The Philadelphia Eagles took a gamble by drafting Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews in the fourth round, a pick that some claimed was a reach. I think it would be fair to say that the Eagles drafted Matthews not because of his play at Oregon, which was impressive, but more because of the family he is a part of. As most know, Casey is the younger brother of Clay Matthews, the Green Bay Packers Pro-Bowl outside linebacker.
There was immediate speculation from the moment that Matthews declared for the draft that he was, too soft, not physical enough, not a strong tackler, lacked physical ability to start in the NFL, and the list went on. However, the Eagles did know that when they drafted Matthews he was not the same physical and downhill linebacker that his incredibly successful Packer brethren is. Matthews has always relied on his knowledge of the game, and his ability to read the offense, unlike his brother who is very psychical.
Philadelphia’s assumed goal was that for what he lacked in physical ability, he could make up for in football smarts. Essentially the same play style that made him successful in college, and the Eagles were hoping it would translate into the NFL. What most didn’t expect was that Matthews would come onto the team as a starter. Following the Eagles bold decision not to resign any of their free agents, long-time starter middle linebacker Stewart Bradley was released, leaving the spot open.
To begin with — I think that anytime a fourth-round pick is asked to start, it is pushing the limit. People had a mind set that because Matthews has the same last name as his brother, he would be an instant star in the NFL. That’s clearly not the case. What is even more obvious is that Matthews is not, and never was, ready to start for the Eagles. Philadelphia’s week one game against the St. Louis Rams proved that, as Matthews was essentially non-existent.
Over the course of the entire game, Matthews only got to the ball carrier four times. But even more relevant was the amount of rushing yards the Eagles defense gave up, which was totally astounding. On the Rams first offensive play, Steven Jackson took the ball and ran straight through a wide-open hole in the defense, and bolted into the endzone with no contact whatsoever. The hole was caused by Matthews not lining up properly and totally missing his assignment.
However, one instance was not the only problem. Over the course of the entire game, the Rams managed to rack-up a nauseating 154 yards, even after Jackson went out of the game after the first offensive series. That means that the incredibly inconsistent Cadillac Williams was able to torch the Eagles defense, and Matthews specifically, for 91 yards on 19 attempts. These are numbers that prove the Eagles linebackers were struggling to make contact, and get the ball carrier to the ground.
I do wish that Matthews could have filled in as the starter and been totally rock solid. I even wish that he managed to play better than his brother, and totally changed the face of the Eagles defense. But that is not the case. Matthews is still too young to be starting on an NFL team that has Super Bowl aspirations this season, and the trio of elite corners and monster defensive line can only carry the team so far.
It will be decision time for Andy Reid and Philadelphia next week as the team takes on the Atlanta Falcons. Does Reid really want to risk starting Matthews and having Michael Turner and the Falcons offense run all over them for four quarters? Last game if Jackson of the Rams would not have been injured, it could have been an entirely different game. Do the Eagles want to risk starting Matthews, considering his poor performance, against one of the best running backs in the NFL?
I personally would say no, and slide Jamar Chaney back over to starting middle. But Reid has a history of sticking by his rookies, and it is quite possible that Matthews will keep the starting job for next week. Regardless, it was made clear that the Eagles drafted Matthews, and had the idea of his starting from the beginning, even though reports were claiming it was not the case. Despite his poor performance, without Bradley on the team, and Philadelphia’s linebackers already thin — They may not have an option but to start him, as he is the best bet, even if he is not a consistent one.