The Philadelphia Eagles have decided to shake things up in their linebacking core. No new starters, but all three linebackers were shuffled around. Jamar Chaney is backing to manning the middle; Moise Fokou is back on the strong side. Casey Matthews will be the weak side linebacker.
This change was clearly needed after the Eagles gave up 292 rushing yards in the first two weeks. This is nothing new for the Eagles. Last season, the defense gave up 555 yards on the ground through the first four games. Akeem Jordan was replaced by Moise Fokou on the strong side, and the Eagles defense held their next four opponents to just 276 rushing yards.
Moise Fokou and Jamar Chaney are back to their 2010 linebacking positions where they started the last two meaningful games in the regular seasons and the playoff game against the Packers. Ernie Sims was the weak side linebacker last season.
Middle linebacker was the main focus of the shakeup at linebacker. Casey Matthews has struggled mightily to make in impact against the run. Michael Turner ran for 114 yards, including some big runs in the fourth quarter that set up two touchdown drives to overcome a 31-21 deficit.
Moise Fokou has never opened the season as the starting strong side linebacker. In his rookie season in 2009, he started the final four games. In 2010, he started the final 11 meaningful games excluding the backup bowl against the Cowboys in Week 17. This season, Fokou was moved to weak side linebacker for the first two games but will now go back to his natural strong side position.
Fokou's intensity and hard nosed style of football make him an ideal fit on the strong side. Despite his 6'1, 236 pound frame, he has been very productive at this spot. He made 11 starts in 2010, where he racked up 44 solo tackles and one sack.
Jamar Chaney's move to strong side linebacker during training camp was a bit puzzling. He made his mark last December in Week 14 when starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley dislocated his elbow and Chaney was inserted into the starting lineup. Chaney finished the game with seven tackles and picked up 23 more in the next two weeks. Chaney also had 10 solo tackles in the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers last January.
Scouts and NFL experts alike were raving about Chaney's ability at middle linebacker. He looked like one of the better middle linebackers in the league after only a couple starts in his rookie season, where he was drafted in the seventh round.
Chaney's ability to cover the entire field with his speed and also get physical against the run make him the ideal fit at middle linebacker.
That leaves Casey Matthews at the weak side spot, which was his projected position coming out of college. He doesn't possess the speed that most outside linebackers do, but he has outstanding coverage skills and a great football mind.
Matthews had eight solo tackles and 11 total tackles in the first two games. He wasn't always awful, but he clearly was out of position in the middle. Now, Matthews is in a position to succeed. He won't be making all the defensive calls and will have more room to operate in now.
The new look linebacking core is exactly what we thought we were going to see back when Casey Matthews was taken in the fourth round of the draft back in April. All three linebackers are in their natural position and should provide Eagles fans with better results against both the run and pass.
The group gets a good first test against their division rival, the New York Giants, on Sunday. No one wants to beat the Eagles more than the Giants and this will be a huge game.