Jason Babin usually punts on questions about the defense that don’t concern the front four. He is a defensive lineman. It is what he knows, it is what he cares about. He doesn’t have eyes in the back of his head — just one set in the front that’s always honed in on the quarterback.
Following the nail-biting win over the Browns on Sunday, though, Babin was talking linebackers. And more specifically he was talking about DeMeco Ryans.
“We know, as a defensive line, we take chances,” said Babin. “We’re aggressive and attack. Having those guys behind us, we know they have our backs. They know football. It’s a good feeling.”
The panic about a linebacker rotation, the concern about Ryans’ ability to still play at a high level, were put to rest for at least the week. Ryans played almost every snap, and was one of the best players on the field Sunday.
“I thought he made big play after big play,” said Andy Reid. “That’s what he is; that’s what he’s done throughout his career.”
Ryans had five solo tackles — a team high — and a tackle for a loss. He led the charge against a formidable Browns rushing attack, as the Eagles defense held rookie Trent Richardson to 39 yards on 19 carries (2.1 average). The Browns managed 99 rushing yards in all — 25 of which came on an essentially meaningless Brandon Weeden run to close out the first half.
“He’s a baller,” said rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks. “Took command of the field. Made sure we were cool, calm and collected in tough times. He made a helluva lot of plays today, and I’m happy he’s on my team.”
Kendricks was stout as well and tied for a team-high in tackles. The collective performance was a welcomed site for a team — and a fan base — that has been starved at linebacker for some time.
“We know the type of scrutiny that this group has been under,” said Kendricks. “It’s time to change the culture around here. We know that, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
Ryans, who has been questioned about his health and his game countless times over the last several months, did not want to focus on himself afterwards. But when it came to team ball, his eyes lit up. Though against a rookie quarterback and a Browns team that is sure to struggle all year, there’s no denying that the defense saved this team from an embarrassing loss. And when they were called on to protect the lead late, they closed.
“I love when the game is in the defense’s hands, when it’s on us to close a game out. That’s why I play this game,” said Ryans. “There is no more special feeling than being out there and having all your teammates on the sideline counting on our 11 to get it done.”
Eleven. The front. The back. And for the first time in a long time, the middle.
“He’s our quarterback out there,” said Babin. “Veteran guy, big guy. It pays dividends.”