The steal that brought DeMeco Ryans to Philadelphia felt too good to be true. Every Eagles fan—every NFL fan—will tell you the glaring hole in Philadelphia’s defense was the linebackers.
In fact, if five more third down runs were stopped in the entirety of last season, the Birds would have made the playoffs. But every team has a similar sob story.
But was bringing in Ryans all the Eagles had to do to erase last season? Ryans accolades are known to NFL fans. We know his All-Pro caliber and tackling ability that earned him top honors in Houston. We also know of his injury, ruptured ACL, that casts a shadow on his talent.
He joins a squad of greenhorn linebackers who each entered the league in 2010 or later: Brian Rolle, Mychal Kendricks, Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews and Kennan Clayton. Thus, his veteran status, Ryans is 28 years old, and proven leadership are what the Birds are pining for, so he seems worth the risk.
Will he be the only run stopper on the field, though? Our defense is geared toward disrupting the quarterback. Our line was nasty last season—50 total sacks, tied for first in the NFL—and looks even more formidable now; our secondary has some big names in it as well, even though it was rather sub par last year.
But I’m afraid the front office looked at our defensive issues, mainly stopping the run, threw in Ryans and thought, “Oh, well, there we go; it’s fixed,” because it looks good on paper. Last season taught us a little something about what looks good on paper.
Ryans will be a monster, and he will force opponents to think twice before handing the ball off. However, even with him as an anchor, the Eagles need to instill stopping the rush in the mindset of the defense. Ryans might be the biggest piece to the puzzle, but he’s not the complete answer.
I’m cool with getting to the quarterback on first down, but too often, the opposing offense picked up the five lost yards and seven more on second down by giving it to their running back. Frank Gore ran circles around us, and San Francisco’s passing offense existed solely in Vernon Davis last year. Ryans will help negate those gains but not by himself.
Some of the responsibility lies on Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson’s shoulders. But our ‘backers need to hit their gaps. Ryans will direct them to and will hit his, but it’s still up to our youthful core to get to the running back and dodge those burly linemen. This entire offseason together will help. But it’s going to take the leadership of Andy Reid, Ryans and Juan Castillo to mold the middle of our defense into some real studs. Moreover, get the idea of run stopping in their heads.
The beauty of the Wide-9 means Ryans will take a lot of the pressure off the younger guys and heap it all on his shoulders. He’s going to have to make those crucial inside, split-second decisions to jump the A gap or the B gap. But the Birds need the other two guys to follow up and read what Ryans is doing, so they’ll be there to finish off or help slow Ray Rice, Michael Turner, Ahmad Bradshaw, Roy Helu and Pierre Thomas in the 2012 season.