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Acho, Matthews: The Men In The Middle

Posted Nov 6, 2014

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis wants to make the transition to life without DeMeco Ryans at inside linebacker as smooth as possible. The Eagles will not only look to replace Ryans' on-field production - a team-high 65 tackles as well as two turnovers on the season - but his leadership as well. Davis' focus is making up for the on-field absence of Ryans.

The first step in achieving this involves Mychal Kendricks, who had a team-best 11 tackles as well as his second sack of the season in last Sunday's win in Houston. Davis does not want to change Kendricks' role. He wants Kendricks to fly around, make plays and disrupt the opposing offense. Kendricks, who missed four games with a calf injury this season, is healthy having played 59 snaps last week, his second-highest total of the season.

In the base defense, Kendricks is the WILL linebacker and he becomes the MIKE linebacker on the team's subpackages. The MIKE linebacker is responsible for making the calls. That responsibility in the base defense will fall on Emmanuel Acho and Casey Matthews. What helps is that Matthews and Acho saw significant snaps on defense when Kendricks was sidelined.

"It helped a lot, getting that game experience," Matthews said. "Obviously working with the D-line and the defensive backs, getting a feel for how they play and where they're going to line up. Certain players play certain coverages differently and techniques differently, so it was good to get experience with them. You could tell, as the games went on, we got more comfortable with them, so hopefully we can go in there and not miss a beat."

The difference moving forward will be that Matthews and Acho will have to make the calls. Before that was on Ryans' shoulders which allowed Matthews and Acho to focus on playing. Now, the two bear the bulk of the communication responsibilities.

"We have to make the calls, just so Mychal's responsibility and Mychal's role doesn't have to change too much," Acho said. "He's already playing at a very high level. He came back last game and did very well. We want to make sure Mychal can stay within his role, so Casey and I will make the calls, make the adjustments, align the front, get everybody set and it fits to our strengths."

The first test comes Monday night as the Eagles host a Carolina Panthers team rooted in a strong ground game with back Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams as well as a dual-threat quarterback in Cam Newton.

"The good thing about going against (the Eagles’) offense is that we see the zone read quite a bit, so we should be alright with that," Acho said. "It just comes down to everyone doing their assignment. That's the big thing about these kinds of offenses. They just wait for one guy to not do the job and they just hit a big seam. That's how these offenses work. We just need everyone on the same page, working together to shut down the run."

The silver lining to Kendricks' early-season injury was the opportunity for the players and coaches to mix and match opposite of Ryans. Now, it will be a challenge to do it again without Ryans, but it's one that the players are looking forward to.

"It's tough losing a leader like DeMeco. He was the voice of our defense, but we need guys to step up," Matthews said. "With DeMeco out there, we didn't really have to talk too much, but with him out we're going to have to step into a bigger role from a communication standpoint, getting people lined up. It's a challenge, and we're looking forward to it."

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