Next up in our Midseason Report series is linebacker, a position that has been a bit of a revolving door for the Eagles over the past few seasons …
1. Have The Eagles Found Stability At Linebacker?
In the three seasons from 2009-2011, 12 different players started at least one game at linebacker for the Eagles. With the arrival of DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks, it does appear that the Eagles have found some comfort at the linebacker position. Through six games, Ryans has played an astounding 99.5 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps, which merits a chuckle when you remember the talk about Ryans being a two-down player prior to Week 1. Kendricks, meanwhile, has played 92.9 percent of the team's defensive snaps, generally leaving the field only in dime situations.
In the 22-year-old Kendricks, the Eagles have a cornerstone at linebacker for the foreseeable future. Ryans, meanwhile, is only 28, and looks the part of a durable workhorse who should figure into the team's long-term plans as well. Anecdotally, Ryans has also emerged as the kind of veteran defensive team leader the Eagles have been missing for a couple seasons.
As for how Kendricks and Ryans have made a difference on the field, look at their coverage stats. In 2011, according to Football Outsiders, the Eagles ranked 29th in the league in covering running backs, a task that often falls on the linebackers. This year, with Kendricks and Ryans in tow, the Eagles rank sixth in the category.
2. Will Akeem Jordan Hold On At WILL?
One of the longest-tenured Eagles, Jordan has been the first-team weakside linebacker in each of the four games he's played this season. With Ryans and Kendricks on the field in nickel situations, Jordan has had to play just over 50 percent of the defensive snaps when he's played, allowing him to continue thriving as a special teams standout. When he does play on defense, Jordan is a reliable, if not spectacular, player.
Jamar Chaney, who started 16 games for the Eagles last season, took charge of the WILL when Jordan missed two games with a hamstring injury, though he was inactive against the Lions when Jordan returned. The wildcard here is Casey Matthews, who has only played briefly on defense thus far this season. But in a three-snap cameo in place of Chaney against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 5, Matthews flashed the talent that made him a starter entering his rookie season.
On the back end of the Eagles' self-scouting during the bye week, it's entirely possible that Matthews could be in line for more playing time. That he was active rather than Chaney in Week 5 suggests he's certainly doing something right.
3. What Will Change With Todd Bowles In Charge?
A secondary specialist, Bowles will be designing the coverages the Eagles employ on defense. It's unclear just how much impact Bowles had on the linebackers through the first six weeks, but there's a possibility that we could see some different looks from the linebackers now with Bowles at the helm. Does that mean a player like Matthews, who is said to be a good coverage linebacker, could see more playing time? Or perhaps the Eagles will be in nickel an even greater percentage of the time?
This is all speculation, but there is sure to be something different about the Eagles defense under Bowles as opposed to Juan Castillo's version. We'll find out more when the Eagles hit the field next Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, but the shape and action of the defense under Bowles is going to be one of the more intriguing subplots of the second half of this Eagles season.
Make sure to follow us on Twitter @EaglesInsider