I'm sure you've heard the old line that there are "lies, damned lies and statistics." The stats tell you inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks is having a great year. Unfortunately, that would be a lie.
Kendricks is second on the team in solo tackles and total tackles. He has two interceptions. He has four fumble recoveries. Kendricks has six tackles-for-loss, which ties him for the team lead, and a pair of sacks. And he's done all of this despite missing almost two full games.
No one disputes the fact that Kendricks has developed into a solid playmaker.
The problem for Kendricks is that he still makes too many mistakes, sometimes very costly mistakes. Last week is a prime example. Kendricks picked off a deflected pass to help the Eagles mount a comeback in the late third quarter. He then got a sack on the next series that helped put the Vikings in a third and long situation.
Your focus at that point has to be forcing Minnesota to punt. They have third-and-14 from near midfield. Just stop them short of the sticks and get their punter on the field. There is no need to be a hero. This is a situation that favors the defense.
Matt Cassel dropped back and looked over the middle. Tight end Chase Ford was kind of open. He had gotten to the inside of Kendricks. But Kendricks was athletic enough to recover and be in pretty good position. Cassel pulled the trigger and threw the ball to Ford. All Kendricks had to do was knock it down. Instead, he went for the interception.
Ford caught the ball and then went running down the middle of the field. He got 37 yards on the play and set the Vikings offense up inside the 10-yard line. They scored a touchdown and extended their lead to 34-22 and essentially put the game away.
Kendricks wanted to make the big play. He wanted to be the hero. I love his aggressiveness, but that simply wasn't the smart play for that situation. If the Vikings were in first or second and long, I could live with that decision a lot easier. If Kendricks knocks the ball down, the Vikings have to punt. That's the same thing as getting a turnover. You are getting the ball back for the offense. There's only limited upside to going for the pick.
Kendricks wants to make plays and that is an important trait in a good linebacker. The problem is that he is too out of control at times and that causes him to make mistakes. The third down play was the big error from Sunday, but the biggest problem this year has been missed tackles.
Good tackling is about effort and technique. You need to see the target, run to the target, get into proper position and then wrap-up the runner/receiver. Kendricks does a good job of locating the ball. He's got the speed to make plays all over the field and no one can question his motor. He flies around at full speed.
Kendricks fails at getting into good position and then wrapping-up. Good tacklers don't run to the ball, they run to where the ball will be. They anticipate while on the move and adjust their pursuit course. The goal is to stay in front of the target and to get your head in front as well. That makes breaking the tackle significantly harder.
On plays between the tackles, Kendricks is okay. He still can get out of position at times, but since he's not at full sprint, he can usually recover and still help on the play. Kendricks is a major problem when moving laterally. If the ball isn't in front of him, he tends to run straight to it. He arrives out of control, doesn't get his feet set and then lunges for the target. This happened a couple of times against the Vikings, as it has all year. One of them was a critical third down play on a touchdown drive. Even an ugly tackle by Kendricks would have held the Vikings to just a field goal. Instead, he whiffed and they got three shots at the end zone.
Some fans are ready to give up on Kendricks due to the poor tackling. I'm not.
You have to understand that Kendricks has the talent to be a star. He needs to work on fundamentals. That stuff can be coached and developed. I think circumstances have hurt him over the past four years. Kendricks played OLB for most of his junior year at Cal. He was then an inside linebacker as a senior.
Juan Castillo drafted Kendricks to come here and be the SAM in the Eagles Wide-9 attack. Kendricks was then shifted to the weakside spot after Castillo was fired. Bill Davis came in the with 3-4 and moved Kendricks back to the ILB spot.
In four years, Kendricks has played three positions in three different schemes. He hasn't had a chance to stay in the same spot and scheme long enough to get comfortable. Where he should be focusing on his individual issues, he's mostly been learning a new position.
You can bet that Davis, Bill McGoven and Rick Minter will all spend a lot of time with Kendricks next spring and summer. They will focus on fundamentals since the scheme won't change. Kendricks will have a chance to fix his mistakes. He needs stability in order to grow and improve.
While Kendricks drives us nuts with the missed tackles and occasional questionable decisions, it is important to note that the stuff he does well can't be coached and the stuff he doesn't do well can be fixed. We're not seeing a finished product. Be patient. At least until he misses the first tackle in 2014.