LINEBACKER is the weakest position on the Eagles team. At least that’s what we keep being told. Not just by the local and national sports medias, but also off-shoot independent bloggers. Hell, even I’VE laid offerings at the foot of the “OUR LINEBACKERS ARE TRASH!!!” altar.
But what if we’re all wrong? What if everyone is wrong, because we’re seeing it from the wrong angle?
We keep looking at the LB’s in terms of who the players are. After all, it’s not like Head Coach Doug Pederson can get out there and stop RB Adrian Peterson from ripping a 90 yard TD run right up the gut of our Defense. (Then again, it’s not like LB Nate Gerry could either.) So of course a fan’s knee-jerk reaction, is to look at it in terms of “Well, who are our LB’s?“
At least, that’s what an average fan does. You’re reading this, so clearly, YOU aren’t average. Welcome to being better than other people.
What we haven’t been doing, (both average fans and us alike), is recognizing all the changes made to the brain trust that runs our Defense. Specifically, the switch in Defensive Line Coach from Chris Wilson to Matt Burke, and the switch from Secondary Coach from Cory Undlin to Marquand Manuel.
D-Line, Linebackers, Secondary. Those are the three tiers of a defense, and we just changed two-thirds of ours. You can’t change two-thirds of anything, and not have a noticeable difference in outcome, from prior output. Good or bad, it just can’t be done.
Understand, the overall system and most core concepts run by Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz will remain the same. What will change, are some of the ideas, the approaches, and thus the implementation of the overall system. As of now, it seems that everything has been changed to support the LB position.
Over the last few years, the Eagles have been leaning harder and harder into these LB/S tweeners types. Today the roster sports a fistful of them. Nate Gerry, Duke Riley, Jatavis Brown, and rookie Davion Taylor, have all historically sported playing weights of under 230 pounds. Which seems weird in a division of larger opposing RB’s.
The emphasis seems to be on having guys who can fly to the ball-carrier, over guys who can stop a ball-carrier, or take on an offensive lineman’s block. That means keeping offensive linemen off of our LB’s, which indicates a coming change in our D-Line’s technique.
Enter Matt Burke. So now do you see where this is going? Of course you do. You’re smart enough to be here, and I explained it well.
If our Defense is going to have major new wrinkles to it, maybe it’s best to have young, unestablished players running it. Players who have have a similar skill set, so they can be replaced in case of injury. Players who can’t count on their unique ability to earn them playing time. They’re all competing at doing task “X” with technique “Y”. This allows the coach to objectively pick the best player at it.
For example: Remember when we ran a 3-4 under TIK (The Idiot Kelly), and Brandon Graham played OLB? We relied on him for pass rush, right? Being that Graham has played pass rush OLB, should we start him at OLB, instead of coverage LB Gerry? No. Of course not.
Now imagine for a moment that you’re an Eagles coach, and you have to make that choice. While (mind you), factoring in the premium put on pass rushers. NOPE! The Eagles have nixed all of that. They went out and stockpiled a very specific type of player, indicating that they also, have a very specific type of plan.
This is literally a move that the team has been telegraphing for half a year now. That said, until a few days ago, I was out here like a dope, not seeing it. Ugh! Like some average writer. Now having picked up on what Western Union was putting down, I wanted to make sure that I shared that telegraph signal with you.
So in October, when the Eagles LB’s keep surprise everyone this season, we can sip tea and say that we saw it coming even before Training Camp opened. Because we aren’t average fans.