Recently I've had some members (trendsearcher) wonder if Defensive End Luis Castillo is overrated or overpaid for his production, and that had me a bit angry, as I spend hours examining this team's front 7 in my D-line analysis. I don't think he's overpaid at all. To find out, research was due. I went and began to watch film of other 3-4 teams and their front 3. But I couldn't just pick random teams and opponents. There had to be consistency. How do I do that?
I picked certain games. The Steelers against the Titans and Patriots, Chiefs against the Jaguars and Texans, the Broncos against the Seahawks and Titans, and the Browns vs Patriots and Chiefs. All 3-4 teams that have faced Charger opponents. Here are my findings.
Linemen: Nick Eason, Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, Chris Hoke. Pittsburgh's defense is kind of backwards from San Diego's. Where Luis Castillo and Antonio Garay are the standouts on their front seven, LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons do a lot more than Hood, Eason and Hoke do. Hampton draws the majority of the doubles, deservedly so, but everyone aside from Keisel is absolutely neutralized with doubles, and they don't get the penetration Castillo does. I also noticed something about their blitzing. When I called in to John on a podcast, he asked me why Rivera doesn't blitz like Dick Lebeau. The Steelers don't blitz as much as people think. They have a huge number of 3 man rushes. However, Woodley and Harrison rush extremely well off the edge in nickel packages and that helps their sack numbers. Anyway, it seems that Castillo, who is doubled with twice the frequency of the Steeler linemen not named Hampton or Keisel, is superior to the other guys. Keisel has just one sack and 12 total tackles. Is he worth his salary despite near identical numbers to Castillo? Including his signing bonus, he gets the same money, despite being 5 years older.
Linemen: Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Ron Edwards, Shaun Smith, Wallace Gilberry. The Chiefs seem to rely on sound tackling a lot. Chiefs fans aren't happy with Tyson Jackson, and with good reason. He's not that good. If he lost some weight and played end in a 4-3, he could work out. Jackson is nowhere near the level of Castillo. Ron Edwards is pretty good for an unknown NT and Wallace Gilberry (who?) should replace Jackson, as he performs better overall, though not great against the run. Dorsey is pretty good, and if he continues to improve, will be a big part of their success up front. He doesn't have pass rush skill, but he can contain well and gets leverage. However, Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson are the biggest pieces of this front seven. Conclusion, none of these DE's compare to Castillo. They're rarely doubled, and they all get tested fairly evenly. I also watched the way they ran against the Chargers, and all their best runs went to the left. Like in many games, Castillo isn't tested as often as Cesaire.
Linemen: Justin Bannan, Kevin Vickerson, Ryan McBean, Jamal Williams, Ronald Fields. Like when in San Diego, Jwall is the double team absorber. Individually, all their linemen seem to be somwhat average. They don't demand double teams, though Bannan looks pretty good at pushing blockers. Denver should go back to the 4-3. They did, against the Jets to try and slow down their running game, and it worked. But their ends aren't enough of playmakers to be a forceful front. In this case as well, Castillo seems superior to the opposing DEs.
Linemen: Kenyon Coleman, Brian Schaefering, Jayme Mitchell, Shaun Rogers, Ahtyba Rubin. Lots of who?'s there. Strangely, though, they play fairly well. Rubin actually plays very well considering he's a backup. He trys to play strong and it works for him. Schaefering is more of a space occupier, and isn't great at anything specific. Coleman can actually play the run and the pass fairly well. He uses his body to his advantage but he's a bit inconsistent. The strength of Cleveland is their LB's, who play better than the line does (at least without Shaun Rogers). They still aren't good enough to match up with Castillo and Garay though.
Castillo is the 3rd highest paid 3-4 DE in the league, behind Justin Smith and Aaron Schobel. Those guys are nearing the end of their careers and Castillo is in his prime. Now, compared to other 6 and 5 and 4 million dollar DE's, you could argue Castillo is overpaid. Stats wise, I'll admit, he's overpaid. But stats don't tell the whole story. Consider the following things and see if they're valid to you.
After a great 2 seasons where Castillo racked up sacks and pressures, Castillo entered 2007 with a few injury issues. His pass rushing diminished, but his run stopping was brilliant and even though he didn't get many sacks, he was at least collapsing the pocket and getting pressure. Then came 2008. With Jamal Williams having knee issues, and Shawne Merriman on IR, Castillo was now the focus of the defense. He was given a big contract because he had proven himself. Once again, he failed to get a respectable number of sacks, but he was at least able to anchor the run defense and push the pocket. Also, after 2006, Wade Phillips left for Dallas, leaving a new scheme that focused more on the LB's getting pressure and the line staying in containment. It happened a lot, and I didn't like it. I still don't. Last season and this season, I can understand why Ron Rivera uses secondary blitzes and heavy linebacker blitzes. With no Merriman (in his prime) and JWall gone due to ineffectiveness and injuries, Castillo again has been the focus on the front 7.
While he may not earn his money in sacks, he still earns it in other ways. On any given play that isn't a sweep or stretch or outside playcall opposite Castillo, watch the O-line and protection call. Who gets doubled half the time? Castillo. The other times, it's been Garay or Johnson or Cesaire. Teams don't double the worst player and leave the best guys 1 on 1. It's silly and makes no sense. Would you put Nnamdi Asomugha and Ed Reed to double team Darrius Heyward-Bey and leave your other cornerback, Jason David 1 on 1 over Andre Johnson? Absolutely not. Or try this more realistic Scenario: Say you have a 4 man rush coming at you. The 4 pass rushers are: James Harrison, Kenny Iwebema, Brian Sanford, and Kade Weston. Who are you going to double team? The fact that El Toro doesn't get sacks this and last year doesn't mean he's invisible. I invite you all to rewatch the games and see how Ron Rivera uses Castillo to get pressure. Knowing he commands so many double teams, Castillo will line up as a 5 tech and cross rush the 3 or 2 gap, pulling both the tackle and guard inside. This has many times, left Phillips to have to beat only the TE or FB or RB, or a tackle coming late to block him, and Phillips gets pressure, if not the sack! Sometimes on nickel packages, Rivera will call for Castillo to push straight into the 1 gap and draw both the Guard and the Center, so Cesaire and Barnes/Applewhite have only the tackle, Phillips takes the tackle to the edge, and blitzes Cooper or Burnett in the void that Castillo opens (usually the B gap) to get pressure, or a variant, is to send Phillips crossing with Castillo into a 2-4 gap rush and a nickel blitz.
So, if Castillo is dangerous enough in the offense's mind to constantly double him, his presence alone is worth a lot, since it opens up opportunites for the rest of the team to make plays. Anyone remember why AJ drafted him? He was the fastest 300lb+ player at the combine (4.79), the 3rd strongest (32 reps with a strained elbow), and the smartest (37 wonderlic). He can play in the 3-4, nickel, heavy nickel, joker, 3-3-5, dime, quarter, goal line, and all of them at either end or tackle position. He has the ability to play lined up over any offensive lineman and is. And offenses avoid running at him. When they do, they have him doubled every time. Only about 15% of the runs go at Castillo. Most of them (about half) go between Garay and Cesaire or outside the front 3.
My thoughts on Castillo being paid so much? Yes, I'll admit he's a bit overpaid for someone who doesn't get many stats, but I'm convinced that if he was overpaid in the eyes of the coaching staff and front office, he would be asked to have his contract retweaked. AJ Smith clearly doesn't like overpaying or keeping unproductive players, and if he thought El Toro (the bull) was playing more like El Cabrito (the little goat), something would have happened by now. Maybe Phillips or Barnes or English catch fire and start piling up sacks, and drawing doubles away from Castillo, giving him a chance to get some QB knockdowns. To this point, none of the LB's have been doubled like Merriman used to. And look at it this way, Garay has looked like a true blessing at the Nose tackle position. Would he be as successful if he was doubled as often as the guy next to him? Only time will tell.
Leave your thoughts in the comments section, and I hope I enlightened some of you to see Castillo a little more like I (and SD FTW) see him. He's the highest graded linemen in my analysis for a reason, and I don't think that will change any time soon.