End of Season Review and Analysis…Linebackers
- Updated: January 5, 2015
The linebackers collectively were much improved this season even with losing defensive leader and captain DeMeco Ryans to a season ending Achilles injury in week 9. The outside linebackers combined for 26.5 sacks compared to 16 in 2013. Defensive Coordinator Billy Davis whose best job this season was how he moved the linebackers around to get pressure. Barwin and Cole don’t have the speed and quickness to just come off the edge every play. The below image is an example of how Davis put the linebackers in different positions to get to the quarterback. Within the scheme of a 3-4 defense it primarily relies on its outside LB’s to generate the pass rush. When a defense can pressure any quarterback it will everyone’s job that much easier. The inside linebackers need to thank the defensive line because due to the effective play of the line against the run it kept the opposing offensive lineman off of them. They still need to improve a great deal on their instincts next season but there was improvement from 2013.
Connor Barwin (OLB)
Connor Barwin gave the Eagles what they hoped for when they signed the veteran to a $36 million contract. He posted 14.5 sacks (career high) this season up from just 5.0 the previous year and was voted to his first pro bowl. Barwin, one of the leaders of the defense gives you 110% on every play and doesn’t hurt the team with physical and mental mistakes. With having success against the pass, Barwin didn’t allow his play against the run to drop and was just as dominate as he matched last seasons output of 47 tackles.
In the play below against the Dallas Cowboys, It is 3rd and 1 and Barwin counters his speed rush with a bull rush (image 1). Image 2 shows Barwin athleticism to leap his body inside while swimming over lineman to get a clean shot at Tony Romo. Image 3 shows Barwin recording the sack and forcing Dallas to punt the ball.
Against the run…
Connor Barwin who responsibility against the run is to keep contain and not allow the running back outside of him. In the play below as he did all year does a great job of forcing the running back inside and then sheds the offensive lineman to make the tackle.
With 4 more years remaining on his contract, Barwin probably won’t play it out but he will be back next season in the same role. Barwin has a lot left who is going into his 7th season and should still be productive.
Trent Cole (OLB)
Trent Cole as expected in his 10th season, saw a decline in production. The always reliable Cole missed one game late in the season which was just the 5th of his career. Cole posted 6,5 sacks and 40 tackles down from 8 and 44 the previous year. His double digit sacks are long gone who hasn’t posted those numbers since 2011 (11). Cole’s decline in production is more of a result of the amount of miles on his legs. Cole is no longer an every down player and would serve better in a part time role. Trent Cole who was not as effective getting to the quarterback still did a solid job against the run but had his moments when he gave up contain.
Brandon Graham (OLB)
If there was a 6th man award in the NFL, Brandon Graham would be more than likely to receive the award. The former first round draft pick has been a big disappointment to date but finally put together a solid year. He posted career highs in sacks (5.5) and tackles (35) as a part time player at the outside linebacker position. However, it is important to remember his past production as a full time starter and this season when giving the opportunity when Trent Cole went down he looked like his old self. It is a lot easier when you are a part time player to fly around and make plays as you are working with fresh legs on most downs.
On the play below, with Mychal Kendricks lining up on the outside it allows Graham to crash hard inside and shoot the B gap (Image 1). Image 2 shows Graham beating the offensive lineman inside and runs down DeMarco Murray on the backside of the play for a 2 yard loss.
On the play below, Graham who lined up on the left side is unable to get close to RGIII after 6 seconds which results in a 55 yard completion for the Skins.
Graham is an unrestricted free agent. The Eagles must be careful not to do get tricked by Graham’s production as a part time player and over pay him. Most likely he will test the market and try to get in a situation where he can start and which will come with a salary bump. The Eagles should allow Graham to test the market first and if there is not much interest than sign him in the same role if possible.
DeMeco Ryans (ILB)
Since coming to Philadelphia via trade from the Houston Texans in 2012 Ryans has posted some of his best numbers statistically. However, as I have always pointed out, a lot of his tackles have come down the field NOT at the line of scrimmage. There is no denying that Ryans greatest attribute is his mental ability. He is like having a coach on the field that can direct players and make adjustments to the offense. When he went down in week 9 against the Texans with a season ending Achilles injury, his leadership was greatly missed.
Coming into the season, I was looking to see if Ryans had improved on his instincts and played the run better. After a slow start, he was playing at a high level before the injury.
Beginning of season…
To start the season, Ryans was doing what he did much of last season, making tackles running down the field instead of filling the hole.
Playing at a high level as the season went on….
In the play below (first image), Ryans reads and reacts to the run which puts him a step ahead of the Cardinals offensive lineman who is coming out to block him. The second image, shows Ryan tackling Andre Ellington in the backfield for a loss. The yellow line shows the Cardinals offensive lineman who missed Ryans.
I think the Eagles need a more athletic run stuffer at this position who plays fast and down hill. With Ryans coming off an Achilles injury expect him to be even slower than he was at the linebacker position. Either way it must be a priority to get a someone in that can be a quality backup who can move into the starting role if need be.
Mychal Kendricks (ILB)
Kendricks had to overcome a great deal of adversity this season. Kendricks was hurt early in the year and was forced to miss 5 games with a calf injury. Then once he returned he lost his right hand man and counterpart DeMeco Ryans for the season. This was a huge blow to Kendricks because he was one who greatly benefitted from Ryans leadership. Now Kendricks had to take on a much bigger role than expected as he was the one who had to make calls and make sure the other defenders were in the right place and that hurt him in the beginning. It caused him to have paralysis by analysis and be inconsistent. To show you his ability, with playing 3/4 of the season, Kendricks still was able to post career highs in forced fumbles (3) and sacks (4.0) and added 62 tackles.
Paralysis by Analysis….
In the play below, the Cowboys are running the stretch play with DeMarco Murray. Kendricks reads the play and starts to come downhill. He is playing the cut back as the backside linebacker and should end up at the line of scrimmage (Image 1, red circle).
Image 2 shows Mychal Kendricks hesitating and starting to squat which puts him in position to get blocked or to catch the blow by DeMarco Murray after a 4 yard gain.
Image 3 shows Murray delivering the blow to Kendricks instead of Kendricks blowing him up.
When you play fast, linebackers put themselves in position not to get blocked 5 yards down the field. In the first image below, the Seahawks offensive lineman is pulling around the edge and is responsible for blocking Kendricks. Kendricks who reads the play fast in image 2 he meets the lineman at the line of scrimmage and sidesteps him not allowing him to get blocked. In image 3 Kendricks does a great job of getting back outside after side stepping the lineman inside to stuff Marshawn Lynch at the line of scrimmage
This adversity that Kendricks faced will benefit him in the future and make him a more complete player as he will have a better understanding of not only his responsibility but the players around him. I fully expect Kendricks to have his best year and make the pro bowl as he is going into his final year of his contract.