Jordan Matthews accepts responsibility when he drops the football. He has the goal of catching every football within his "catch radius," which he considers anything thrown in his area code.
"The coaches and Sam (Bradford, quarterback) trust me to make catches and that's my job," Matthews said after Sunday night's 27-16 loss to Carolina. "I haven't come up with the football enough and it's disappointing. All I can do is to continue working and trusting myself. I'm going to get it."
No player on the team works harder than Matthews and no player makes himself more accountable. Matthews genuinely loves the game, lives it and accepts the challenge of playing the slot, where he is in traffic on every snap, where the life is physically taxing. Coming off a tremendous rookie campaign during which he caught 67 passes for 872 yards and scored 8 touchdowns, Matthews was seen as a player ready to take the next step.
There have been flashes that Matthews is ready to put up monster numbers. He had 10 catches for 102 yards in Atlanta and followed that up with 6 receptions, 80 yards and a score in Week 2 against Dallas. Since then, the numbers have dropped, particularly the yards-per-catch average. Matthews has 23 receptions for 299 in the last nine games, averaging just 9.4 yards per catch. He hasn't scored a touchdown since the Dallas game.
A look at the Carolina game is an indication of the challenges Matthews is facing. The first pass thrown to Matthews came on the second possession, first play. Matthews lined up in the slot on the right side of the formation and ran three yards and turned to face Bradford, who threw a pass slightly behind Matthews. Matthews couldn't hang on to the football and the two defenders waiting for Matthews, safety Colin Jones and linebacker Luke Kuechly, immediately converged. Jones caught the deflected pass for the interception.
A series later, Matthews again lined up in the right slot and ran a shallow cross, made the catch for a four-yard gain and was immediately crushed by linebacker Thomas Davis. Again, two defenders were waiting for Matthews, who had nowhere to go after the reception.
Late in the first half after Malcolm Jenkins made a sensational sidelines interception and the Eagles had the football at the Carolina 39-yard line, Bradford threw to Matthews, who lined up in the slot and ran a shallow cross from the left side of the formation to right side. He made the catch, but Davis was on him like a shadow and tackled him instantly for a three-yard gain and zero yards after the catch.
On the very next snap, Bradford went back to Matthews, who this time was lined up in the slot on the right side and then looped outside the numbers on the right sideline. The pass was incomplete down the field, but Matthews drew a pass-interference penalty that gave the Eagles a first down at the Carolina 23-yard line.
Matthews created separation on the next play from scrimmage, lining up in the left slot and running a crossing route. He was open. Wide open. But the pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage, and an opportunity was lost.
Two plays later, Matthews went in motion, right to left, and ran a route to the back of the end zone. He went up high to catch Bradford's pass, got his right foot down, but couldn't stamp down his left toe inbounds, and the Eagles settled for a field goal.
"That's a catch I gotta make," Matthews said. "Sam trusts me there. He threw it where I could catch it and I couldn't get both feet in. We needed to capitalize there. The defense set us up. The defense played lights out again."
Matthews finished the game with three catches for 14 yards, numbers far off the expectations he has for his game. He takes a pounding inside and that's part of the job description, and you wonder if that's a reason Matthews has not been as consistent catching the football as he wants.
Who knows? It could just be one of those things that every receiver experiences, and that the great ones defeat.
"I've been there, and I know what Jordan is going through," said former Eagles great wide receiver Mike Quick. "I don't remember when I had a stretch of games with drops, but I remember a game, against the 49ers, when I had three drops. It sticks out in my head. It can mess with you. Jordan just needs to get back to the basics. Too many times I think when you get into that situation, your head is in places where it should not be. When the ball is in the air, there is only one objective, and that is to catch the football. If you are able to get yards after the catch, that's a bonus.
"The most important thing is the catch, because if you've made the catch, most of the time, you've moved the chains. A lot of times, though, players want to do more than that and that is when you run into trouble. That's part of the issue with Jordan. He's trying to do too much.
"When you're in the slot, you're in traffic all the time. And when you're in traffic, you're going to take those big hits. It's only natural, then, that you're going to start looking for those big hits. That makes it more difficult to catch the football, and those hits are going to pile up and have a cumulative impact. Over time, they will affect you. Jordan has to catch the catch and learn to get down, or he's going to be subject to those hits and all of that punishment."
The bye week is here and the NovaCare Complex has emptied out save those players who are in the athletic training room healing from injuries. Matthews isn't on an island catching a few rays. He's somewhere working on his game, catching football, trying to improve.
Catching all of those balls off the JUGGS machine is only part of it, though. Confidence is built through success on the field, and that's where Matthews needs to have an outstanding nine games that remain in the regular season.
It's going to come, Matthews is certain. He's talented and driven and honest in his expectations.
"It would benefit me to catch passes and keep working at this," Matthews said when asked if would "get away" and relax during the bye week. "I'm not going to shy away from working hard."