Inside the Eagles: Linebackers come through for Eagles

Posted: September 17, 2012

Mychal Kendricks said he didn't know what Ray Rice looked like without his helmet on.

It almost ruined the joke.

Still, when the Eagles linebacker realized that the picture stuck to the bicep of one of his Eagles teammates was Rice - along with Kendricks name scrawled by it - the rookie got the message.

"It was kind of like they were calling me out," Kendricks said of his teammates. "Like, 'Look, this is who you're going to have to go against.' "

Kendricks said he laughed at the bit, which occurred Saturday night at the Airport Marriott as the Eagles held their final meetings before Sunday's game. But stopping Rice was a serious matter.

Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans and the defense held the all-pro running back in check, especially in the second half, as the Eagles clipped the Ravens, 24-23.

It was an impressive performance for coordinator Juan Castillo's defense. Last week, they dominated the Browns. But they received only so much credit against a rookie quarterback in Brandon Weeden who was overmatched.

But this was the Ravens. This was quarterback Joe Flacco, who was one missed field goal away being in the Super Bowl last season. This was Rice, maybe the only running back in the league as versatile as the Eagles' LeSean McCoy.

There were a few shaky moments in the first half. But Flacco was ineffective for much of the day, completing only 22 of 42 passes and throwing an interception to Ryans. And after Rice ran for 78 yards on seven carries in the first half, he gained only 21 on nine carries in the second half.

Kendricks wasn't solely responsible for shutting Rice down, but on the trailing Ravens' last gasp attempt on fourth down, the linebacker found himself alone on the tailback in coverage. Kendricks said he saw Flacco "take a couple of hitches, which meant that the deep routes were locked down."

The Eagles had been memorizing Flacco's tendencies in film preparation. They knew if they had a chance to beat the Ravens they had to rattle the quarterback.

"Based off film he about hitches three times max, four would probably be doing it too much with our D-line," Kendrick said. "I knew that the ball was coming."

Kendricks had Rice blanketed much like he had tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson covered all day. Pitt was targeted 15 times but caught only eight for 65 yards. Dickson had four thrown his way but caught only one pass for 23 yards.

"The ability he has, the speed that he has, the play-making ability that he has," Ryans said of Kendricks. "He definitely has a very bright future in this league as a young linebacker right now making the plays he's making."

It's early. Pitta and Dickson aren't to be mistaken for Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. But Kendricks has "the look" of a strong-side linebacker that can cover almost any tight end out of the slot or running back out of the backfield. The Eagles haven't had one of those since Carlos Emmons.

The middle of the field is beginning to look like a land mine for quarterbacks with Kendricks and Ryans dropping into coverage and rookie Brandon Boykin as the slot corner.

"They're probably looking to exploit the rookies because of, I guess, our inexperience," Kendricks said. "I don't know how to reply. I'm just going to do my job."

Ryans, meanwhile, has been everything one could have asked for out of a middle linebacker. He was all over the field in the second half.

The 28-year old intercepted Flacco on the Ravens' first drive of the second half. A drive later, he dropped Rice after he gain only one yard. Two plays after he blitzed and chased Flacco down for a 13-yard loss.

On the Ravens' next series, as they clung to a three-point lead, he again held Rice to a short gain. Several plays later, he shot into the backfield and tackled running back Bernard Pierce for a two-yard loss.

"Just intensity, intensity, taking the fight to those guys," Ryans said. "That was the key to our second half."

Can you believe there was panic racing through the streets of Philadelphia after Ryans failed to impress in three meaningless preseason games?

"What more can you say about the guy?" Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "He made big plays when we needed big plays in the last couple games here."

And Kendricks, under Ryans' tutelage, has been living up to the promise of being a second-round draft pick. He stopped Rice after a short catch on third down that forced the Ravens to settle for a field goal and a 23-17 lead.

And then he was all over Rice on the Ravens' final play. So close he could probably see inside his helmet.


Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com or on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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