To Casey, or not to Casey, that is the question. Andy Reid and Juan Castillo have to decide very soon whether or not they’re going to enter the season with Casey Matthews as their starting middle linebacker.
The Eagles have improved their secondary and defensive line this offseason by adding the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins. But, what about the middle of their defense?
Once again, the linebacker position is the red-headed step child of the bunch.
They “addressed” the position by not re-signing Stewart Bradley and drafting three rookies (plus signing Rashad Jeanty). I might not be so bothered had one of the rookies been drafted in an earlier round.
Casey Matthews, Greg Lloyd and Brian Rolle were drafted in the fourth, sixth and seventh rounds respectively. Back in May, I did a little research to find out where most of the good linebackers in this league get drafted. You can view that right here.
As you might logically conceive anyway, my extensive scientific research (well, a quick look) proved that the majority of “stud” linebackers are found in the first round of NFL drafts. So, if you want one, you better draft one early.
Unfortunately, Andy Reid has never put an emphasis on the position and has filled it mostly with mid-low round draft picks and journeymen. That’s why the Eagles never start the same three linebackers two seasons in a row and the position is a perpetual weak spot.
But alas, no use crying over spilled milk. The question in front of us now is, can Casey Matthews handle manning the middle this season?
JasonB over at BleedingGreenNation nicely broke down Matthews’ play by the snaps in the game against Pittsburgh. He only focused on the plays in which he was involved. Out of 22 plays, it appears that he made a handful of good ones but was more-so routinely blocked out of the play and a non-factor.
As noted previously, the Eagles also didn’t have their top two run defending defensive tackles so that will impact the play of the middle linebacker.
We can’t “blame” Matthews or view him as a bust or anything of the nature. He could very well turn out to be a great player. The problem is, can he play good enough this season?
The Eagles are, after all, contending for a Super Bowl this year. Are they willing to run with a rookie in the middle who might be a real liability? This is the decision facing the Eagles right now.
They want it to be Matthews but they’ll have to weigh the importance of how his play from that position will impact their overall team goals. Then, they’ll have to estimate how much improvement can they garner from a player they would sign.
I’ve written before that I think Kirk Morrison could be waiting to see if the Eagles come calling. If that is to happen, or if they are going to sign anyone, it should be soon. Morrison is the best MLB available right now and would still likely be the best available after any potential roster cuts.
How much of an upgrade would he be over Matthews? Versus the run, he’d be a major upgrade right now. Versus the pass I’m not so sure. Morrison’s weakness is in coverage.
The downside to signing a player like Morrison would be that he may only be a two-down player who comes out in obvious passing situations. The Eagles have had this situation before with the likes of Jeremiah Trotter and Levon Kirkland. It’s not ideal but it’s doable.
Ultimately, Reid and Castillo have to decide on this matter soon. Time is ticking and the longer they wait to bring in a player who would be starting, the bigger the learning curve to get that player acclimated.
Another option the Eagles could do would be to move Jamar Chaney back to the middle and see if a player like Keenan Clayton is ready to step up on the weak-side. However, I don’t think that would produce much better overall results than the current lineup.
What do you think? Should the Eagles bring in a veteran player or just run with Matthews in the middle?