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Lunch Break: Eagles D taking charge
DeMeco Ryans is the first Eagles linebacker with two sacks and an interception through the first seven games since Jeremiah Trotter in 2001. (USA Today Images)
We haven’t done real well with linebackers around these parts.
No, the team that once brought you Jeremiah Trotter, Seth Joyner, William Thomas and Carlos Emmons, has recently been a breeding ground for draft failures, free-agent busts and veteran disappointments.
No fewer than 27 different linebackers started at least one game under Andy Reid, and the names now just make you shake your head in disgust.
Brian Rolle. Matt McCoy. Joe Mays. Mark Simoneau. Keith Adams. Levon Kirkland. Ernie Sims. Keenan Clayton.
Eagles linebackers have been so bad for so long that now it’s hard to even remember the last time one gave the Eagles consistent production on a weekly basis.
Like DeMeco Ryans is doing right now.
Seven games into the 2013 season, Ryans is doing his best to put an end to the Eagles’ linebacker jinx.
“DeMeco’s been outstanding,” Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. “He’s the quarterback of our defense, lines them up, keeps them steady when things go bad, and he’s making plays. I’m happy for DeMeco. He’s having a good season. It’s always good to have leadership like that.”
Ryans, in his second year with the Eagles, is enjoying a terrific season playing middle linebacker in Davis’ 3-4 scheme.
Now in his eighth NFL season, Ryans has been one of the keys to the Eagles’ outstanding run defense, he’s been an effective blitzer and he’s been capable when asked to drop back and cover.
Believe it or not, Ryans is the Eagles’ first linebacker with at least two sacks and an interception seven games into a season since Trotter in 2001.
Before that, you have to go back to Joyner in 1992. Two decades ago.
Maybe that says more about Eagles linebackers than it says about Ryans.
But on an improving defense -- the Eagles have allowed the eighth-fewest points in the NFL over their last three games -- Ryans has clearly been one of the most important components.
On Sunday, in the Eagles’ 17-3 loss to the Cowboys, Ryans had what general manager Howie Roseman called on his 94 WIP radio show “his best game as an Eagle.”
Ryans recorded his second sack and first interception of the season as the Eagles held the Cowboys 14 points below their season average of 31 per game.
“Feeling good, feeling comfortable with what we’re doing,” Ryans said. “But it’s our entire defense. It’s not just me. Everybody’s doing better and I feel like I fall into that category with everybody else.
“The D-line is playing better, the linebackers, the secondary with their coverage, everybody’s doing well.”
The sacks and interceptions are nice, but Ryans’ primary job is stopping the run, and his 46 solo tackles through seven games are fifth-most in the NFL among linebackers.
The Eagles are 3-4 going into their Sunday afternoon game at the Linc against the Giants, but their defense has held three straight opponents to 21 or fewer points, hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all year and is one of only two teams that hasn’t allowed a run from scrimmage of 25 yards or longer.
“It showed more with the big stats and interceptions and sacks, but DeMeco's been playing like that every week,” Davis said. “He's actually our calming force out there, and he sets the defense up. He makes decisions, he checks us in and out of defenses. He has a lot of leeway. He's really grown as the quarterback of our defense.”
The best way to measure Ryans' performance is probably just by watching the defense. When they're not allowing big plays, when they're getting pressure and takeaways, when they're limiting opposing running backs, when they're not allowing touchdowns, most likely the middle linebacker is playing at a high level.
"It's DeMeco's job to get us into the right blitz or the right coverage and the right front depending on how the offense deploy themselves," head coach Chip Kelly said. "He's done a great job. He's a student of the game. He very rarely makes any mistakes from a mental standpoint. He's been fantastic, and he really has been the leader for us on the defensive side of the ball."
Ryans, 29, was a Pro Bowl pick twice in Houston, in 2007 and 2009.
The way he’s played the first half of this season, he’ll be in the conversation again.
“That’s up to others,” Ryans said. “That’s other peoples’ opinion to see if I’m in that category or not. I don’t look at that. I just look at I’m feeling great, I feel like I’m playing solid. I think it’s there.”
Eagles Pro Bowl linebackers in the last 30 years?
Trott. Willie T. Seth.
It’s a short list.
“Still have a lot of ball left,” Ryans said. “A lot of big things, a lot of goals to achieve.”
But don’t expect to ever hear Ryans declare himself a Pro Bowler or an All-Pro.
He’s reluctant to even concede that he’s been playing consistent football these first seven weeks of the season.
That’s just his mentality, he says. He’ll never be happy, he’ll never be satisfied. He won’t let himself.
“Because there’s always more to be done,” he said. “Once you get satisfied, then what’s the point in playing? There’s always something else to shoot for.”