All-22: What To Expect From Kiko Alonso
Back in September — with the preseason complete and the Atlanta game just days away — uncertainty surrounded the Eagles. One thing that was clear, however, was the Eagles’ inside linebacker rotation.
“Obviously, we’re going to feature Mychal [Kendricks] and DeMeco [Ryans] and Kiko [Alonso],” Chip Kelly said.
But that plan was quickly thrown out of the window when both Alonso and Kendricks were hurt against Dallas in Week 2. Alonso hasn’t played a snap since, and Kendricks has missed more games than he’s played.
Although Ryans’ status is unclear for Sunday, the Eagles could have all three when they play the Cowboys on Sunday. With the emergence of Jordan Hicks as one of the best defensive rookies in the NFL, questions abound about how the snaps will be split.
“We’re excited about getting them all back on the field,” Bill Davis said. “It’s a challenge, [but] it’s a great challenge to have. We’ve got different packages that they all kind of fit and we can make those packages fit their talents.”
No matter who you ask, they all say the same thing.
What makes Alonso unique?
“Kiko is a very instinctive football player,” Davis said. “You don’t have to say much. He can go out there, and probably not even give him a call, and he could probably float to the ball and be at the ball, be in coverage, be in a good spot.
“He really gets the game of football; he sees it well; he has got great eyes. So no matter what you put him in, like yesterday was his first day in a while and it was like he didn’t miss a beat. So I think he has got great football instincts and an IQ that helps him make all those plays you saw him make in Buffalo.”
Because Alonso has played less than a game and a half as an Eagle, we also went back to his Buffalo film to see what his teammates and coaches rave about. He was PFWA’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013, and ranked third in the NFL with 159 tackles.
Alonso was also tied for 11th in interceptions, with only two linebackers ahead of him. All four came in his first four games, including his first against the Panthers. Alonso ended Carolina’s first drive of the game by picking off Cam Newton on Buffalo’s 19-yard line.
“It looks like he knew that was coming,” Hicks said. “He anticipated that and knew they’d attack him like that. His eyes are on the quarterback and he anticipates it. That’s a good play, man.”
Alonso (circled above) said he didn’t know the play before it began, but he figured it out not long before the interception. He explained that he first read the fullback running to the flat, before turning to see the slot receiver’s deep route.
He recognized the strong flood concept — in which the offense attacks the defense on all three levels (short, intermediate and deep) in one area of the field — and estimated where the outside receiver would end up based off the other two routes he saw.
“He’s got a knack for the ball,” Hicks said. “He’s constantly around it making plays. He’s a really athletic linebacker who’s always around the ball. He’s really good.”
In Alonso’s next game against the Jets, he intercepted Geno Smith in the third quarter and returned the ball to New York’s 13-yard line. Alonso simply said “right place, right time,” but Hicks took something else away when he was shown the play.
“I tell you what, he definitely trusts his eyes,” Hicks said. “As soon as he sees that, he breaks on the ball. He doesn’t look back and he doesn’t hesitate. That’s a huge play.”
The last time the Eagles played the Cowboys, Alonso left the game with his left knee injury near the end of the second quarter. Up to that point, Alonso played slightly more snaps on defense than Ryans, even though the veteran started.
Despite their playing time being almost identical, when they were on the field was very different. Alonso played all five of Dallas’ third down attempts before he was hurt, and Ryans played just one. They also rarely shared the field, as Kendricks missed just three snaps.
“The other factor [determining playing time] is when you have those four healthy players, they also have some special teams contributions that they have to do,” Davis said. “If, for instance, somebody just covered a kick and is winded from that, we’ll put the other guy in. So, there’s a rotation that’s kind of fluid during the game on their health, stamina, and special teams involvement, which we need a big role from all of them in that also.”
All four inside linebackers played together in the Eagles’ first quarter goal line stand, as Alonso replaced Brandon Graham at outside linebacker. Alonso also played more on likely passing downs, as the Cowboys had an average of more than 12 yards to go (outside of the goal line stand) when he was on the field.
“Kiko is a guy who does a good job in coverage, running with tight ends or backs, whatever it may be,” Ryans said. “And he’s a guy that can play sideline to sideline, make plays all over the field.”
Although the four inside linebackers haven’t played much together during games, Kendricks said they feel comfortable with each other because they often rotate during practice.
He also explained how injuries have affected the rotation. Kendricks mentioned yesterday that he returned a week earlier than he and doctors expected against Carolina because Ryans couldn’t play.
“Instead of taking that extra week, you got to kind of rise to the occasion,” Kendricks said.
Injuries have also impacted how coaches use each guy, as Davis explained today.
“You can’t expand any of the roles of the guys that haven’t been practicing,” Davis said. “First, you got to get them back into the main role, get them oiled up to where they’re very confident and play well at that spot before I can get too exotic with packages.
“If all of them had been playing for the whole season, then I would say, ‘Okay, now we’re going to start going outside of the box.’ But right now, they haven’t had enough practice or game reps to do that.”