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Monday, March 8, 2021

Eagles' Line the Better for DeMeco Ryans

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Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

PHILADELPHIA – He makes the calls and then he makes the plays and that’s why DeMeco Ryans has made a difference. Last season, the 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 finally healthy again, even though Reid is no longer around to enjoy it.

“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.’’

DeMeco’s 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. And 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 – and last week against the Packers he was on the field for all 79 of them.

The Eagles will rely heavily on Ryans this Sunday when they play the Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field. When it comes to running the ball, the Redskins have potentially the best one-two punch in the NFL in quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris, and it’s Ryans’ job to avoid those punches while landing a few of his own.

Contact Kevin Noonan at knoonan32@aol.com.

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