A Closer Look at DeMeco Ryans

A Closer Look at DeMeco Ryans

By now you've heard that last night, the Eagles and Texans agreed to a
deal that will see linebacker DeMeco Ryans in Midnight Green so long as
he passes a physical. However, because Ryans is under contract and
consequently wasn't among the top names being covered in "What Will the
Eagles Do at Linebacker" stories for the past month, and he's played in
the AFC South for his entire career, many Philadelphians won't know much
about him. 

So who is DeMeco Ryans, why was he suddenly available, and where does he fit into the Eagles defense?

A second-round draft pick out of Alabama, Ryans became the middle linebacker for the Houston Texans as a rookie in 2006. He earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, and was voted to a pair of Pro Bowls over the first four years of his NFL career. Then, in 2010, Ryans ruptured his Achilles tendon. He missed the final 10 games of the season, and for the first time ever, serious injury cast doubt on his future.

Once the lockout ended, Ryans rejoined the team in 2011, but the Texans defense was not the way he left it. Wade Phillips had been appointed defensive coordinator, and along with Stay Puft came his signature 3-4 scheme. Despite starting 16 games for the fifth time in six seasons, DeMeco's numbers dipped dramatically in 2011. He registered roughly half the number of tackles he averaged in years past, and, statistically speaking, appeared to be a non-factor overall.

Based on limited information, one might conclude Ryans wasn't a fit in Phillips's version of the 3-4. At worst, the assumption will be Ryans never fully recovered from injury.

Sure, DeMeco Ryans started all 16 games in 2011. What that doesn't tell you is he only participated in 58% of Houston's defensive snaps last season.

According to Pro Football Focus, Ryans was a three-down linebacker prior to 2011, appearing in 99% of the club's defensive plays in '08 and '09. He was solid, both while defending the run, and in coverage. He never came off the field.

There is some concern that guy is not the player who the Eagles acquired in their trade with the Texans. To be fair, that might be true. Ryans may never be quite the player he was when he entered the league six years ago. Time takes its toll in the NFL, and an Achilles injury is of particular concern, even in this day and age. Just ask Ryan Howard.

The indication from John McClain -- he of the Houston Chronicle, not the Nakatomi Plaza -- is Ryans was utilized as a "one-down inside player" in Phillips's 3-4. That seems to mesh with PFF's snap count, though it doesn't exactly answer, 'why was his playing time reduced so drastically?'

McClain, and others, maintain Ryans's skillset was "wasted" as a weakside interior linebacker in the new Texans defense. Only one interior linebacker is used in certain passing sets, and Ryans gave way to Brian Cushing in the dime. Cushing, meanwhile, earned a second-team All-Pro nod for his strong play last season.

Long story short, there wasn't necessarily a quality issue there. Houston's motivation to part with Ryans was based on the bottom line. Ryans will earn nearly $6 million in 2012. That's way too much for a part-time player, but becomes a lot easier to swallow when he's your starting middle linebacker.

The Inquirer's Jeff McLane believes the Eagles see Ryans for what he was before the injury, an every-down player. That's great news if true, but there are also reservations that he's lost a step since the Achilles.

It's a risk the Eagles are prepared to take. Their problems at linebacker are well documented, and with Stephen Tulloch re-signed in Detroit, there does not appear to be a better player available in free agency. Curtis Lofton, arguably the best remaining option, doesn't have near the accolades Ryans does, and many believe he's merely a two-down player who will wind up grossly overpaid.

Ryans also comes with less overall risk than the rest of the free agent marketplace. While he is signed through 2015, his salary is not guaranteed. If things don't work out, he's gone, a one-year rental. If he excels, chances are both sides will want to restructure next spring.

When you consider all the Eagles really gave up in the deal was a fourth-round pick, which they've used to uncover such gems as Casey Matthews and Keenan Clayton in recent years, they really didn't lose much of anything at all.

And just for the record, this trade does not preclude the Eagles from drafting another linebacker within the first few rounds this April. The defense still lacks a presence on the strongside in particular, and the diminutive Brian Rolle doesn't have everybody convinced on the opposite end.

Yet for the first time in awhile, there is reason to feel somewhat at ease about their linebacker situation. This doesn't feel like trading for Ernie Sims, an athletic freak with no football IQ; or Takeo Spikes, a journeyman veteran treading water in the NFL; or Will Witherspoon, a desperation, mid-season move, fit be damned.

If DeMeco Ryans is three-quarters the player he was two years ago, he's at least a huge upgrade on the Eagles. At best, he's a Pro-Bowl MIKE in the NFC. I look forward to finding out.

Phillies conclude miserable homestand with new low as Zach Eflin demoted to Triple A

Phillies conclude miserable homestand with new low as Zach Eflin demoted to Triple A

BOX SCORE

For a moment Sunday afternoon, Citizens Bank Park sprung to life as the Phillies strung together five hits in a four-run second inning.

But four home runs off starter Zach Eflin sent the Phillies to another defeat and Eflin to Lehigh Valley.

Eflin was optioned to Triple A following the Phillies' 8-4 loss to the Reds, in which he allowed seven runs on nine hits in just five innings of work (see Instant Replay)

"His first two-three outings were really good," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He was keeping the ball down, but his last three, including today, he's elevating his sinker and once you elevate that sinker, it doesn't have the effect that you'd like to have."

The Phillies have now lost nine consecutive series for the first time since 1997. The loss was their 22nd in 28 games and handed the Reds their first series win at CBP since August 2006.  

Eflin got off to a rocky start Sunday with three first-inning singles, allowing one run. He escaped further damage but then proceeded to give up a home run in each of his final four innings. The final home run — Adam Duvall's second on the day — came on an 0-2 pitch and extended Cincinnati's lead to 7-4. All of the Reds' hits off Eflin came on fastballs as their potent lineup feasted on his pitches high in the zone.

Two weeks ago, Eflin's ERA stood at 2.87 as he kept opponents in the ballpark with his hard sinker. However, starting with a May 17 outing in Texas, Eflin has allowed 22 runs in his last 15 innings. He's given up seven homers in his last two starts and at least nine hits in five consecutive outings as his ERA ballooned to 6.13. With Sunday's results, the Phillies were left little choice but to option the 23-year-old righty while he deals with a rough patch.

"There are some things I need to work on," Eflin said. "I need to do a better job of pitching backward, especially in fastball counts. There's a lot of things I need to work on, but at the end of the day, I'm not worried about it. I'm going to go down there, work on everything I need to work on and get back as soon as possible."

The Phillies will reinstate Howie Kendrick (oblique) off the 10-day disabled list Monday, Mackanin said, in a corresponding move after the veteran IF/OF completed a four-game rehab stint (see story)

Kendrick could help boost an offense that is scuffling. After a four-run second inning highlighted by Andrew Knapp's 434-foot three-run home run, the Phillies' bats fell silent. They strung together five more hits. However, three double plays and a few untimely strikeouts killed any further rallies.

The Phillies left a potential run stranded on third base in the fifth inning as Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr struck out against starter Scott Feldman, who waded into and out of trouble in five innings of work. Herrera went 0 for 4 with that strikeout, continuing to slump. His average has fallen to .217.

With Kendrick returning, Mackanin indicated he would give Herrera some days off soon to help him relax amid mounting pressure to hit.

"He's scuffling. A couple guys scuffling," Mackanin said. "I'll probably move him down in the lineup. I can't keep him in the two-hole. But he has to fight his way out. 

"We'll see when Kendrick gets here. We're going to have another outfielder. I'm going to mix and match and try to get everybody in there. Kendrick, I'm going to bring along slowly because I want to make sure he's healthy.

"In other words, I don't have a set outfield. I'm going to mix those guys up."

On the infield, Maikel Franco continued his slide Sunday, going 1 for 4 with a strikeout and a double play. The slugger is hitting .213 this month, just as he did in April, but his power is down with just two home runs. Kendrick, who only played left field in April, played third base while at Triple A, so he could potentially spell Franco as well.

"He hit a ball hard today but he's not giving us consistent at-bats," Mackanin said. "He's searching both physically and mentally. It's not easy for him. I can tell he's down on himself. He's not happy about what's going on."

The Phillies came into this week struggling and were unable to rebound against the Rockies and Reds, losing five of seven. They averaged just 2.42 runs during the homestand.

However, the bigger problem comes in the rotation. The team gave up 5.71 runs per game in their last seven despite a 23 2/3 inning scoreless streak from the bullpen. The rotation's struggles continue to plague the team as they carry the worst record in baseball into Miami for a three-game set starting Monday.

"I certainly expected more out of our starters," Mackanin said. "We've had some issues with [Aaron] Nola's arm and Clay Buchholz going down. Although [Jerad] Eickhoff is going to end up having a good year in my opinion. He's been a little bit hot and cold.

"And Eflin, I counted on him to have a big year this year. I think if he gets himself straightened out down in Triple A, I think he's going to come back strong. But certainly, I can't sit here and say I'm happy with [his performance]."

Instant Replay: Reds 8, Phillies 4

Instant Replay: Reds 8, Phillies 4

BOX SCORE

Zach Eflin allowed a career-high four home runs and the Phillies were outslugged by the Cincinnati Reds in an 8-4 defeat Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phils have now lost nine consecutive series for the first time since 1997. The loss was their 22nd in 28 games. The Reds, who took two of three, picked up their first series win at CBP since August 2006.

Eflin was roughed up for the third consecutive start. The Reds tagged him for seven runs in just five innings. After three hits led to a run in the first inning, he gave up home runs in each of his last four frames. Following the game, Eflin was optioned to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Jeanmar Gomez allowed a solo home run in relief. 

Andrew Knapp gave the Phillies an early lead with a three-run homer during a four-run second inning. However, three double plays stifled the Phillies' offense, which was held scoreless after the second inning. 

Scott Feldman improved to 4-4 with the win for the Reds. The Phils dropped to 17-31 while the Reds improved to 24-25. 

Starting pitching report
Eflin stumbled through five innings, allowing nine hits. He had held opponents to just four homers in first six starts but has now has let up seven in his last two appearances. Over his past three starts, Eflin's been tagged for 22 runs in 15 innings. He's given up at least nine hits in all five May starts. 

A poor sign for Eflin: Only two of his outs came on the ground. The Reds were all over his fastball and scored in each of his five innings. His ERA has gone from 2.81 to 6.13 since May 17.

Feldman labored through a 32-pitch second inning in which he gave up four runs. He settled down afterward with a pair of double plays to get through five innings. The veteran righty struck out the last two batters he faced with a man on third and one out.

Bullpen report
Luis Garcia threw two shutout innings, striking out one. Jeanmar Gomez gave up rookie Patrick Kivlehan's second home run of the day in the ninth inning, snapping the Phillies' bullpen's scoreless streak at 23 2/3 innings. Gomez allowed three hits and the one run in two innings.

Blake Wood, Wandy Peralta, Drew Storen and Raisel Iglesias each threw shutout innings in relief of Feldman.

At the plate
Manager Pete Mackanin wanted the Phillies to string together 4-5 hits and they did so in the second inning. Tommy Joseph and Michael Saunders led off with back-to-back singles before Knapp drove them in with his 434-foot blast. Knapp laid off two high fastballs after falling behind 0-2 and drilled a curveball into the Phillies' bullpen.

Freddy Galvis followed with a double. Even Eflin aided the cause with his first career RBI on a run-scoring single. 

The top two in the order — Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera — went 0 for 8. Everyone else in the lineup had at least one hit. Saunders and Aaron Altherr each had two hits while Ty Kelly had a pinch-hit double.

Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and Kivlehan combined for five home runs with Duvall and Kivlehan notching multi-hit games. Jose Peraza and Zack Cozart extended their hitting streaks to 13 and 11 games, respectively, in the first inning.

Up next
The Phillies head on the road and begin a three-game set with the Miami Marlins, whom they beat twice in April at Citizens Bank Park.

Monday, 7:10 p.m. — Jeremy Hellickson (5-2, 4.28) vs. Edinson Volquez (0-7, 4.82)

Tuesday, 7:10 p.m.— Vince Velasquez (2-4, 5.55) vs. Justin Nicolino (0-1, 5.40)

Wednesday, 1:10 p.m. — Aaron Nola (2-2, 4.34) vs. Dan Straily (3.83)