Spags

No Spags for you’se…and no big deal…

It’s official… Steve Spagnuolo chose New Orleans as his new residence as an NFL defensive coordinator… Does that mean Juan Castillo gets to live to die another day with the Eagles at that tenuous position? Not necessarily…

But a lot of Philly fans treat the departure of an available Spags as a death knell to their dreams of defensive dominance in 2012.

Hey, wait a minute— this is not brain surgery!

Good luck to Spags in his new job—- but it’s not like his hiring by the Eagles would have guaranteed anything greater in results than that of the mindset that is currently evolving in the Eagles coaching office.  Even informed armchairs know what went wrong in the defensive scheme and technique of the Eagles in the unmasked season of 2011. Plus, what is Spags but the symbolic throwback to the halcyon years of the late Jim Johnson?

The game has changed since Jim Johnson…a lot.

Give him his credit, though. Spagnuolo, 52, was head coach in St. Louis the past three seasons and was fired in January after going 10-38 with the Rams. Before that he was defensive coordinator for the New York Giants, a stint that included a Super Bowl upset of the New England Patriots.

Before joining the Giants, Spagnuolo was a defensive assistant in Philadelphia from 1999-2006. He coached Pro Bowl players including Brian Dawkins and Lito Sheppard, and helped Philadelphia field a 10th-ranked defense in the 2004 season, when the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl before falling to New England.

But if David Tyree doesn’t catch that ball with his helmet in the 2007-08 Super Bowl, do we even worry or care about Spags not coming back to the Eagles?

We’re still waiting to hear from the Eagles, whose silence has been deafening ever since the season ended. Juan Castillo is still the guy here…until further notice.

Pardon me for a momentary lapse of objectivity, but you could bring Wade Phillips into Philly as the new DC, and still not have a defense that could overcome the ridiculous amount of turnovers and giveaways committed by the Eagles offense in 2011.

In other words, the Eagles defense was on the field way too much in 2011—and with lousy field position a lot. That was not the fault of the defensive coordinator. Offensive turnovers made a defense struggling to find its identity appear even worse than it really was.

And even the greatest coordinator in the business needs the right personnel to coordinate… This is not to take away from the athletic and mental abilities of the current Eagles roster, it just says there are one or two pieces missing in the overall leadership of the Eagles defense, especially in the areas of pre-snap reads and communication… and that comes down to the players, not the coaches.

Tackling was an issue, too. Tackling is not a natural act, as Stan White told us months ago. It must be re-taught and re-learned every summer. Perhaps better tackling technique alone would have changed the possible outcome of at least two losses in 2011.

Impossible to say for sure…so many variables…

All I know for sure is— the game has changed since Jim Johnson coordinated the defensive side of it. New rules that favor the offense, new regulations that impede a defensive player’s potential to enforce his will upon a game…

So “losing” Spags to the Saints doesn’t really bug me that much. It would not have been about Spags anyway. It will be about someone who understands the balance between gap coverage and pass rush. It will be about someone who puts zone coverage in harmony with man-press coverage, and is not afraid to mix both… And mostly, it will be about someone who can delegate on-field leadership to a player or two who can read and recognize in the heat of battle, and not have to look longingly to the sideline for direction at every crucial point in a series of downs…

That’s my New year’s wish for the Eagles defense— to develop on-field leaders who are coordinators on the field. Even Juan Castillo is capable of achieving this goal. We haven’t had that defensive spirit here since—well, it’s been a while. 

Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.

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