When I think about the early season struggles for the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles on defense, I don’t think about the poor safety play, the struggles at the newly adapted wide nine, or the difficulties for the trio of Pro Bowl cornerbacks.
I think about the poor play by the linebackers, specifically rookie middle linebacker Casey Matthews.
Matthews, the younger brother of All-Pro Packers’ linebacker Clay Matthews, was selected by the Eagles in the fourth round. To this day, I still insist the only reason he was drafted was because of his last name.
In training camp, the Eagles shocked the world by immediately plugging Matthews into the starting middle linebacker spot. He struggled throughout training camp but the Eagles kept him as the starter for the preseason games. He struggled in preseason games but the Eagles kept him as the starter for the beginning of the NFL season.
The first two games of the season were brutal. It was as if the Eagles had 10 men on the field on defense. The very first play of the season was a 47-yard touchdown run by Rams’ running back Steven Jackson.
Matthews was demoted to the weakside linebacker before the season’s third game, but after another loss and this disgraceful play in which he was burned for a long touchdown by 260-pound running back Brandon Jacobs, Matthews was finally benched.
He came off the bench for a few plays in every game but not enough to impact any game, thankfully.
Before the Eagles’ game against Miami in week 14, Matthews was named the starting nickel linebacker. He actually played relatively well in this position for the season’s final four games, and the Eagles won all four.
Matthews is a lock to be on the team next season. He very likely will not be the starter (let’s pray) but there is a good chance that he will start the season as the nickel linebacker.
The Eagles made a major splash this offseason by trading for two-time Pro Bowl linebacker DeMeco Ryans, and Ryans is now the face of the Eagles’ linebackers. Not Casey Matthews.