LB Review: Kendricks Delivers; Ryans Improves

Philadelphia Eagles LB Mychal KendricksHere’s a player-by-player breakdown of how the Eagles linebackers performed Monday night after having re-watched the game. Look for reviews of the rest of the positional groups on Tuesday and Wednesday. And yes, I know the Patriots sat a bunch of their starters.

DeMeco Ryans – In the first preseason game against the Steelers, he failed to notch a tackle and seemed to regularly get to the ball just a second late. But against New England, there was marked improvement. Let’s start with the run game. Ryans (5 tackles, 3 solo) shot into the backfield and forced Shane Vereen to change direction on a 3-yard run that was negated because of a holding penalty. Later, he fought off a block and stopped Vereen after a 3-yard gain. Ryans and Rolle bottled up Vereen on another play after a 3-yard gain. And he made a good read and good tackle, dropping Vereen for a 1-yard loss.

For the most part, Ryans looked good in coverage too. He broke up a pass intended for Jeremy Ebert in the second. And he ran with Ebert on a shallow cross, tackling him after a gain of 1 on 3rd-and-18. On a different play, Ryans tried to throw Ebert’s timing off by bumping him within 5 yards of the line, but it didn’t work as the wide receiver had a 20-yard catch and run. Ryans was asked to blitz a couple times too. He and Mychal Kendricks went after the QB on 3rd-and-8, but the defense got burned on a 16-yard screen to Julian Edelman. They blitzed again on a 3rd-and-9 play, but the Patriots picked up 20 yards and a first on a screen. It’s worth noting that Ryans was the only linebacker on the field in the Eagles’ dime package with six defensive backs.

Overall, an encouraging performance for the veteran.

Mychal Kendricks – I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say he was the Eagles’ best defensive player on Monday night.

Kendricks (6 tackles, 3 solo) played SAM in the base defense and stayed on the field with Ryans in nickel situations. I don’t see him giving that spot up going forward. Kendricks did a great job of recognizing an early screen, getting off the block of center Ryan Wendell and bringing Vereen down after a 4-yard gain near the sideline. He picked up Danny Woodhead out of the backfield and stuck with him on a third-down incompletion. Brandon Bolden wisely dropped a screen pass in the second, or Kendricks would have dropped him for a 5-yard loss. The rookie was not perfect. He got beat by Alex Silvestro for a touchdown in the second quarter, but in fairness to Kendricks, the Eagles got absolutely no pressure on the play.

Against the run, he crushed the fullback and was a major reason a Vereen run only picked up 2 yards in the first. Kendricks made a great read and a great tackle, dropping Vereen for a 5-yard loss. He blew up the lead blocker on a Vereen run that lost a yard. And he made a great read on a draw play, dropping Bolden for a 7-yard loss.

Kendricks was also used to rush the passer. Remember, he had seven sacks in 2010 at Cal. During the broadcast, Jon Gruden said, “One of the things Juan Castillo, the defensive coordinator of the Eagles, wants to do, is blitz more.” I don’t know if that’s true or not, but on one play, Kendricks lined up as a stand-up defensive end and put a great move on Vereen to pressure Ryan Mallett and force him out of the pocket. It would have resulted in a Trent Cole sack, but Nnamdi Asomugha was called for a holding penalty.

Just a solid overall performance. Kendricks very much looked the part of the fast, athletic, play-making linebacker the Eagles have been seeking. Yes, the Patriots were resting many of their starters, but the important thing here is that the rookie appears to know what he’s doing.

Brian Rolle – He started at the WILL spot and was relatively quiet (1 tackle, 0 solo). Rolle assisted on a tackle of Vereen after a 2-yard gain in the first. He and Ryans later stopped Vereen after a 3-yard gain. Rolle played nickel with the second team.

With Jamar Chaney injured, Rolle will likely start the season at WILL, but he hasn’t made many plays in the first two preseason games.

Akeem Jordan – His primary value comes on special teams, and Jordan made the tackle on the Patriots’ first punt return.

He played SAM with the second team and stayed on the field in nickel. Jordan had good coverage on Ebert on a fourth-quarter incompletion. And he also stuck with the wide receiver on a later third down. Jordan came on a blitz off the right edge in the fourth and deflected a Brian Hoyer pass.

I still think he has a leg up on Keenan Clayton for the final linebacker spot.

Keenan Clayton – He didn’t get into the game until the fourth quarter, playing WILL in the base and staying on the field in nickel. Clayton didn’t play a lot of snaps.

** In addition to Chaney (hamstring), Casey Matthews did not play because of a high ankle sprain. Ryan Rau played middle linebacker in the fourth quarter.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

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