They were in ’12’ personnel with two tight ends and Eddie Lacy in the backfield. The rookie running back had picked up 21 yards on his first four carries as Green Bay entered field goal range.
DeMeco Ryans lined up at his usual spot at middle linebacker about 4 yards behind nose tackle Damion Square. Seneca Wallace took the snap from under center, turned to his left and handed the ball off. As Lacy looked for a hole, Ryans flowed to his right.
Left tackle David Bakhtiari tried to get to him, but was unsuccessful. Ryans diagnosed the play, got downhill and planted his helmet into Lacy’s mid-section, knocking the 231-pound rookie backwards and onto the ground at Lambeau Field.
Lacy would manage just 54 yards on 19 carries (2.8 YPC) the rest of the day. And Ryans, with a game-high 13 tackles, was a big reason why.
“When you get a challenge like that as a linebacker, that’s the biggest challenge you’re gonna get,” Ryans said afterwards. “Somebody that’s gonna try to pound you and run you over. So as a linebacker, I love that.”
Of Ryans’ 13 tackles, nine came within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage. Eleven were solo and two for loss. He also broke up a pass and came up with a diving interception off a deflection in the second half.
It’s been an eventful couple years for the 29-year-old. Ryans suffered an Achilles’ injury while with the Texans in 2010. He tried to get acclimated to a new scheme in a lockout-shortened offseason, while simultaneously rehabbing. After one year in Wade Phillips’ 3-4, he was traded to the Eagles to play behind the Wide-9.
Ryans was one of the lone bright spots on an otherwise dysfunctional defense in 2012. But another offseason brought more change and a switch back to the 3-4. Ryans has had his share of issues in coverage this season, but with the defensive linemen keeping blockers off of him, Ryans has been punishing opposing running backs on a weekly basis.
“I cannot say enough about DeMeco Ryans and what he means to the defense as a quarterback, as a leader, as a playmaker,” said defensive coordinator Billy Davis. “That interception he made today was a wild play. He’s having a Pro Bowl year, and I hope he continues to have that Pro Bowl year and gets recognized for it. He’s really consistent and he’s our leader.”
Survey players around the Eagles’ locker room, and the word leader comes up constantly when describing Ryans.
“He has a hard job,” said Trent Cole. “He has so much going on because he’s looking at the sideline, plus he’s got guys asking questions. Guys ask him what the play is, and he’s in a situation, it takes a lot of focus. And he’s good at it. He’s good at what he does.”
Added rookie nose tackle Bennie Logan: “Man, DeMeco Ryans brings so much energy, leadership. Just playing with that guy, you just feed off him. He’s a great guy. He knows the defense. He’s always picking everybody up on the sideline, in the huddle, he just brings so much energy to the game and on the field. You just really want to go out and play for those guys and also play for him.”
Four of the starters in the Eagles’ front seven are first- or second-year players. They rely on Ryans to get them in the right spots. That’s one of the reasons he never comes off the field. Going into Sunday’s games, Ryans had played 695 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. That was more than any other defensive player in the NFL.
Told that Davis mentioned him as a potential Pro Bowler, Ryans said: “That’s great to hear coming from the d-coordinator. It’s of course the level that I’ve been working to get back to after I came off a big injury in 2010. It’s definitely a level that I’ve been trying to get back to is a Pro Bowl level. And of course that’s where I want to be – known as a top linebacker in this league.”
The defense clearly got a huge break with the Packers playing their third-string quarterback. But the Eagles contained one of the league’s better rushing attacks, limiting the Packers to 99 yards (3.3 YPC) on the ground.
“It’s a good feeling to see everything come together collectively as a defensive group,” Ryans said. “And then overall as a team to see everything just come together here in Lambeau, to get a team win was really big for us.”