Matthews' struggles spur Eagles' LB changes

Posted Sept. 22, 2011 @ 1:11 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

The Eagles did not surprise anyone this week by making a switch at linebacker. After the way the Rams and Falcons ran the ball against the Eagles, which led to the Eagles ranking 30th against the run after two games, a change was due.

The team has shifted Jamar Chaney from the strong side to the middle; rookie Casey Matthews goes from the middle to the weak side; and Moise Fokou slides back to the strong side from the weak.

Confused? Don't be — this is where many thought these players would line up originally.

"(Chaney) played inside last year after (former Eagles LB Stewart) Bradley went down, and it worked," an NFC pro personnel director said. "He can hit. The kid (Matthews) seemed overmatched there. I was shocked they were trying him there."

Many were. Matthews lined up as the starting "Mike" linebacker from the first post-lockout practice and was making the defensive calls from the get-go. The defensive coaches, namely defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, thought that Matthews' maturity set him apart. In his first press conference of the season, Castillo said Matthews has "grown up being a leader" and that he had "that 'it' " quality for the position.

What Matthews lacked, we quickly found out, was an ability to disengage from blocks and take on powerful guards and fullbacks in traffic. Teams were running straight-ahead power plays against the Eagles, and Matthews had been getting caught up in the wash.

"He had no chance in there," the director said. "We had a sixth-round grade on him for that very reason."

Chaney, meanwhile, is about 10 pounds heavier than Matthews, and he showed he could play with good force last December when he had a 16-tackle game with a forced fumble in a huge win against the Giants.

"He stuck his nose in there that game and played big," the personnel director said. "I'm surprised they moved him (from the middle)."

The Eagles say that Matthews can play more freely now without the responsibility of making the calls, and the way their defense is set up, he can run less impeded to the ball and make plays.

Fokou started 11 games on the strong side in 2010 and generally did a good job. The changes that were made in July and August surprised people because it changed three spots to make way for Matthews inside. Now the Eagles are backtracking and lining up the way many thought they should have all along.