Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Making sense of the Eagles' LB shuffle

Apparently, the Eagles saw enough from their linebackers in the first two games to switch things up before their Week 3 matchup against the Giants.

Making sense of the Eagles' LB shuffle

Casey Matthews has been moved to the weak-side LB spot. (AP Photo / Jeff Roberson)
Casey Matthews has been moved to the weak-side LB spot. (AP Photo / Jeff Roberson)

Apparently, the Eagles saw enough from their linebackers in the first two games to switch things up before their Week 3 matchup against the Giants.

The Inquirer's Jeff McLane reported this morning that Jamar Chaney had been moved to the middle, Casey Matthews to the WILL and Moise Fokou back to the SAM. Chaney later confirmed the switches to the beat guys at Novacare.

So, the Eagles are almost back to where they were last season, with Chaney and Fokou playing in the same spots they occupied at the end of 2010. And instead of Ernie Sims, it'll be Matthews on the weak side.

Here's my take, player-by-player, on the moves:

More coverage
Birds' Eye View: Chaney to MLB; Matthews to WLB
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Birds' Eye View: Maclin: Giants have 'no business' talking

Matthews - He clearly struggled against the run. Anyone who was watching could see that. For details, just check Man Up against the Rams and against the Falcons. I thought Matthews improved in Week 2, but the Eagles gave up a pair of 80-yard drives in the fourth quarter, and while the run defense was good in the second and third quarters, it cost the Birds down the stretch. The coaches put Matthews in a tough spot. Their first three draft picks - Danny Watkins, Jaiquawn Jarrett and Curtis Marsh - have not been on the field through two games. Yet the Birds expected Matthews to know the defense, call the plays and perform at a high level.

That didn't happen.

Now Matthews gets a shot on the weak side. He's really struggled to get off blocks, particularly when offensive linemen get their hands on him. Playing the WILL should open up some space for Matthews, but he's no lock to hold onto the job. I could see Brian Rolle or even Keenan Clayton taking over if Matthews struggles.

Chaney - As I wrote after the game, I was really surprised by how much Chaney struggled last week against Atlanta. To be honest, I was never sure why they decided to move him from the middle in the first place. Chaney played well there last year, but Juan Castillo said they needed him at the SAM position, which supposedly required more responsibilities in this defense.

In 2010, Chaney started three games in the middle - against the Giants, Vikings and Packers. Overall, he was better than the Eagles' other linebackers, but he had ups and downs. Chaney stood out against the Giants, with 16 tackles - 11 of which came within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. He did it all in that game - stopped the run, performed well in coverage and blitzed. Against Minnesota and Green Bay, he showed flashes, but also struggled at times. At this point, he seems to clearly be their best option in the middle.

Fokou - He moves back to the SAM, where Fokou started 11 games in 2010. Remember, Akeem Jordan started last season at the SAM, but the Eagles went to Fokou after four weeks because they wanted to improve against the run. Fokou provided an upgrade. He's probably the Eagles' most physical linebacker (although maybe Rolle will take over that title), but has had ups and downs since the Eagles spent a seventh-round pick on him in the 2009 draft. He's not going to "wow" anyone, but is fine if the other two linebackers are playing well.

Keep in mind that in 2010, opposing offenses targeted the tight end on 26 percent of their passes against the Eagles, according to Football Outsiders. That was the highest percentage in the league. And that was with Fokou often in coverage. In other words, while this shake-up might help the Eagles' run defense, covering the tight end is probably still going to be an issue. The Eagles' best cover linebacker might be Clayton, but he'd probably be a downgrade against the run.

For my earlier Mike Check post, which took a look at Michael Vick's performance against Atlanta, click here.

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Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for philly.com. His earliest memories as a sports fan include several trips to Veterans Stadium with his Dad. He's not a beat writer or an Insider, but is here to discuss the NFL 365 days a year. E-mail him at skapadia@philly.com or by clicking here

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