The plight of the Eagles

Vince Young didn’t mean to give the Eagles a wretchedly cursed moniker on that warm and sunny early August day. Honest. He was just lost in the unbridled joy and euphoria.

That was a time in Philadelphia filled with optimism and belief, the kind that makes children sing, and sets them free to run gleefully without the restrictions of their shackles. This kind of hope can conquer all fear, prompt spontaneous singing, and it can even transform those tire-slashing Philly fans into innocent souls of good will. Yes, August was indeed a magical and inspirational time in the land of the Eagle.

This is the part when I could make an awful Green Day emo reference, and say that Young’s Dream Team just wants to wake up when September ends. But it’s October, and they’re still sleeping.

It hasn’t quite been 24 hours yet since the Eagles had a comfortable, 17-point lead at halftime against San Francisco, only to then be outscored 21-3 in the second half and lose 24-23, falling to 1-3 as the NFL rounds the quarter pole. The Eagles’ first two losses came against the Falcons and Giants, two sound offensive teams. The quarterbacks in those games were named Ryan and Manning, and combined they have two Pro Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl win. The third loss came against Alex Smith, a quarterback whose career touchdowns (55) nearly equal his interceptions (54).

There’s little to be dreamy about now, and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is the scapegoat most in Philadelphia would like to send out to pasture. Brows furrowed when Castillo became the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator last February, with the transition from his former offensive line coach role considered unorthodox at best. Efforts to ease that transition and assemble Castillo’s defensive dream team focused primarily on finesse, luxury and excess over brute force. Nnamdi Asomugha and Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie joined Asante Samuel to form a feared cornerback triple team, while Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins joined the defensive line.

All those open market and trade splashes have been effective, especially Babin, the defensive end who already has seven sacks. But the glaring mess lies beyond Babin, and in front of Asomugha, Samuel, and Rodgers-Cromartie.

After failing to address the departure of middle linebacker Stewart Bradley the Eagles’ linebackers have already sputtered and forced a shuffling process that ended in the demotion of two starters. Their continued failures were particularly crushing in yesterday’s defeat, with 98 of San Francisco’s 164 rushing yards coming during that second half embarrassment.

Sunday’s loss was the third time this year a fourth quarter lead has been blown by Philadelphia, and already the longevity of Castillo’s employment is being questioned. The Eagles were a combined 91-14 when holding a fourth quarter lead under their previous two defensive coordinators (Jim Johnson and Sean McDermott), according to Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com. Under Castillo they’re already 1-3.

It gets worse.

The Eagles allowed 442 yards Sunday to the NFL’s 32nd-ranked offense, the 49ers’ most yards in seven years. The Eagles have given up 1,429 yards – their most after four games since 1989.

This isn’t just a sporadic four-game stretch of terribleness. This is an all new stench of brutal that hasn’t been seen in 22 years.

Hold on, it still gets worse.

This is only the second time since 1986 the Eagles have allowed 100 or more rushing yards in each of their first four games and the first time since 1960 an opposing running back has rushed for 85 or more yards in each of the first four games.

One more. Don’t worry, Eagles fans, you can open your eyes soon. We’re almost done.

This time the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane takes a few hacks:

The 49ers scored 14 points and gained 199 yards, numbers greater than what the defense allowed (10 points and 184 yards) in the third quarter of the previous three games combined.

And then there were the big plays. In the first three games, the Eagles surrendered nine plays of more than 20 yards. San Francisco – ranked 32d in the league on offense coming in – had six on Sunday.

The Eagles allowed one run of 40 yards or more last year, and this year they’ve already allowed three.

McLane also notes that the Philly D has allowed the opposition to score a touchdown on eight out of 10 trips to the red zone this year. McDermott was fired last winter after his own historically bad season in the red zone, but Castillo’s 80 percent red zone touchdown rate is worse than McDermott’s 76.7.

Castillo’s players and fellow coaches said what they needed to say following yesterday’s loss, mumbling standard public relations answers about player execution in an attempt to deflect blame. Maybe they’re right, and maybe Castillo has been pushed into an entirely unfair position.

Andy Reid felt confident enough in Castillo to slide his flask over a defensive Bunsen burner and ignite an experiment despite Castillo’s lack of professional or collegiate experience as a coordinator. Head coaches win championships by trusting instincts and intuition, and in a normal offseason with normal mini-camps and normal access to players, Castillo would have had plenty of time to grow into his position and mold his defense.

Instead because of the lockout he was still learning about his defensive unit when several superstars were added in August, and one vital linebacker officially departed.