Casey Matthews cut off his locks and is sporting a fresh new look. Time to change things up, he said.
That has pretty much been the mantra of the Eagles this offseason. The organization — the city — is dizzy with all the alterations Chip Kelly is making. What is foreign to most, though, feels quite familiar to the former Duck linebacker.
“Practices are the exact same from college. Up-tempo, fast, music playing,” said Matthews. ”Meetings — pretty much everything — all the way to nutrition, and coming off and getting the smoothies and snacks. It worked for him there, so why can’t it work here?”
Matthews didn’t have any inside scoop on the Kelly hire despite his Oregon ties. ESPN was on in the background while he was working out back on January 16 (which happens to be his birthday) when the news broke. He got a call from Kelly that weekend. The coach told him that he would be running things similarly to the way he did at Oregon, and that he was bringing the up-tempo pace with him.
“I thought he was going to have to adjust just a little bit, just because you are dealing with NFL players who are older, but he has a specific way he wants things done,” said Matthews. “He put a lot of research behind everything he does. He has the sleep monitors to tell us how long we have been asleep. We’ve got the heart-rate monitors, too, just stuff like that.”
Matthews added that the defensive scheme has been “tweaked” but there seems to be some similarities to what he played in at Oregon.
His teammates have had plenty of questions for him, anxious to know about Kelly and his unique style.
“Shady has been asking me the most,” Matthews noted with a smile.
For a player facing an uncertain future in Philadelphia, this is probably the best-case scenario. Matthews gets his old coach, and knows what to expect where others do not. But that will only take him so far.
“I’m sure it can’t hurt having your college coach but you have to put in the work and learn the scheme,” he said. “He’s not going to play favorites.”
NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah has released his top 50 prospects in this year’s draft. His top five, in order: Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Sharrif Floyd, Star Lotulelei and Jordan. On Lotulelei:
Lotulelei seems to have been given a clean bill of health following a scare at the NFL Scouting Combine. Many have compared him to Haloti Ngata, but I actually think he is a poor man’s Ndamukong Suh. He can play in either scheme, but he’s best suited to play DE in the 3-4.
There is going to be an early run on tackles — Joeckel, Fisher and rising tackle D.J. Fluker, who I continue to hear the Cardinals are high on — are all likely to go in the first seven picks. While some teams are down on Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson, enough feel he is relatively safe that I expect him to go in the first half of the first round.
This is what one agent told LaCanfora:
“This is the weirdest draft I’ve ever been a part of. We looked at those initial grades and seven of the top 10 grades went to linemen. There were literally no skill players. I’ve never seen anything like it. We have no idea how it will play out next week. I don’t think anyone does.”
EJ Manuel checks in with his latest draft diary entry, plus much more draft coverage.
As recently as last offseason, it looked like the assets acquired in the Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb trades would play a major role in re-shaping the Eagles’ defense.
But looking ahead to 2013, that probably won’t end up being the case.
It was three years ago on Easter Sunday that the Birds shipped McNabb to the Redskins in exchange for a second-round pick in 2010, along with a conditional third- or fourth-rounder in 2011.
With the second-round pick (37th overall), the Eagles selected safety Nate Allen, who has been a disappointment in his first three seasons. At the end of last year, Allen was benched in favor of Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson. The Eagles added Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips in the offseason. And they very well could draft a safety later this month, meaning Allen will be competing for a roster spot.
The other pick from the McNabb trade ended up being a fourth-rounder (No. 104 overall) in 2011. But the Eagles traded that selection to the Bucs (who took tight end Luke Stocker). In exchange, the Birds moved down 12 spots and selected linebacker Casey Matthews. They also received a fourth-round draft choice in 2012 from Tampa.
The Eagles started Matthews at middle linebacker as a rookie, moved him to SAM, benched him and then got him back into the rotation at the end of the year. In 2012, he was a complete non-factor on defense, playing 45 total snaps, per Pro Football Focus. Matthews did have 14 special-teams tackles (second on the team). He too will be fighting for a roster spot.
As for the 2012 fourth-rounder from Tampa, the Eagles used that pick as part of the package to land DeMeco Ryans. The two teams also swapped third-round picks (Nos. 76 and 88).
So overall, the Eagles used compensation from the McNabb trade for Allen, Matthews and to a large degree, Ryans.
Kolb, meanwhile, recently signed a two-year, $13 million deal with the Bills, his third team in four seasons. When the Eagles dealt him to the Cardinals, they got cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick in return. Rodgers-Cromartie is gone after two disappointing seasons, having signed with the Broncos as a free agent.
The Eagles ended up trading the second-round pick from the Kolb deal, moving down eight spots and selecting Vinny Curry. They also got a fourth-rounder from the Packers and took Brandon Boykin. Curry barely played in 2012 (89 snaps), and the Eagles will have to figure out where he fits in Billy Davis’ new defense.
Boykin looks like he’ll be a solid option as a nickel corner, and there’s a chance he could get a shot to play outside.
So overall for Kolb, they landed Rodgers-Cromartie, Curry and Boykin.
The question now is: Which of the players the Eagles landed for the two QBs figure into the team’s plans going forward?
As we mentioned above, Allen and Matthews will be fighting for roster spots. Curry is an unknown, given his limited action as a rookie and scheme fit. Ryans is a key piece, who played really well in 2012. And Boykin figures to be a solid contributor as well.
In other words, the Eagles basically got two starters on defense (when you consider how much they play nickel) for the two quarterbacks.
No one would argue that the Birds got the short end of either of the two trades – especially when you consider that McNabb threw 18 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his post-Eagles career, while Kolb started just 14 games for the Cardinals.
We won’t know the true results from the deals until we see if Curry, Allen and Matthews can contribute in the coming seasons. But clearly, Andy Reid, Howie Roseman and company could have done more with the compensation the team received in return.
Here’s a look at Eagles snap counts from Sunday night’s loss to the Cowboys. We’ll go position-by-position.
There’s no easing Bryce Brown in at running back. Andy Reid is taking advantage of those fresh legs as the rookie played 89 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Of course, Brown’s costly fumble came in the fourth quarter, and Reid said focusing on ball security becomes more difficult when a player is tired.
Even with LeSean McCoy out, Dion Lewis only played five snaps. And the Eagles ran mostly out of single-back sets as Stanley Havili also played five snaps.
Riley Cooper got the start and played all but one snap. He made a great play on a 15-yard touchdown and also caught a slant for 16 yards early on.
Clay Harbor played 15 snaps and was a non-factor. Damaris Johnson played just five snaps on offense, but had the 98-yard punt return for a touchdown.
When Jim Washburn was hired, we heard all about the rotation he liked to utilize. Four men in, four men out throughout the game to keep fresh bodies going after the quarterback. With the Eagles often going with nine or 10 defensive linemen on gamedays, the rotation grew. Even though Brandon Graham got the start, he played just 48 percent of the team’s snaps. Graham produced with 1.5 sacks and four quarterback hits. Vinny Curry played 19 snaps. That number should increase down the stretch.
With Washburn out, it’ll be interesting to see if the Eagles continue to rotate linemen or just play their best guys more. Players like Graham, Fletcher Cox and Curry could surely benefit from more playing time in the final four games.
Nothing really noteworthy at linebacker. Casey Matthews saw some snaps when DeMeco Ryans went down briefly and was also on the field in goal-line and short-yardage situations.
This group continues to be a complete disaster. As I mentioned last week, we’re looking at a complete overhaul in 2013. Reid was asked if the backups deserve a shot at this point, but the truth is, the Eagles don’t have a lot of talented young players at either cornerback or safety. Curtis Marsh could maybe see some added snaps, but beyond that? Who’s he going to play? David Sims?
There were varying degrees of willingness to talk about the Todd Bowles/Juan Castillo shake-up in the Eagles’ locker room Monday. Jason Babin, for example, has never been more skittish about a subject in his two years in Philadelphia. Others forced you to read between the lines.
There were a few revealing moments, however.
The biggest one came from backup linebacker Casey Matthews, who relayed Bowles’ message to the defense upon taking the reins.
“The biggest thing he said is, ‘We’re not going to predictable anymore.’ That’s what Coach said,” Matthews revealed, the obvious implication being that the ‘D’ was predictable under Castillo.
“We’re basically still running the same stuff. A couple tweaks. Coach Bowles said he’s not here to revamp the defense. We’re running the same stuff he just wants us to play together.”
That was the common thought from player to player: that Bowles would not be overhauling the defense; just some minor alterations to the scheme.
There was no evidence of any player being outraged by Castillo’s firing, and some are feeling reinvigorated.
“It’s a whole new season for us,” said Kurt Coleman. “We have 10 games to really prove ourselves and prove our worth to ourselves and these fans, and to the whole NFL. We’re not achieving our full potential, I feel like. We look at the last two years and we haven’t been able to do it, whether that be because of closing out games or what not. But we have 10 games to really prove ourselves and that starts this week.”
One concern is that Bowles, while having a wealth of coaching experience on the defensive side of the ball, has never called a game. Or has he?
“In the grand scheme of things, I think he was helping make play calls throughout this year,” said Coleman.
“I have all the confidence in him. He’s a smart coach, he really is. He’s going to do his due diligence in understanding the game as far as how the offense is going to attack us. And you have to be able to adjust throughout the game, and I think he is going to do a great job with that.”
Several players expressed sympathy for Castillo, whom they had grown to respect as a man. But all seem to feel that Bowles is ready for the role of defensive coordinator.
“He’s well respected,” said Matthews. “He’s been on the defensive side for a while and Juan came over from the offense. A lot of people, especially vets, you don’t know if they’re qualified and stuff like that. But I think Todd will get it done.”
Here’s what we saw from the Eagles’ defense after having reviewed the All-22 tape.
Play 1:I mentioned yesterday how Brandon Graham led the team with five hurries, even though he only had 11 chances to rush the passer. Here’s one of them. He gets double-teamed by two Steelers offensive linemen.
But he fights through them as Fletcher Cox twists behind him.
And Graham hits Ben Roethlisberger as he throws the ball away.
Nice job all around by him.
Play 2: After re-watching the game, it became clear that the Steelers designed plays to help Roethlisberger get rid of the ball quickly. According to Pro Football Focus, 23 of his 32 passes were thrown within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. And he was just 2-for-9 on passes that traveled more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. If you take into account Roethlisberger’s ability to escape pressure, along with the Steelers’ game-plan, I don’t think it’s time to panic about the Eagles’ pass-rush. The defensive line did not play great, but I think Jim Washburn’s group will be fine. Also remember, pressure doesn’t always lead to sacks. Check out this play near the end of the first half. It looks like Brown is past Boykin, and there’s no safety deep.
But because of pressure by Cullen Jenkins, Roethlisberger is forced to scramble.
Even if he’d seen Brown and got him the football, Willie Colon was called for holding on Jenkins. The defensive line clearly had an impact here that didn’t show up in the stat sheet.
Play 3: Another example of pressure impacting a play. Here, Roethlisberger is forced to step up and gets hit by Trent Cole.
He has nowhere to go with the ball and throws incomplete in Brown’s direction. It was a third down, and the Steelers were forced to punt.
Play 4: Many have questioned why the Eagles didn’t blitz more in the second half. One theory: Because on the few occasions when they sent extra pressure in the first half, they got burned. On this play, they blitz Ryans and Mychal Kendricks, creating a six-man rush.
The Steelers pick it up, and Roethlisberger gets rid of the ball quickly to Brown, who has Nnamdi Asomugha one-on-one. It’s only a 4-yard pass, but Asomugha doesn’t take a good angle to the ball, and Brown makes a nice move, turning it into an 18-yard gain.
Play 5: Not a good performance against the run. Here, Derek Landri and Jamar Chaney get blocked, leaving Kurt Coleman as the only defender in the way of Rashard Mendenhall and a big run.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders does enough to get in Coleman’s way, and Mendenhall picks up 17.
By the way, be sure to check out this Iggles Blog All-22 post with more details on the run defense in the second half.
Play 6: Asomugha’s taken a lot of heat this week. Roethlisberger clearly was not afraid to throw in his direction. But on some plays, you just have to give the other team credit. For example, look at Asomugha’s coverage here on a third down in the third.
You simply cannot have a receiver blanketed any better. Keep in mind, this image is from the moment when Roethlisberger releases the ball. The throw was perfect, to Brown’s outside shoulder, and so was the timing. The result was a 6-yard completion and a first down that extended the Steelers’ drive. Later in the game, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was on Mike Wallace on an almost identical play, but Wallace dropped the ball.
Play 7: This looked to me like some great improvisation by Roethlisberger in the third. Wallace runs a shallow crossing route, and Rodgers-Cromartie has him locked up.
But Roethlisberger gets pressured and steps up in the pocket. He presumably sees that there is all kinds of room behind Wallace and lofts one downfield, allowing the receiver to try and make a play, even though I don’t believe that’s where the route was originally intended to go.
Wallace gets a hand on the ball, but can’t come up with the catch. As you can see, the Eagles dodged a bullet. A reception here is almost certainly a 54-yard touchdown. Instead, the Steelers are forced to punt.
Play 8: The Eagles dodged another bullet in the fourth on a well-designed play by the Steelers. If I’m reading it correctly, this is disguised as a wide receiver screen to Brown.
It looks like Heath Miller is going to block Asomugha. That gets Casey Matthews to bite. But instead, Miller runs right past Asomugha and into his route.
Miller is open as Matthews tries to recover, but Roethlisberger’s throw is off-target, and the result is an incompletion. It helped here that pressure from Babin forced Roethlisberger to drift to his left as he made the throw. The Steelers had to settle for a field goal.
Andy Reid on Wednesday said that, assuming health, Akeem Jordan is his starting weakside linebacker. Jordan missed the last two games with a hamstring injury but is expected to be a go against Detroit this Sunday.
What is Plan B?
“We’ll just see. We have a variety of choices there because all those guys play all the positions, depending on that situation,” Reid said.
Jamar Chaney started at WILL in Jordan’s absence with mixed results. Reid did not commit to Chaney being the backup there this week. That leaves open the possibility that Casey Matthews is in the mix.
Matthews played three snaps against the Steelers when Mychal Kendricks left briefly with a sprained ankle. He made two tackles in his brief appearance.
“I went to WILL so it was a little different. But they made it pretty simple,” said Matthews. “I was just fortunate to make a couple plays.
“I don’t know what it means going forward. Hopefully it meant something. It’s hard to tell.”
Matthews anticipates that he’ll continue to take reps as the backup middle linebacker behind DeMeco Ryans and that Chaney will remain the second option at weakside linebacker, though he hadn’t been told the plan as of Wednesday morning.
“It’s whatever the coaches want,” said Matthews. “I can only go out and take advantage of whatever limited opportunities I have.”
Matthews has settled in after a turbulent rookie season that saw him move from the middle to the outside and then ultimately, the bench. Now out of the starting lineup and the spotlight, the Oregon product has his feet more firmly under him and is hoping for another shot.
“Things have been coming easier in practice, rep wise, understanding what my responsibilities and why I have them,” said Matthews. “Last year was a little different. I understand why people are going to certain spots, things like that. Another year in the system just makes it that much easier, makes you more comfortable . And when you’re comfortable, things slow down.”
Here’s a player-by-player review of the Eagles linebackers after having re-watched Sunday’s game.
DeMeco Ryans – The coaches credited him with a season-high 12 tackles, and while Ryans had some good moments, this was not his best outing. Steelers fullback Will Johnson got the best of Ryans on a few occasions. One was the Rashard Mendenhall 24-yard run that was called back for an illegal formation penalty. Another was his 17-yard run. And a third was Mendenhall’s 9-yard run. We’ll get a better look at Ryans in coverage once the All-22 comes out, but it looked like he got beat by tight end Heath Miller on a 15-yard completion near the end of the first half. According to Pro Football Focus, Ryans blitzed five times. He delivered a big hit on Ben Roethlisberger as he let go of the ball in the second. Steelers offensive linemen didn’t like the gesture and got in Ryans’ face after the play. Ryans hit Roethlisberger again on the 3rd-and-4 completion on the final drive.
Mychal Kendricks – Up and down game for Kendricks, who left the game briefly in the second half after suffering an ankle injury. Early on, he combined with Cullen Jenkins to stop Mendenhall for no gain. And Kendricks had good coverage on Emmanuel Sanders on a first-quarter incompletion. He also brought Isaac Redman down after a gain of 1 in the first. But not a good series in the second. He fell for the Roethlisberger fake lateral on a 9-yard run. And later on the drive, Kendricks had a chance to bring down Mendenhall one-on-one, but couldn’t make the play, as he ran in for a 13-yard touchdown. Later, he got taken down by guard Ramon Foster on Mendenhall’s 9-yard run. Kendricks blitzed three times. He had a chance to sack Roethlisberger in the second but couldn’t bring him down. And in coverage, it looked like he lost track of Jerricho Cotchery on the 7-yard red-zone completion in the second.
Jamar Chaney – Not a good game for Chaney, who started at WILL and was on the field for 36 snaps. The coaching staff did not credit him with a tackle. He was blocked by center Maurkice Pouncey, allowing Mendenhall to pick up 17 yards in the third. He couldn’t get off his block on Mendenhall’s 9-yard run and was blocked again on Redman’s 13-yard run. Chaney probably got away with a hold on Mike Wallace in coverage in the third. There were some good moments. He got in the backfield to help stop Redman for no gain in the third. And Chaney made a good read to help break up a screen to Mendenhall in the third.
Casey Matthews – He only played three snaps, filling in for Kendricks, but Matthews had two tackles. He brought Redman down for no gain in the third. And again after a 4-yard gain on the next play. In coverage, it looked like Matthews might have lost track of Miller, but Roethlisberger’s throw was off-target on third down in the red zone in the fourth.
General consensus seems to be that you should wait at least three years before evaluating a draft class.
But considering the Eagles released their 2011 second-round pick, Jaiquawn Jarrett, yesterday, now seems like a good time to at least assess how each of the team’s 11 picks is doing.
Danny Watkins (1st round, 23rd overall): It took him awhile to get on the field as a rookie. The Eagles started journeyman Kyle DeVan over Watkins for four games last season. When he did get on the field, Watkins produced mixed results and probably had more struggles in pass protection than any of the four other linemen. The offseason was supposed to really help him, but Watkins had issues in the opener. It was only one game, but the expectation is for him to at least develop into a reliable, above-average starter in 2012.
Jaiquawn Jarrett (2nd round, 54th overall): As I mentioned yesterday, most draft analysts thought Jarrett was a good prospect coming out of Temple. Last year, at one point, the Eagles thought Jarrad Page was a better option at safety. Jarrett didn’t get onto the field until the starters ahead of him went down with injuries. This offseason, the coaches never publicly voiced that Jarrett was showing great improvement. At no point was he in contention for a starting job, and Jarrett had a terrible first preseason game, filling in for Nate Allen. Think about this: The team has decided that David Sims – someone whom the Browns were ready to release, and someone who has never played an NFL snap – is a better option right now than Jarrett, who has been working with Eagles coaches for the past 14 months. In other words, if they saw any signs that Jarrett was getting it, they would have kept him. Instead, he is gone.
Curtis Marsh (3rd round, 90th overall): He’s largely an unknown, but the potential appears to be there with Marsh. When healthy, he’ll be the team’s primary backup at left and right cornerback. Marsh had a strong preseason, and if either Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or Nnamdi Asomugha isn’t back with the team in 2013, he’ll get a chance to start. If both guys are back, Marsh will continue to get a chance to be the first backup.
Casey Matthews (4th round, 116th overall): Given that the Eagles didn’t feel like Watkins or Jarrett were ready to start last season, I’m not sure why they decided Matthews would be just fine as the team’s middle linebacker. We all know how that experiment turned out. On the flip side, Matthews kept working, and by the end of the season, he was flashing his potential in sub packages. He’s battled injuries this summer and was only used on special teams in Week 1, but Matthews could see a more prominent role at some point in 2012.
Alex Henery (4th round, 120th overall): Not sure exactly what to make of Henery at this point. Let’s just see how this season shakes out.
Dion Lewis (5th round, 149th overall): Didn’t get much of a chance to play as a rookie. And now when he gets healthy, he’ll have to hold off Bryce Brown as LeSean McCoy’s backup. Chris Polk is on the roster too. Lewis had a good summer and looked like he could be a playmaker in the screen game. If the coaches are serious about getting McCoy some rest this season, Lewis will get a shot to prove himself.
Julian Vandervelde (5th round, 161st overall): He had a poor preseason, was let go and landed on the Bucs’ practice squad. The Eagles are thin at guard/center, and it says something that they went with perennial practice-squad guy Dallas Reynolds over Vandervelde. Reynolds’ comfort level at center clearly gave him the edge to be Jason Kelce’s backup.
Jason Kelce (6th round, 191st overall): Right now, you’d have to say he’s the best of this class. Kelce started from Week 1 last year and showed steady improvement as a rookie. He’s been given more responsibility in terms of pre-snap calls this season and was excellent as a run blocker against the Browns. He still needs to improve, but has flashed potential. The expectation is for Kelce to be the team’s center for years to come.
Brian Rolle (6th round, 193rd overall): He played WILL as a rookie, and while Rolle made mistakes and missed tackles, he also looked like a playmaker. But a couple weeks ago, he lost the starting job to Akeem Jordan and was a special-teams player in Week 1. Chances are the Eagles will shuffle up the linebacker situation at some point in the coming weeks and months, so look for Rolle to get another chance for playing time.
Greg Lloyd (7th round, 237th overall): He was dealt to the Colts during training camp.
Stanley Havili (7th round, 240th overall): He’s probably the sleeper of the group. Havili spent 2011 on the practice squad, but had a strong summer and won the fullback job. The question with Havili has been whether he can hold up as a lead blocker, but he looked pretty good in that aspect Sunday. His ceiling is definitely higher now than it was a month ago.
WHAT YOU MISSED
As I mentioned above, the Eagles let Jarrett go and signed wide receiver Mardy Gilyard. T-Mac’s got details.
The Ravens took care of the Bengals Monday night. Some interesting notes on their performance from Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun:
The Ravens went no-huddle on 21 of 58 snaps, an indicator it’s no passing fancy. They were in the shotgun 15 times. Tight end Dennis Pitta, who had a career-high 73 receiving yards, was on the field for 44 plays while Ed Dickson played 39 snaps. Often in double-tight-end formations and three-wide-receiver looks. Left guard Ramon Harewood and rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele never left the field and held up solidly in starting debuts.
The no-huddle note is of particular interest, considering how the Eagles like to rotate defensive linemen in and out of the game.
Good job by DeSean Jackson spending 9/11 at Fort Dix and donating $50,000 to the Wounded Warrior Project. CSNPhilly.com has video detailing Jackson’s off day.
Tommy Lawlor’s detailed game review over on IgglesBlitz.com is always worth a read. On Michael Vick:
My biggest issue with him is that he made poor decisions and/or played slow. Guys would come open, Vick would see them, and then he’d throw the ball. By that time, defenders would either have the player covered or would be on the way. If this was 2009, I’d understand. Vick started 25 games over the last 2 years. He is a veteran QB. You must anticipate plays and throw the ball when the player is about to be open or is just coming open. You cannot wait until he is wide open and then throw. That’s too late.
And finally, Tim wrote yesterday about Vick being mic’d up Sunday. The footage he mentioned is now on YouTube so I embedded it below.
The Eagles are back at Novacare to get ready for Sunday’s home opener against the Ravens. Andy Reid meets with the media, and we’ll also hear from players. By the way, the Eagles are 3-point favorites in this matchup. The game will be broadcast on CBS at 1 p.m. Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf have the call.
Here’s a player-by-player review of how the Eagles linebackers performed Sunday against the Browns, after having re-watched the game. Click here to find all of the game reviews.
DeMeco Ryans – Not sure his debut could have gone any better. According to stats kept by the team, Ryans led the Eagles with nine tackles (eight solo). Perhaps more impressive is that three of those were for loss. In other words, he wasn’t just solid. He was a play-maker. Ryans made a great tackle on tight end Benjamin Watson, stopping him 1 yard short of a first down on 3rd-and-4 in the first. He got behind the line of scrimmage and dropped Trent Richardson for a loss on 3rd-and-1 in the second. He again dropped Richardson for a loss on the next possession. In the third, Ryans stopped Richardson after a 1-yard gain. He was not fooled by play-action and got in Brandon Weeden’s face as the QB threw incomplete in the third. Ryans helped Cullen Jenkins drop Richardson for a 3-yard loss in the red zone in the third. And he stuffed Richardson for a 1-yard loss in the fourth. In coverage, Ryans got blocked on a screen to Brandon Jackson that went for 14 yards in the fourth. He had a tough matchup against Josh Gordon in the slot in the third and got beat for a 12-yard completion. But overall, he was outstanding. Andy Reid said he wasn’t sure if Ryans would be ready to stay on the field in the opener after being primarily a two-down player last season with Texans, but that wasn’t an issue. He played 60 of 62 snaps and was on the field in base, nickel and dime packages. Ryans went after the quarterback twice.
Mychal Kendricks – Strong debut for the rookie. He finished with five tackles (four solo) and one for loss. Kendricks got off a block and tackled Richardson after a 2-yard gain in the first. He made a nice tackle on Mohamed Massaquoi in coverage short of the first down in the second. He got away from an offensive lineman and brought Richardson down after a 5-yard gain on a screen in the third. In coverage, Kendricks got lucky on one play in the red zone. The tight end beat him to the corner, but Weeden missed the throw, or it would have been a touchdown. The refs called holding on the play, but didn’t announce a number. It could have been on Kendricks. Later on that possession, he broke up a pass for Watson, but it popped up in the air and the tight end came down with it. Kendricks blitzed once in the first. He played 55 of 62 snaps, only coming out in dime (one LB, six DBs).
Akeem Jordan – The Eagles were only in base with three linebackers on 20 plays, or 32 percent of the time. Jordan started at WILL and was fine. He was in on a tackle on Richardson for no gain in the second. And he assisted Ryans in bringing down Richardson after a gain of 1 in the third. He was a beast on special teams with four tackles in coverage.
Brian Rolle – He played a couple snaps in dime in the first half. The guess here is that Reid didn’t want to wear Ryans out early on and thought giving him a breather in the first half was a good idea. As I mentioned above, Ryans replaced Rolle in dime later on. Rolle had a special-teams tackle and was the first man down in coverage three times.
Jamar Chaney - The gamebook credited him with one snap, but I missed it.
Casey Matthews - Played exclusively on special teams.
Throughout the course of the week, we’ll be providing position-by-position previews of the entire Eagles roster. Click here to get to all of them. Today, we cover the linebackers.
The roster: DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Akeem Jordan, Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews, Brian Rolle.
No real surprises on the roster. Keenan Clayton, a fourth-round pick in 2010, never met expectations and was let go. The starters are Ryans in the middle, Kendricks at SAM and Jordan at WILL.
Player in the spotlight: DeMeco Ryans
The Eagles swapped third-round picks and gave up an additional fourth rounder to acquire Ryans from the Texans back in March, and the move made a lot of sense. After last year’s struggles, go out and get a veteran middle linebacker who will command respect from his peers, help reduce confusion and play behind the wide-nine.
The only problem? We’re two days from the opener, and it’s unclear whether Ryans is a three-down player. He stayed on the field in nickel during OTAs, mini-camps, training camp and the preseason. But on Thursday, players said Chaney was joining Kendricks in certain nickel packages. As we’ve mentioned several times, the Eagles were in nickel about 47 percent of the time last season. If Ryans is on the sidelines for those snaps, he won’t be able to provide the leadership and direction we’ve heard about all summer.
Ryans was a step behind in the first preseason game, but played better against New England. He played limited snaps against Cleveland.
We’ll see how things play out Sunday, but the fact that the Eagles are considering shaking things up so close to the opener raises some questions.
You should also know that…
* Kendricks is the smart bet to be the Eagles’ best linebacker this season. He had an outstanding preseason and looked good at training camp. Kendricks had a very strong combine, but that was just one line on his resume. He was a very productive linebacker at Cal, earning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors last season.
* Rolle had been playing at WILL until a couple weeks ago when Jordan took over. We’ll see if he holds on to that spot. Chaney could get a chance to replace him, Rolle could get back in the mix, or Matthews could be given an opportunity.
* Right now, in the base defense, Chaney is practicing as the second-team SAM, and Matthews is the second-team middle linebacker, behind Ryans. Matthews had been dealing with a high ankle sprain, but has been a full participant in practice this week.
* According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles were good at covering opposing tight ends last year (fourth in the league), but poor against running backs (29th).
* Special teams is always a factor with linebackers. Jordan and Matthews (14 tackles and 11 tackles, respectively) were both good special-teams players last season.