The Philadelphia Eagles will close out the 2011 season with a win over the Washington Redskins on Sunday, and Andy Reid will return as head coach in 2012.
These may not be certainties, but I feel pretty comfortable in making both assumptions.
The real question will be what to do with the rest of the team in 2012. Resign DeSean Jackson? Trade Asante Samuel? Buy into the maturation of Kurt Coleman and Brian Rolle?
And, of course, bring back Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator?
The facts are these: The Eagles are now eighth in yards allowed and tied for 12th in points allowed. Back on November 28th, the Eagles were 15th in yards allowed and 21st in points allowed. Pretty big jump. They've allowed only 67 points over the last four weeks, and that's including the debacle in Seattle.
They're first in sacks with 49. They've given up the sixth-most touchdowns through the air (26) despite holding teams to only 210 passing yards per game (eighth overall). Their 23 takeaways (14 picks, 9 fumbles) are middle of the pack, while their 36 giveaways on offense are tied with Tampa Bay for worst in the NFL.
This tells me a few things: The Eagles' defense -- despite early-season, late-in-game struggles and some poor work in the red zone -- is above average. You could even argue that it's good. The offense, on the other hand, which was supposed to be the team's strength, has faltered at key times. More than faltered, even; they've given the ball back to the opposition more than anyone else in the league, creating a strain that'd crush even the best teams.
Simply put, Juan Castillo seems to be running a damn fine defense these days. And maybe the Eagles should give him the chance to prove that the last few weeks are no fluke.
There are a few intelligent arguments against this idea. My dad and I got in one such debate recently; his take is that a easy late-season schedule has made Castillo's defense look better than it really is. A mirage, so to speak. But Miami was on a roll when the Eagles came to town (27.8 PPG over their last five games), and the biggest non-New England defensive hiccup of the last two months was the result of Seattle feasting on Vince Young's mistakes (two TDs off interceptions, another returned for a touchdown).
And now the inevitable Steve Spagnuolo talk has begun. In a vacuum, no one with a brain would argue for Juan Castillo over Steve Spagnuolo. In fact, Spags seems like the perfect candidate: history with Andy Reid and the Eagles, Super Bowl ring, etc. But you have to admit that Juan's defense has improved in pretty much every aspect of the game. If Spagnuolo is looking to strip down and start over, is it worth suffering through another bout of growing pains for a former head coach who's probably not looking to settle down in Philly too long? Not sure if going with a hired gun, even one that's a known quantity, is wise in what very well may be Reid's last season.
Unless, of course, upper management would consider Spagnuolo a possible replacement for Reid down the line. But that's a whole other can of worms that we'll have the pleasure of opening if/when the time is right.
Honestly, I didn't want to bring Juan Castillo back. I thought it was a fun experiment that had flopped in embarrassing fashion. But if you believe in the strides that the team's been making, if you buy that Juan's finally earned the trust of his defense, if you think Jim Washburn's pass-rushing strategy is doing its job, then don't blow it up. Don't bring in another coordinator who might want something totally different, even if he does come with a link to the glory days of Jim Johnson.
Give Andy and Juan a short leash; one more season to show what they've got. Juan was Andy's call; let him make or break Reid's tenure. I don't want to see another maddeningly inconsistent year of football, but I like what I've seen over the last few weeks. I think it's for real.
I was all ready to go cold turkey on this team after the Seattle game, but they haven't quit on themselves. With a few smart personnel moves, some continued improvement from young players and seriously cutting down on turnovers, there's no reason the Eagles won't bounce back in 2012. Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater until you're damn sure it can't be cleaned.