So Andy Reid fired defensive coordinator Juan Castillo today. The surface read on that move is that after somewhat miraculously starting 3-1, the Eagles held late fourth quarter leads of one point and 10 points in consecutive games and lost both, and someone had to pay.
You can go deeper than that if you would like to. The Eagles were 8-8 last season and they are 3-3 right now. Since Jeffrey Lurie came out and said what the fans wanted to hear in the preseason, Reid is fully aware that another .500 season would be his last as the team's head coach. In past years, Reid had enough goodwill stored with Lurie (and Joe Banner, when he was still the team's president) that he could be patient with an embattled assistant coach. Not now.
The merits of Castillo's firing are in doubt. Statistically, the defense is performing much better than it did in 2012. The Eagles are 4th in both 3rd-down percentage and red zone touchdown percentage. The middling points per game ranking (13th) could well be attributed to the fact the Eagles have provided their opponents with the most favorable field position in the league through six games played.
Moreover, because Michael Vick and his 31st-ranked offense constantly turn the ball over, the Eagles are stuck both defending short fields and (when they have them) slim leads. The 10-point cushion the Detroit Lions surged back from on Sunday marked the first game all season where the Eagles even had a double-digit lead. And it is awfully hard to blame Castillo for the offense's failure to get even one first down on its last regulation time possession against the Lions, when one first down would have all but sealed a victory and two first downs would have done it.
Then again, this is not the first time Reid has deflected blame for the failings of his offense onto someone else. Except, normally, he tacks it onto offensive personnel, and normally as they are leaving.
There is no forgetting the way Reid undercut David Akers after his two misses in the Eagles' 21-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the wild-card round of the 2011 playoffs. "We can all count. Those points would have helped," said Reid at that time. Akers was a kicker who had won Reid a lot of games and made him a lot of money. Then he missed two field goals in a playoff game, and he was a bum.
Prior to that, of course, Reid had run Donovan McNabb out of town after consecutive losses to the Dallas Cowboys (one in Week 17, one in the wild-card round of the 2010 NFL playoffs). It is one thing to trade a franchise quarterback; quite another to trade him within the division. Even if you apply hindsight to that trade and say that McNabb was very close to finished when Reid traded him, you are stuck acknowledging that Reid dumped McNabb for Kevin Kolb, not Michael Vick. So the move was not really that smart.
In truth, Reid has played the "fire the defensive coordinator" card once before. Sean McDermott lost his job as the Eagles' defensive coordinator as part of the fallout from the Packers' loss described above, you know, the one that was David Akers' fault. McDermott's defense had been good enough to go 10-6 that season and the Eagles had made the playoffs. But Reid's team lost at home, in the playoffs, again. And just like today, someone had to pay.
The end is coming for Andy Reid in Philadelphia. If 8-8 is in fact equivalent to termination, it is a near certainty. The Eagles have to go 6-4 the rest of the way (at least) to beat 8-8. They will not be favored at home against Atlanta in two weeks, and they certainly will not be favored at Dallas or at the New York Giants in Week 17.
You would love to say "OK, three more losses, hey, that's 10-6!" But do you really trust this Eagles team at New Orleans against Drew Brees? Or in either of the games against Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins? For that matter, are you really that sure that they will beat Dallas in Philadelphia?
The Eagles have been a .500 team, and seem very likely to end up as one (or worse) in 2012. If/when that happens, Andy Reid will finally be gone. And no one will ask him whose fault it is that he is out of a job.
Fewer than that will feel sorry for him.