Jordan Matthews has been there all season, working and learning and biding his time as he adjusted to the NFL. The Eagles’ rookie wasn’t having a splashy first season like Buffalo’s Sammy Watkins or Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, two receivers taken in the first round, but he was out there every day in practice, getting better and more comfortable with life in the big leagues.
So, even though it seems like he just exploded on the scene with consecutive games of more than 100 receiving yards, Matthews was quietly and consistently preparing for his time in the spotlight and watching in appreciation as teammate Jeremy Maclin put together a Pro Bowl-caliber season.
In those two big games – an impressive victory over Carolina and a depressing defeat to Green Bay — Matthews had 12 receptions for 235 yards and three touchdowns. That puts him on pace to finish the season with 70 catches for 893 yards and 10 TDs. And that matches up favorably with the Eagles’ all-time receiving record for rookies, set by DeSean Jackson in 2008 when he had 62 catches for 912 yards and two TDs.
This is what the Eagles had in mind when they released Jackson and wide receiver Jason Avant after last season and drafted Jordan in the second round, the seventh wide receiver taken. A lot of people questioned those moves, especially the release of Jackson, but Jordan’s play the last two weeks has shown that maybe coach Chip Kelly knew what he was doing.
“He was a prepared guy coming in,’’ Kelly said of Matthews. “That’s one thing we felt about him when you saw him from the jump — how mature he was as an individual. [We] thought he could make an impact inside, and we really wanted to get bigger at the receiver position because of matchups in 1-on-1 situations. I think Jordan has done a really good job.’’
Many people assume Matthews had such a big impact the last two weeks because Mark Sanchez has taken over at quarterback and the two spent the first half of the season working together on the second team. But Kelly thinks it’s more a matter of when than of who.
“The uptick in Jordan’s numbers has to do with where we are in the season — it’s just later in the year,’’ Kelly said. “So, it’s not who was in or who wasn’t in [at quarterback]. I think it’s more that Jordan is a lot more comfortable, and you can see it as he runs around here and prepares each week, he’s a lot more comfortable kind of in his role and what he has to do.
“You know, we’re 10 games in now and he’s got that wealth of experience from OTAs, training camp, now 10 games into the season,’’ Kelly added. “I think he’s just feeling a lot more comfortable in terms of what he’s doing.’’
Jordan agrees with his coach, and he said the biggest adjustment was more mental than physical.
“You have to get used to playing against bigger, faster guys, but that’s something you can learn to deal with pretty quickly,’’ the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Jordan said. “It’s really the mental adjustments that hold you back [as a rookie]. It’s really a chess match out there and you have to learn to think fast and adjust to things on the fly. That’s where I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable, although there are so many ways that I can still improve. And that’s why I’m working toward every day in practice.’’
And that’s why the Eagles are convinced that Matthews will be able to deal with the ups and downs of being an NFL player and be an impact player for a long time to come.
“He’s a guy that steadily trains and he’s steadily getting better,’’ Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “He’s a grinder when it comes to doing things the right way. When you watch him train, he’s sort of a model for what a rookie should be in terms of how he trains. Because he’ll do that, then I really believe he’ll have more and more success as the year goes on when we play the games, because you have to train to win.’’
Shurmur then related a story about an unnamed receiver who played for him when he was head coach in Cleveland. Shurmur said he was a “really, really talented player’’ who got into a slump and didn’t have the work ethic and persistence to fight his way through it.
“So it made it worse,’’ Shurmur said. “When you’re talking about a guy like Jordan, he knows how to work. So, he’ll steadily improve. If he doesn’t have a great game one week, he’ll come back, flush it, hit the reset button, move on and follow it up with a good performance.’’
And now he’s had two good performances in a row, only the third time in Eagles history a rookie receiver has had back-to-back 100-yard games – Jackson did it in 2008 and Don Looney did it back in 1940.
“I know I’m not going to do that every week, because nobody does that every week,’’ Matthews said. “The important thing is that I work hard and practice smart and I’m ready in case those opportunities come my way again.’’