Vince Verhei of Football Outsiders wrote a piece yesterday detailing the biggest offseason needs for every NFC East team. Now we could all see how the Eagles LBs performed last season, but when Verhei quantifies their issues it becomes even more painfully obvious where the weakness on this defense was.
The stat pages at Football Outsiders make the holes in Philadelphia's defense very clear. First, the defensive line statistics, where we see Philadelphia ranked third in stuff rate but 29th in second-level yards and 22nd in open-field yards. In plain English, that means the defensive line was very good at hitting runners in the backfield, but when those runners made it across the line of scrimmage, they usually went for big gains.
Next, the team defense page, which shows that the Eagles were OK covering wide receivers and dominant against tight ends, but they ranked 29th when covering running backs in the passing game. You'd be hard-pressed to find a team in the league that got less value out of its linebackers.
How much of an afterthought have linebackers been in the City of Brotherly Love? Of the team's top five linebackers, one (Akeem Jordan) was undrafted, two (Jamar Chaney and Moise Fokou) were seventh-round picks, and one (Brian Rolle) was a sixth-rounder. Casey Matthews, a fourth-rounder last year, has the best pedigree -- but he was such a disaster that he was benched after just three games.
His last point is one I've been talking about forever now. Where's the investment in the position? Where's the pedigree? They're stocking it with late round picks and hoping for what? To get lucky?
In the Reid era they've spent a top pick on virtually every position but linebacker. They've taken 2 offensive lineman (bet you thought it was more), 1 OB, 2 WRs, 5 defensive lineman and one corner in the first round. They've spent big free agent money on corners, defensive ends, QBs, WRs (once...). They've traded a first round pick for an offensive lineman...
Point is, virtually everywhere else on the team they've invested in top talent. But not at LB. So it's no wonder that's where the weakness is. It's time to invest in the position.