Why Spagnuolo makes sense
There's still a game left in the season – albeit a meaningless one – but it's apparently "all but certain" that Juan Castillo is out as the Eagles defensive coordinator and Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo will return to Philadelphia and take over for Castillo.
At least that's the report coming out of San Diego, of all places, because supposedly a regime change with the Chargers will set off a domino effect that will result in the soon-to-be-fired Spagnuolo returning to the Eagles.
The Eagles aren't talking – not even in off-the-record e-mails I generally receive when things are sunny in Philadelphia – so I have no further information on the subject. I can say the Eagles are fond of Spagnuolo, would have probably given him Jim Johnson's job had he not left for New York, but they have not yet made final decisions on their coaching staff.
I'm not here to dump on the report because, for many reasons, Spagnuolo getting the job makes sense. The move has been speculated on ever since the Eagles' and Rams' slow starts. But there are plenty of reasons, as others have insightfully pointed out, why it doesn't pass the smell test.
One of the arguments against the Eagles bringing Spagnuolo back is based on scheme.
That one, I don't buy.
After 12 seasons of hyper-aggressive, blitzing defenses under Johnson and Sean McDermott, Andy Reid decided last off-season that a change was in order. He lured Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn and his wide-nine, front four alignment here and promoted Juan Castillo to essentially handle the back seven.
Washburn doesn't think much of blitzes. He thinks they're overused. He thinks the front four should be able to generate enough pressure. So Castillo dialed down the blitzes this season. The Eagles' failures have had little to do with blitzing, but the new scheme, along with the new coaching staff and new faces on defense have been cited as reasons for the rocky start.
A current three-game winning streak in which the defense has allowed just 12 points a game would suggest that maybe the unit has finally put all the pieces together. It may be too late to save Castillo – because, really, Matt Moore, Mark Sanchez and Stephen McGee aren't the quarterbacks you brag about beating – but it probably saved the scheme.
Spagnuolo is from the School of Johnson. Calling defenses is hardly all about calling blitzes, but Johnson's scheme revolved around whether he would send extra pass rushers or not. Spagnuolo brought the same philosophy to the Giants when he was defensive coordinator for two seasons, and then to St. Louis when he took over as head coach in 2009.
So for the Eagles to bring Spagnuolo aboard with Washburn likely still in place would be like hiring a run-oriented coordinator to run Reid's offense. At least, that's the conventional wisdom.
I don't see any reason why it couldn't work.
For one, it's not as if the Eagles didn't blitz this season. It may have been nowhere near as much as it once was, but they did send at least one extra pass rusher on 98 of 492 drop backs (20 percent), according to ProFootballFocus.com.
Over the last three games, Castillo has called a slightly higher percentage of blitzes (23.2 percent). Of 23 blitzes over that span the Eagles have generated seven sacks. They recorded just five in their first 75 blitzes.
So the Eagles have been blitzing more of late and are having more success as a result.
Spagnuolo, on the other hand, has been blitzing less this season. In fact, after the first three games when he blitzed 41.5 percent of the time, his blitzing numbers are more in line with the Eagles of this season. In the last 12 games, the Rams have blitzed on 95 of 387 drop backs (24.5 percent).
There are probably a number of reasons why Spagnulo was less reliant on blitzing as the season progressed – a rash of injuries at cornerback and desperation come to mind – but the results were essentially the same.
It should be pointed out that the Rams are 2-13 largely because of the ineffectiveness of one of the worst offenses in the NFL. St. Louis' defense is still ranked sixth in the league against the pass, seventh in sacks per pass play, tenth inside the red zone and 14th in points allowed.
One schematic reason to like Spagnuolo for the job is his preference for press-man cornerbacks. If the Eagles are to part with Asante Samuel – as the thinking goes – then the team would rid itself of its lone off-corner. Before coming to Philly, Nnamdi Asomugha primarily played as a press-man corner in Oakland. But for various reasons – one likely having to do with Samuel – he was asked to play almost as much zone with the Eagles this season.
Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie has played both press-man and zone over his short career, but he said recently that he prefers the former. If Samuel goes, as expected, he'll start opposite Asomugha, giving the Eagles two of a kind at the corners.
Spagnuolo, if he were to end up with the Eagles, may not be asked to blitz as much. But there's no reason to think he can't work with the wide-nine and Washburn, conversely, can't work with a little more blitzing.
All this is assuming, of course, that Reid returns.