Matthews gets a second chance with Birds

Linebacker Casey Matthews played 42 snaps in 2012. After four games this year, that number is 29.
Linebacker Casey Matthews played 42 snaps in 2012. After four games this year, that number is 29. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff)
Posted: October 03, 2013

It might not sound like a lot to you, but after four games this season, Eagles linebacker Casey Matthews has been on the field for 29 meaningful defensive snaps. It might not even sound like a lot to Matthews yet, but he'll take them.

The 2011 fourth-round pick who was tried and discarded on both the inside and the outside as Juan Castillo's defense fell apart is getting a tentative rebirth now that the coaching staff that drafted him has left town.

There isn't much good to say about the defense at the moment, particularly after the pasting it absorbed against Peyton Manning in Denver. If there has been one consistent spot, it has been Connor Barwin at left outside linebacker. Barwin's designated backup was Brandon Graham, but increasingly, as Graham gets time spelling Trent Cole on the other side, Matthews has gotten the call when Barwin comes out.

"I can't play every snap and you need some depth at outside linebacker," Barwin said. "Casey keeps his head down and does his job every day. When the coaches trust you, that's how you get in the game. I think he's built that trust with these coaches and that's why he's playing."

Against the Redskins and Chargers, Matthews got four defensive snaps, along with his regular work on special teams. He got seven snaps against the Chiefs and then 14 against the Broncos. Maybe the trend won't last, maybe it's not even a trend, but it's almost more snaps than he got as he stood forgotten on the sideline during the dreadful 2012 season.

"It was tough last year. That's the big difference between last year and this year. These guys try to get you in," Matthews said. "There were times last year when I kind of stood away and just watched instead of paying attention to the play call. I was just watching the whole defense instead of focusing on my spot. Just getting actual reps and playing time now is great. Even getting four plays against the Redskins, it was four more than I got last year."

Matthews was rarely on the field in 2012 except in goal-line or very short yardage situations. He got four or fewer snaps in 14 of the 16 games and didn't get a single defensive snap in seven games. And it wasn't as if last season's defense was perfect.

Still, Matthews played only 42 total snaps all season, and 16 of those came when he started in place of Mychal Kendricks, who was benched by new coordinator Todd Bowles for missing part of a meeting. (Oh, all right. Kendricks was benched for the first series against Atlanta and, yes, the drive did go for 16 plays and a touchdown. It wasn't Matthews' fault, however, but it was just his luck.)

Taking away that appearance against the Falcons, Matthews was on the field for just 26 of the defense's 1,031 other snaps. That's a lot of standing back and wondering whether another chance would ever come, either here or with another coach. It turned out to be both.

"The snaps have been going up each game. Mostly that's because Connor gives his all and when he's tired he comes out. He lets me know when he's getting tired," Matthews said. "I like playing in the 3-4 a lot better, both inside and outside. I'm pretty new to the outside, but I love it."

Matthews is used mostly in coverage situations, but he's had some opportunities to rush the quarterback as well and likes the challenge of going after a sack. Manning made it even more of a challenge on Sunday, of course.

"When you're about to go, it looks like a long way, and if you don't get off the ball right, you might look foolish," Matthews said. "I had one pass rush on Sunday, and it worked. I beat the guy and looked over and Wes [Welker] already had the ball. That's the way it is. You can have the best move and beat the tackle and it's not really a wasted move, but that's the way you feel."

Matthews knows all about wasted energy and trying not to feel as if it has been wasted. He had two years of that - not all of it his fault - and is hoping for something better now. So is the entire defense, of course.

"You have to trust that guys are going to take the steps to fix their mistakes from this past game," Matthews said. "This week is a division game. You've got to stack up. You've got to win it."

Being a part of a win like that, being a real part of it, is what Matthews has waited for a long time now.

"I have no worries about putting him in there," Barwin said. "I can't think of a snap that he's hurt us this season, and that's impressive."

Those who were here before might call it surprising as well, but some second chances pay off. Now if the overall defense could just figure out a way to get a second chance on this season, that would help, too.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports


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