Short and sweet. That would best describe rookie fourth-round pick Casey Matthews' night as the starting middle linebacker for the Eagles in Thursday night's win over the Ravens.
Matthews has been one of the surprise stories of training camp since he's been the first-team middle linebacker all camp long. It's a tough job because the middle linebacker has to relay the defensive signals from coordinator Juan Castillo and get the front seven aligned correctly. It's one thing for a veteran addition to step in and lead. Maybe you would expect this from a first-round draft pick. But a mid-round selection? It's not something you see every year.
"It doesn't matter if you're a rookie or a vet, they're still going to have to listen to you for the call," Matthews said. "That's what comes with being a MIKE backer. You have to have that leadership and get them going when they're tired."
Matthews played the first two series as the defense gave up just three points on the opening drive. He didn't register a tackle, but coming out of Oregon he was known for his instincts and coverage ability. On the opening drive, Matthews helped clog traffic as the Ravens tried to attempt a screen pass on a second-and-16. On the second drive, Matthews made a nice read on a play fake and showed his sideline-to-sideline ability to help force an incomplete pass. On the next play, a third-and-4, it was Matthews' coverage on tight end Dennis Pitta that allowed Trent Cole to trip up quarterback Joe Flacco for a sack.
After a taste of action, Matthews said that he was "bummed" that he didn't get more snaps but there are still three preseason games to go. Starting weakside linebacker Moise Fokou thought Matthews was "composed" on the field.
"We didn't get too much work, but he handled himself pretty well out there," Fokou said.
The Ravens are known for being a strong rushing team with Ray Rice and the new addition of fullback Vonta Leach. Rice was held to 7 yards on the ground, although he did have a 21-yard reception on a screen pass. The defensive line's ability to penetrate into the backfield helped keep Matthews clean in the run game.
"I don't think I touched the ground once," Matthews said jokingly. "Our D-line does a great job of getting up the field. It's one thing Coach Castillo said, he said don't worry about the run just worry about your get-off first and worry about the run later."
Matthews' first test at middle linebacker is in the books. Another physical, run-oriented AFC North team awaits the Eagles next Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
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