I doubt Bowles was campaigning for Samuel to stick around.

Instead, he’s probably quite content with his starters at cornerback for 2012. Nnamdi Asomugha is 6’2”, 210 lbs and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is 6’2”, 182 lbs. Hopefully Bowles can help mold a solid defensive backfield around the two of them. Curtis Marsh also stands to gain quite a lot from the Bowles hire, since his athletic 6’1”, 197 lbs frame would be perfect for his new coach’s system.

On the other hand, Kurt Coleman probably shouldn’t get too comfortable as a starter. I’ve discussed his athletic limitations before, but Bowles may be particularly keen to find someone with a higher ceiling. The counter-example of course, is 5’9” Brandon Boykin, whose selection Bowles must have approved. But perhaps he is willing to make an exception for the physical slot corner, regardless of his size, given the value he presented in the fourth round.

Alright, you’re probably saying, this is fun roster speculation and all, but what does it really mean? I’ll admit, not much right now. We already knew who the likely starters were and presumably Bowles will play whomever is the best in practice, not go simply by their official measurements. The more important question remains: is Bowles really a great coach? Every reporter hailed the addition as brilliant, but I’m less impressed by the fossil record:

image

Photo from Getty.

Highlights From a Chat with 'Coach Reid'

Jeff McLane moderated an online fan chat with Andy Reid on Philly.com, which is a cool idea, although I’m not sure why he felt the need to call him “Coach Reid” all the time. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s not like Reid is McLane’s coach.

Some choice highlights:

Comment From Philly In DC: Coach, you look great with the loss of weight. Did you have a specific goal or heath objective in mind coming into the season?

Andy Reid: Where I sat at the end of the season, my goal would be equivalent to winning five Super Bowls in one season. There was a big challenge and it will continue to be a challenge.

Comment From Matt: Are we going to see more of McCoy in the slot this year like Westbrook used to do so well?

Andy Reid: We started easing there in certain situations and even starting lining him outside away from a three-man look. So, yeah.

Comment From Guest: Andy, what is your favorite meal ?

Andy Reid: Right now, today: cottage cheese. pre-diet: great cheesesteaks of Philly.

Comment From Guest: would you ever consider allowing the behind the scenes show Hardknocks to film the Eagles? Would be awesome as a fan to see how the team operates behind the scenes and get a sense of player/coaches personalities. Or do you feel its too much of a distraction?

Andy Reid: I understand the part about it being great for TV and it’s a tribute to HBO for doing it. From an organizational standpoint it ends up being a distraction.

Comment From TRO: What is your favorite meal your wife cooks you for dinner?

Andy Reid: Does a great fried pork chops, mash potatoes and corn, chased with Mississippi Mud for dessert.

Comment From Guest: Andy, what is your bedtime?

Andy Reid: In-season, extremely late. Out of season, I’m in bed by midnight because nothing good happens after midnight, as I tell my players.

Epic non-answers:
* On what steps he took to improve game management last year.
* On whether Dion Lewis would win the back up RB job.
* On Romney or Obama (as if that’s a choice for him).
* On Eskin or Bowen (ditto).

On Mike Caldwell's Culpability

Sorry, Les, but this just isn’t true:

From Caldwell’s perspective, obviously, you’re a position coach, you don’t pick the players. You didn’t tell anybody the Eagles would be just fine with fourth-round rookie Casey Matthews opening last season in the middle. Your job is to do the best you can with what they give you.

Of course the buck stops up the line with Juan Castillo, Andy Reid, and Howie Roseman. But you don’t go into the season with just a fourth-round pick as your starting middle linebacker unless the position coach either thinks it can work or shuts his mouth and nods whenever a higher-up tells him what’s what. In either case he is at least partially responsible for the resulting disaster.

After all the time spent discussing the sway that guys like Jim Washburn, Howard Mudd, and Ted Williams have on evaluating and teaching players, how can we wipe away any culpability that Caldwell has when his unit fails so miserably?

Asante Samuel, Secondary Coach

Les Bowen:

Asomugha said he isn’t sure the corners will play strictly man, but he does think that if they play zone, it will be a type of zone most players are familiar with.

"There were more unique types of coverages that we were doing last year," Asomugha said, struggling to put it diplomatically. Remember, he is the guy who told us toward the end of last season that one of the struggles the Eagles went through was Castillo learning what could actually work in the NFL. Now, Asomugha said, "even if you came from college or from a different team, there are similarities with the stuff we’re doing now that you might have done there, whereas last year, there weren’t many."

Just how screwed up were the coverages last year that a three-time Pro Bowler had trouble mastering them?

On a related note, from Jeff McLane:

"And Asante would basically be my coach and Dominique [Rodgers-Cromartie’s] coach throughout the week," Asomugha said. "There were certain things that I would be like, ‘Oh, OK, so we’re going to play this way,’ and it was the way that he would play it, which is a softer-type of reading game. And he’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s not easy.’ "

Beyond 'I Goofed'

The full transcript of Andy Reid’s interview with McLane and Domo is up, and it has some juicier quotes than just the “goofed” line.

"From a coaching standpoint, we probably gave [Michael Vick] a little too much too soon protection-responsibility wise. You can’t take quite as much as we did early and do that with a guy. Even though he’s been in the league as long as he has, it’s a different (protection) scheme. If I had to go back on it, I would have backed up and just gradually fed him the stuff. You’re talking about a very intelligent guy. Very intelligent. But you can’t dump years and years of things on the table and expect him to go and perform."

That’s the first time, to my knowledge, that Reid has admitted that a lot of the protection/decision issues were on Vick.

"The first thing that happens in this league is, if the coach doesn’t know what he’s talking about, the players are going to let you know. They’re gonna be very verbal about that. But everybody stayed on board with Juan Castillo. I thought that was a tribute to him, his coaching ability and his staff."

In trying to tell us, “Hey, at least the players like him better than that McDermott guy,” Reid actually places Castillo in a category of coach that “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Stunning.

Bowles, Castillo, and a Defensive Coaching Void

Todd Bowles

What do you call a defensive coordinator who isn’t in charge of his defense?

With the new hire of Todd Bowles as secondary coach, I suppose the answer is Juan Castillo.

Surely Andy Reid will tell the press today that he always planned to retain Castillo, but we don’t have to believe him. The Eagles were turned down by Steve Spagnuolo and others before they settled back in for another year of “the offensive line coach?” Castillo, who could already rely on “assistant” Jim Washburn for the defensive line, now has Bowles coaching up the defensive backs.

On the surface, given Castillo’s return, the Bowles move is quite positive. He has a long history in the league and was respected enough by his players that the Dolphins promoted him to interim head coach after Tony Sparano was fired.

But I doubt that Reid lured Bowles to town with anything less than absolute control over the secondary — much like Washburn has over the defensive line. And while that might bring better schemes and technique, it also establishes the second of Castillo’s underlings who actually have more power than he does. Juan’s role is rapidly reducing. Presumably he still has control over Mike Caldwell’s linebackers (for better or worse) and playcalling duties (mostly worse) — but that’s all.

Somehow, two authoritative assitants and one bumbling overseer doesn’t strike me as the formula for a successful defense.

Let me put it a different way. On The Wire, police Major “Bunny” Colvin (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Mr. Bowles) uses his complete control over the Western District to establish his own extra-legal, free-drug zones to isolate the gangs in uninhabited areas of Baltimore. It’s a brilliant plan in its own right, and succeeds in cutting down on violence.

But, (spoiler alert) it can’t last. Colvin’s plan is incompatible with the rest of the police force, especially his backwards superiors. Change within a corrupt bureaucratic organization is difficult, and it has to start at the top. You can’t fix problems and spearhead better policies without a cohesive plan pulling it all together.

By removing Castillo further from on-the-ground responsibilities, Reid has addressed the symptom of poor coaching without removing the cause — the lack of an experienced defensive coordinator who can actually take control of the whole defense. Until that changes, I will remain pessimistic about the unit’s future.

Photo from Getty.

Andy Reid Ups the Agressiveness

Jim Armstrong at Football Outsiders analyzed “Aggressiveness Index” for coaches going for it on fourth down last season. Andy Reid ranked 12th, with an above-average .983 AI score.

What’s most interesting, however, is that over the last 12 years of data Armstrong compiled (including 2011), Andy Reid scored dead last among all 88 qualifying coaches. Over that span, Reid went for it on fourth down on only 10.6 percent of possible attempts, for an AI of .594. But last year he attacked on fourth downs 19.6 percent of the time — nearly double.

Andy was still near the bottom of the league (26th) in 2010. Seems like someone used the lockout to bone up on statistics…

The Never-Ending Coaching Search

Andy Reid

It was a year ago this week that Andy Reid fired Sean McDermott and kicked off a league-wide search that culminated in the underwhelming and, frankly, absurd promotion of Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator. One year later, the Eagles are supposedly conducting another search, but signs increasingly point to this one being bungled as well.

While Reid seems reluctant to demote or fire Castillo until his replacement is ready to go, obvious front runner Steve Spagnuolo is already interviewing with other teams. Meanwhile, Marty Mornhinweg has resumed interviews for his second head coaching opportunity, with Indianapolis a potential fit. Within a week, the Eagles could easily see both their current offensive coordinator and best prospective defensive coordinator slip through their fingers.

It’s unclear where that would leave the Eagles. Is there a Plan B on defense that doesn’t involve retaining Castillo? Or would they switch him over to a job he is equally unqualified for — offensive coordinator? Maybe long time wide receivers coach David Culley, who’s never gotten any interest from other teams, is ready to take over on offense, or maybe Reid could convince Brad Childress to return, but neither of those are slam dunk hires either.

Going into the offseason, the plan to turn around this team wasn’t rocket science. Step one: hire a better, more experienced defensive coordinator. Step two: draft/sign some linebackers. Step three: help Michael Vick get back in track. In recent days, with the mismanaged wooing of Spagnuolo, the departure of college scouting head Ryan Grigson, and the potential loss of Mornhinweg, the Eagles may have suffered setbacks to all three goals.

Perhaps this speculation is too early. Many of these things are still up in the air, and could land in the Eagles favor before long. But if the worst does come to pass, I wonder how resilient and resourceful Reid can be. He outright failed a year ago when he fell back to Castillo. Here’s hoping he can do better the second time around.

Photo from Getty.

Coaches as Experts

Tommy Lawlor, in a well-argued column critiquing Juan Castillo:

I’ve been re-reading parts of Bill Walsh’s brilliant book Finding The Winning Edge. He talks about the need for a coach to be an expert. He must be so thoroughly trained that he knows everything that’s going on and can coach/teach the players appropriately. I don’t doubt that Juan understands the role of all 11 players and can theoretically explain things. The problem is that I don’t know if he can teach those concepts well.

It’s worth noting that this applies across Andy Reid hires. When he has brought in a veteran coach like Mornhinweg/Mudd/April/Washburn, those went well. When he promoted Castillo/McDermott/Segrest, things didn’t work out. Current defensive assistants Mike Caldwell and Michael Zordich likely fall into the latter category.

Change for Change's Sake

Tommy Lawlor, at Iggles Blitz:

A factor that gets largely ignored is that firing Andy Reid is only half the issue. Who do you replace him with? You do not make a change for the sake of making a change. That’s a dumb way to run an organization. Jeff Lurie and Joe Banner need to have some ideas about who might be brought in to replace Reid if they decide to fire him.

Is that true? Take the flipside. Is it smart to keep an employee who isn’t the right person for the job just because you don’t have a candidate to replace him yet? That seems like a poor management philosophy.

The Real Problem

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie Nnamdi Asomugha

New coaches often talk about having players “buy in” to the team they are trying to build. Players have to believe that the system they are contributing to is worth personal sacrifice. They have to be accountable to their actions and understand that the play of one man affects the whole. They have to trust each other, and they have to trust their coach.

Buying in is not close to sufficient to win football games, but it does seem to be necessary. To my untrained eyes, many players have not bought in to the greater whole at NovaCare — mainly on defense.

Lets look at a test case: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. DRC came to Philadelphia this offseason as a young, talented player needing a home. Arizona was apparently not the right place for him, maybe this would be. But what does he see when he walks in the door?

Rodgers-Cromartie is almost immediately demoted to nickel back. He’s asked to play in the slot, a position he’s never had to handle. Who’s telling him to make this unwanted change? An offensive line coach whose promotion his new teammates have already questioned.

Not only is Rodgers-Cromartie playing a new position, but he’s doing so in an unclear system that’s fundamentally unsound in the back seven. He has linebackers next to him and safeties behind him who don’t seem up to the task and are being swapped in and out constantly, to little effect. Every linebacker and defensive back has either been benched or has had their position adjusted. And none of it has worked.

In short, Rodgers-Cromartie has about a dozen different excuses he can use to explain away his poor play and obvious lack of effort. There’s no accountability from the top, because Juan Castillo hasn’t earned that respect. There’s no accountability among the players, where the best and longest-tenured player among the secondary demonstrates a notorious I-know-best attitude — and he might be right.

We saw Sean McDermott slowly lose the players during his two year stint as coordinator. But most of the malcontents were fringe players like Chris Clemons. Quintin Mikell and Stewart Bradley, who may not have always been the best players on the field, were leaders in the locker room who publicly and consistently bought in to the message from above.

The Eagles let go of veteran players that could establish continuity and trust in the locker room. They brought in a host of new, highly compensated free agents from different systems. They promoted a coach whose strategies and solutions were suspect, at best. And then they started losing.

I keep repeating that this team has many problems, but is still more talented than the one that won 10 games last year. It’s true. The whole is much less than the sum of its parts. Until that attitude is fixed, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Rodgers-Cromartie or Jamar Chaney missing a tackle. Nothing will change.

Photo from Getty.

By the Numbers: Season Over

Eagles Bears

The Eagles are indisputably less than the sum of their parts. Not that those parts on their own are all great, but any team with this type of talent should be better than that.

That’s coaching.

35% = Completion percentage on passes to Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. Brent Celek was the Eagles leading receiver for the second straight week. On one hand, it’s a welcome change to see Celek finally becoming an offensive weapon again. But Celek’s emergence has come in part because defenses have largely shut down the Eagles best receiving threats. Last week that wasn’t a problem, but it’s tough when your top two wideouts only get the ball six times total.

0 = Sacks and hits on Jay Cutler. Jim Washburn’s pass rush has been stellar for most of the season, but it didn’t show up last night. The Bears came into the game ranked 27th in adjusted sack rate. Everyone expected the Eagles defense to get pressure on Cutler, but it didn’t happen.

2 = Bears Pro Bowl linebackers. It’s amazing what some competent linebacker play can do.

3/4 = Bears red zone touchdown efficiency. You can’t win if you don’t do better in the red zone. The Eagles defense was worst in the league last year in the red zone, and Sean McDermott was shown the door. The team is just as bad this year.

133 = Rushing yards by Matt Forte. Same old, same old. The Eagles won two games, and people pushed  the problems we had seen for weeks to the back of the bandwagon bus. But they never went away.

1/2 = Eagles red zone touchdown efficiency. The offense right now is like a thoroughbred with asthma. You can see the potential, especially when Michael Vick does something no other quarterback can do, or when LeSean McCoy and Jason Peters tag team the defense. But at the end of the day they just can’t keep those moments coming. You know an untimely interception or a dropped pass is just waiting to sideline them again.

3-5 = Eagles record through eight games.

Photo from Getty.

What Good is a “Defensive Consultant”?

Eagles Jason Babin

The biggest Eagles news of the day (besides every local beat writer piling on to the Fire Andy Reid camp) is an ESPN report from Chris Mortensen that the team will consider bringing in a “defensive consultant” during the bye week.

My initial reaction to that news was, “Yes, please.” We’ve noted for a long time now that Juan Castillo appears completely incapable of scheming this defense successfully. Adding an experienced defensive mind to the game planning can only be a positive.

But then I got to thinking, would it really make a difference?

This addition (if it happens at all) is unlikely to be any more experienced than the guys Castillo already has as position coaches. Jim Washburn has been a defensive line coach in the NFL for more than a decade, and has college experience dating back to 1976. Johnnie Lynn has been a defensive backs coach since breaking into the league in 1994 with Tampa Bay.

Either this pair is as incompetent as Castillo (unlikely), their concerns and suggestions have been ignored (more likely), and/or the Eagles players are so bad and Castillo is such a bad play-caller that they basically don’t matter (very likely).

I doubt adding another voice under Castillo — be it Chuck Cecil, Greg Blanche, Eric Mangini, or Jeff Fisher — will change that equation. Replacing Castillo with one of those names might help. Or finding a bunch of linebackers and safeties who can tackle.

Outside of those more radical shake-ups though, Andy Reid would just be applying a band-aid to a gunshot wound.

Photo from Getty.