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Here Comes the Positive Juan Castillo Press

Sep 17, 2012, 12:32 PM EDT

You mean to tell me Juan Castillo actually knows a thing or two about defense even though he spent the better part of two decades coaching offensive linemen? He’s more comfortable after one year on the job, and the players understand the scheme with a full offseason to digest everything?

You mean to tell me the defense appears to be improved now that there are some quality linebackers, the cornerbacks are being used to their strengths, and the safeties are healthy and not worried about getting yanked? And this combination has led to an increase in turnovers and stiffer defense inside the red zone and on third down?

Really, you don’t say…

Before I go ahead and say I told you so — don’t worry, this is the Internet, there are plenty of column inches left for that — I’m not going to be the first person to pat Castillo on the back for the job he’s done with his unit through two games. That honor goes to John Gonzalez, who asked on Monday whether the Eagles’ defense is finally fixed.

Juan Castillo’s crew and coordinator himself were both maligned and derided last season, especially early on. The unit played much better in the second half of the year and finished 8th in the NFL in total defense, but that was conveniently overlooked by a lot of people. There were cries about the wide-nine and the linebackers and some of the secondary, too. There didn’t seem to be a lot of trust in the Eagles’ defense.

That’s not the case right now.

It is early, but if there has been one constant and encouraging sign in the nascent season it has been the defense. The Ravens, who threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns in their Week 1 win, were held to 214 passing yards by the Eagles. Baltimore also had difficulty dealing with the Eagles on third down, converting just four of its 14 opportunities.

Gonzo is right, it is early, but take a quick gander at the numbers through two games. Philadelphia’s defense is ranked 8th in points allowed (and one of the touchdowns was a pick six), 4th in yards, 2nd in turnovers, 3rd in red zone defense, and 2nd on third downs. Granted one of their performances came at the expense of a rookie quarterback leading a punchless offense, but at least Baltimore is legit.

What’s even more impressive about those numbers is the Eagles are posting them while the offense is averaging 4.5 turnovers per game themselves. You may have seen this before, but take a look at this handy chart from 2011, which depicts the record and points per game allowed for every game in the NFL last year compared to the number of giveaways by the offense.

 5+  0-13 (.000), 34.4 PPG  0-1 (.000), 31.0 PPG
 4  5-24 (.172), 32.2 PPG  1-1 (.500), 25.0 PPG
 3  12-49 (.197), 27.0 PPG  1-3 (.250), 24.5 PPG
 2  59-74 (.444), 22.6 PPG  3-2 (.600), 16.8 PPG
 1  101-70 (.591), 20.1 PPG  2-1 (.667), 20.3 PPG
 0  79-26 (.752), 18.0 PPG  1-0 (1.000), 7.0 PPG
 3+  17-86 (.159), 29.4 PPG  2-5 (.286), 25.6 PPG
 2-  239-170 (.584), 20.4 PPG  6-3 (.667), 16.6 PPG

Teams that committed four or more turnovers in 2011 won five times during the entire 2011 regular season, and surrendered over 30 points per game. The Eagles have been victorious twice already this season, while the defense is holding opponents to under 20 along the way. Imagine what the numbers are going to look like when the offense stops coughing up the ball by the fistful.

As Gonzo ultimately concludes as well, it is far too early to call them a great defense. Two solid games does not a season make. However, it also goes without saying that there is a lot to like about the effort so far.

More to the point, it’s not coming as much of a surprise here. Castillo was unfairly put at the center of the defensive woes last year. It wasn’t unfair in the sense that fingers will eventually point back at the defensive coordinator when things go wrong. That’s the position. Yet so much was made about him not knowing what he was doing, when so many other factors were at work — personnel and turnovers being right at the top of the list.

The personnel issue appears to have been sorted out with the addition of DeMeco Ryans, the subtraction of Asante Samuel, and an influx of talented rookies already contributing. Now if Michael Vick and the offense could only figure out how to protect the football, who knows how high their ceiling is.