For rookie Casey Matthews, Sunday's home opener presents an opportunity for him to reinvent himself within the Eagles defense. The All-America linebacker out of Oregon began the season at middle linebacker, but will make his first start at weakside linebacker against the Giants. Matthews believes that the move will allow him to play to his strengths.
The Eagles will unveil a new alignment at the three linebacker positions Sunday against the Giants aimed at solidifying the run defense. On top of Matthews moving outside, Jamar Chaney will slide inside from his strongside position and Moise Fokou will make the switch from the weak side to the strong side.
"Playing outside feels a little more natural," Matthews said. "I played middle linebacker for the Ducks, but in our scheme the inside linebacker played a little more outside."
While at Oregon, Matthews played in a system that ran a hybrid 4-4, in which the linebackers were shifted far over on the strong side, such that the strongside inside linebacker plays in the spot where a 4-3 strongside linebacker would traditionally play.
At times, Oregon would line up in what is called, ironically for Matthews, the 3-4 Eagle. In it, three defensive tackles are bunched up over the three interior offensive linemen - two in the three-technique and one lined up at nose guard directly across from the center. An outside linebacker lines up on the line of scrimmage, directly over the tight end. The two weakside linebackers play outside the offensive tackle and the remaining strongside 'backer lines up in a traditional 4-3 outside role.
Matthews was able to rely upon his top-notch instincts and elite understanding of his role within Oregon's defensive scheme. Now, Matthews is hoping the move to weakside linebacker, a position that more closely resembles the one he played in college, will allow him to better utilize his strengths.
"Chaney played middle linebacker last season and Fokou played some strongside linebacker, too, so I think this puts all of us in a position where we don't have to think too much," said Matthews. "Especially for me moving to weak side, there's a lot less I'm going to have to worry about. That allows me to go out there and just react and be instinctive and try to make plays."
The 6-1 linebacker was certainly able to do just that in his college career. In four years with the Ducks, the All-America selection posted 245 tackles, 30.5 of which were for loss, nine sacks and four interceptions. Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo indicated that this alignment could potentially be just for this week's game against a power-run offense like the Giants. However, Matthews thinks that if the Eagles have success with it, why change?
"If we have success with it, I'm sure we'll stick with it," Matthews said. "I think this will be a really good move for all of us, so I'm preparing as if it's a permanent move."
With 2010's second-ranked NFC rushing offense coming to town Sunday, this new alignment is expected to be tested early and often. Due to a series of injuries, the Giants will likely start second-year receiver Victor Cruz opposite Hakeem Nicks. Cruz has just two career receptions and would be going up against the Eagles' talented trio of Pro Bowl cornerbacks. Should the Giants look to establish the run, with the linebackers now hopefully playing more to their strengths, the coaching staff hopes the Eagles will be able to answer the challenge.
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