Eagles Wake-Up Call: The Impact Of DeMeco’s Absence

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Today’s question comes from reader Eric, via e-mail:

My suggestion for morning post topic: the impact of DeMeco Ryans’ injury on the collapse of the secondary.

Many people say Emmanuel Acho and Casey Matthews were serviceable backups. But is it possible that, while they performed specific tasks at an acceptable level, them not being Ryans had a trickle-down impact on our CB and safety play? E.g. quality of play calls identification and assignments (accuracy, speed of identifying and communicating, etc.)? Or them being a little slower to the quarterback resulting in less pressure? Or them being less surer tackles necessitating the safeties scheming/hedging toward the run game?

Please do not take the above as any indication that I think Nate Allen and Bradley Fletcher aren’t godawful. It’s just – they dramatically fell off a cliff the end of the year, and I’m looking for reasons beyond “general suckiness.”

I like the outside-the-box thinking, Eric. So let’s start with the numbers.

Ryans went down during the Texans game on Nov. 2. At that time, the Eagles ranked eighth overall on defense, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA. They were fifth vs. the run and 14th against the pass.

At the end of the season, the Eagles’ defense ranked 10th overall – sixth against the run and 20th against the pass.

So you are correct in that there was a pretty significant dropoff in the passing defense after Ryans went down. But in my opinion, there’s nothing tangible that suggests one thing led to the other.

Ryans was playing well at the time of his injury. But his strength is as a run defender. Ryans actually looked more comfortable in coverage in his second year in the scheme, but he was a non-factor as a blitzer. In eight games, Ryans had no sacks and no hurries in 59 attempts, per Pro Football Focus.

As a point of comparison, Matthews had 1.5 sacks and three hurries in 41 opportunities.

The problem once Ryans went down was that the coaches had very little confidence in Matthews and Acho when it came to pass coverage. That’s why we saw the Eagles play a lot of dime with Nolan Carroll II coming on the field as a pseudo-linebacker alongside Mychal Kendricks.

So Ryans’ absence did affect Billy Davis’ personnel groupings, but I don’t think that was a big factor in the pass defense. The communication back there seemed to be much better with Malcolm Jenkins. It was just guys getting beat one-on-one and playing to their natural talent levels.

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We’ll go through the questions once a month and randomly select a reader for a free Birds 24/7 t-shirt.


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My guess is that Cleveland keeps Manziel and tries to see if the new humbler, more focused version can actually play.

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So amid all this talk about restoring trust and respect and rebuilding the front office’s ability to function in a healthy fashion and how that will lead to a far better product on the football field is the long shadow of Howie.

And it leads to very serious questions about how this is all going to work with Roseman remaining in a very powerful front office role with the vague title of executive vice president of football operations, with an astronomical $1.7 million annual salary and — most importantly — with Lurie remaining as loyal to him as ever.

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