DeMeco1

The DeMeco difference in the Philly defense…

The latest theme going for the Eagles' defense is "run silent, run deep"…

Inside LB DeMeco Ryans is fitting the bill for that theme so far in 2013…

He makes the calls and then he makes the plays, and that's why DeMeco Ryans has made a difference.

Last season, the Philadelphia Eagles' middle linebacker was a good player on a bad defense and now he's a very good player on a rapidly improving defense, and he's one of the main reasons for that improvement.

Former Eagles coach Andy Reid traded for Ryans last season, confident Ryans would be a leader for his young defense and hopeful he could regain the form that earned him Pro Bowl berths with the Houston Texans in 2007 and 2009, before he tore an Achilles tendon.

Ryans still wasn't 100 percent last season and the Eagles' defense was in disarray as the team tumbled to a 4-12 season, but now Ryans is healthy again, even though Reid is no longer around to enjoy it.  Kevin Noonan of the Allentown Morning Call got a chance to interview Ryans and here is what he collected:

"I cannot overstate what DeMeco means to this defense and the way he's leading the group,'' Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "And he's done a great job playing the middle linebacker position — between tackle to tackle, he is a force. We couldn't be happier with DeMeco.''

Ryans is pretty happy with himself, too. He never used his injury as an excuse for losing his starting job in Houston or for not playing better last season with the Eagles. Now he doesn't need any excuses.

"It feels great to be back playing at a high level, a Pro Bowl level,'' Ryans said. "That's what I strive for every year, and coming off my injury a couple years ago, it's good to be back in that position.

"This is the level I was playing at," Ryans added. "And it's fun being back at that level, being able to make plays."

You can't always measure a player by his statistics, especially a defensive player who sometimes makes his biggest contribution with his savvy and leadership. But the numbers say the same thing the game tapes do — Ryans is playing as well as any linebacker in the league. He's fourth in the NFL in total tackles with 89 and, even more impressively, he's second in solo tackles with 71, which means he's reading plays quickly and getting there first. He even has two sacks (as many as he had in all of 2012) and two interceptions (one more than he had in all of 2012).

There were people who thought Ryans would never get back to that kind of season, but he wasn't one of them.

"I never had any doubts," Ryans said. "I knew I still had work to put in to get back to where I wanted to be, but I never had a doubt in my mind that I couldn't get back to this level."

And Ryans isn't just playing at a high level, he's doing it for all three downs. When he first joined the Eagles last season nobody knew if he would have to be replaced on passing downs, but now he's on the field for almost every defensive snap.

The praise on the defensive side of the ball heading into this past Sunday’s game was directed toward inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans’ play this season.

After Sunday’s win against Washington, some of that praise was reserved for outside linebacker Connor Barwin.

No matter who outperformed the other against the Redskins, it’s clear that the two former Houston Texans have solidified an Eagles defense that has allowed 21 points or less in seven straight games.

“I think between Connor on the outside and DeMeco on the inside,” Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said Sunday, “I think you have two outstanding leaders.”

Barwin’s play Sunday included six combined tackles, a sack, forced fumble and a pass defended. The 27-year-old has 43 combined tackles this season, just four off of his career best effort and his four sacks are the second highest total of his career.

“I think Barwin's a very underrated football player,” Kelly said. “He's extremely intelligent. He does a great job. He's obviously played in a 3-4 scheme before. He's got a really good understanding. I think he's helped everybody in the transition. I know Billy Davis really leans on him a lot.

“He comes to work every day. One of the hardest working guys out on the practice field in terms of training and his approach to it. He’s been a really big addition to us. I'm real excited we got him.”

The acquisition of Barwin through free-agency came a year after the Eagles traded a fourth-round pick for his Texans teammate. Ryans’ solo tackles are approaching his number from his first year with the Birds despite having played just 11 games and he’s already surpassed last season’s sack mark.

Ryans' on pace to approach or top his statistics from the 2006-2009 seasons, in which he was considered one of the top players at his position in the NFL, before an Achilles tear in 2010 sidelined him and saw his numbers dwindle before Houston shipped him to Philadelphia.

“I wasn’t trying to prove anything,” Ryans said, speaking about getting back to form after his injury. “I know Houston made some moves, they had (linebacker) Brian Cushing playing well and they were going to make Cushing the guy.

“It’s just nice to be back playing at a high level, a Pro-Bowl level. Coming off that injury, it’s just good to be back.”

Since the Texans traded Ryans, Cushing has failed to be the player he was projected to be after his Defensive Rookie of the Year season in 2009. He’s played in just 12 games since last year through Sunday and hasn’t approached his first-year numbers since 2011.

“I know the year (Ryans) was traded he was hurt and I remember that last month when he got healthy he was playing as good as anyone,” Barwin said. “He brings poise and leadership out there and getting us ready for every snap and getting in the right calls.

“He’s a very physical player, clearly the hardest hitter on our defense. And that’s the attitude you need out of your middle linebacker.”

The doubt surrounding Ryans after the Texans traded him away and the skepticism surrounding the Eagles defense entering this season hasn’t fazed Ryans.

He never doubted himself, or the guys on his side of the football.

“It’s not just me out there making plays by myself, it’s the guys in front of me,” Ryans said. “Everybody bought into this system early on and it was just a matter of us continuing to do the same things and getting better at what we were doing.

“I never had any doubt (after the injury), I knew I had work to put in where I wanted to be, but I never had a doubt in my mind that I couldn’t get back to this level.”

 

Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.

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