Analyzing Casey Matthews’ Late Season "Improvement"

This is the latest in a series we've be doing here on BGN written by John Breitenbach (@PFF_John), who is a big Eagles fan and best known for his work on Pro Football Focus. Check out the rest of the series here.

It was clear from the moment Casey Matthews stepped on the field in an Eagles uniform that he wasn't ready for the NFL. After a tough preseason he proceeded to start a mere three more games before finding himself on the bench. Despite the poor start, Matthews saw more action in the final four games, and was largely lauded for his performances. I took a look back at them to see how much better he really was.

The good

Especially early in the year it was obvious Matthews was reacting much slower than offensive players. He'd rectified that somewhat by the end of the year. The Oregon product seemed to diagnose plays much better and get into position earlier just as this play against the Jets illustrates.

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The Jets try and run a screen to the left with Ladanian Tomlinson.

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The play is set up perfectly, with three Jet lineman out in front of the runner.

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Matthews reacts quickly and is aggressive, easily beating a block and making the play.

Here's another screen play Matthews defends well:

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The Redskins run a screen to the strongside of the formation.

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Matthews is faced with a blocking lineman in space, a situation that should favour him.

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The lineman tries to go low but merely gets a faceful of dirt.

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A sure tackle finishes the play.

The bad

While Matthews might have improved in space later in the year, he still struggled mightily against the run. Covering tightends, in contrast to backs, also continued to be a problem.

Despite his struggles taking on blocks Matthews continually saw time on short yardage plays.

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The Cardinals run a play to the weakside leaving Matthews isolated on the fullback with a chance to make the play.

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He does a good job initially, aggressively attacking the blocker behind the line of scrimmage.

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But the fullback wins the contact and seals him from the play allowing the first down.

Now let's look at a play against the Dolphins with the Eagles in nickel.

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The run again comes right at Matthews and he has to deal with the block of RT Marc Colombo

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Matthews takes him on right in the hole.

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Colombo dominates however and knocks Matthews to the ground creating the hole Bush's big gain.

Finally here's a play from Week 17 against the Redskins:

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Another test for Matthews on a play right at him.

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Matthews takes a poor angle and makes it very easy for the blocker.

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He then puts in barely any effort to get off the block.

While Matthews was better in coverage during the final four weeks, his numbers were still fairly unimpressive:

Targets

Receptions

Yards

19

14

119

As mentioned previously, he was particularly poor against tightends.

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Here's a zone play that Matthews completely miss-plays.

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Matthews bites up on the flat route from the fullback, leaving a huge void behind him for the tightend to exploit.

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An easy catch for Fasano.

Matthews against Martellus Bennett in Week 16.

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Bennett chips the defensive end before releasing into an out.

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A little shake is enough for Bennett to get free and Matthews' slip gives him even more separation.

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A first down for the Cowboys.

The conclusion

The position the Eagles coaches put Matthews in really was unfair. As a fourth round rookie with no offseason playing in a scheme that puts extra pressure on the linebackers he was almost in a no-win position. Still, the fact is he remained probably the Eagles' weakest linebacker, even at the end of the year. While he improved some aspects of his game, on the whole he still lost the majority of his battles, whether in the run or pass game. There's still a chance he could develop into a capable role player (or even a starter) but I wouldn't attribute that to 2011 improvement.

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