In defense of Eagles third-year receiver Jordan Matthews.
Ben: It’s always good to open Jordan Matthews talk with him making a play on one of the best defenders in the league. What is so good about Matthews is that even though he is a bigger receiver, he is such an excellent route runner.
Derrik: Absolutely. This play is especially impressive to me because Tyrann Mathieu is very quick and nimble, but Matthews disguise the route until just before the break and explodes out of it. You have to be really good to whip Mathieu like that.
Ben: Not only does Matthews avoid tipping the route, but his ability to maintain speed through the cut is what gives him separation. That is rare for a 6-3, 210 pound receiver. Another aspect of this play that is so good is that the ball is out when he makes his cut and he is able to adjust to a slightly inaccurate pass to secure it.
Derrik: The play had much more potential had the throw been better, but you’re right, Matthews made a good adjustment to a poor throw. He has quite a bit of flexibility for his size to make those sort of plays.
Ben: He is a unique athlete which is why I think he should be able to make plays on the outside. Speaking of which…
Ben: This is one of the few times Matthews got snaps on the outside in 2015 and he made the most of it by picking up a first down with that hitch.
Derrik: That little push off at the route break is sweet.
Ben: For sure. One of the reasons I loved him so much coming out of Vandy (he was my top receiver in the class) is because of the little nuances in his game.
Derrik: I’ve definitely noticed it more in the NFL than i did when he was at Vandy. In college, I felt he had issues using his body to create separation and how to work the boundary, but I think he has grown there since entering the league.
Ben: This play shows a mic of what he does so well. For one, this is just an excellent route combined with sideline awareness, but he also shows that he can be physical on the outside.
Ben: This is the peak of his physicality. It is the type of play that really excites fans. He is able to fight through contact to continue the play and eventually ended up housing the pass.
Derrik: Again, it is sort of surprising for me to see him do this so well now. At Vandy, he probably gets locked up here. Now, you can see him use the defender’s momentum against him, subtly toss him aside and run free into space.
Ben: This is especially encouraging when projecting him to the outside. If he is comfortable dealing with contact through his route, he has a much better chance on the outside, where he won’t have the same size and speed advantage he has in the slot.
Derrik: That is important now because so many teams seem to be wanting to play that aggressive Cover 3 that Seattle, and more recently Carolina, made popular. Teams want to build the defensive line and press. You have to be able to be physical.
Ben: He can still change it up, though. He is a finesse player first. There aren’t a lot of players that are Matthews’ size who move this smoothly. Josh Gordon and Larry Fitzgerald come to mind, but it is rare to find big pass catchers who move like ballerinas.
Derrik: Just like the Mathieu play, he does such a good job of not tipping his hand and then sustaining speed through his route break. That is pretty route running.
Ben: This is definitely his moneymaker and his other touchdown in this game came on the same route. He is such a good route runner. The truth is that his physical skill set has me hoping the coaching staff moves him around as much as possible. While I think he can be a playmaker on the outside, it doesn’t make him any less valuable as an athlete in the slot.
Derrik: I really want to see him in a more diverse role in 2016. In 2015, he was more often an extension of the run game than anything else. He can be much more than that.
Ben: His rookie year, he was so much more efficient in that role because the Eagles had an established vertical element to their offense. When that wasn’t there this season, the field condensed and it really limited the bandwidth of what Matthews could do on any given play.
Derrik: And so a lot of the blame got directed toward him when, in reality, Matthews was the best non-OL on that offense.
Ben: Yep, and it is incredibly hard to run your offense through a slot receiver unless you have Tom Brady and not Sam freaking Bradford.
Derrik: Even the Packers couldn’t do it last year with Randall Cobb when Jordy Nelson was injured.
Ben: Absolutely. The field got tighter and limited what Matthews could do before, during and after the catch.
Ben: Man, these segues are great. My favorite part of Matthews’ game is his ability to pick up yards after the catch. When people think of yards-after-catch players, they think of Antonio Brown, Randall Cobb, Jarvis Landry- generally smaller receivers. However, Matthews is very good with the ball in his hands.
Derrik: He’s strong, agile and fast enough. He’s not really a flashy YAC guy, maybe that’s why he doesn’t get the same credit as others. He finds yards, though. He isn’t afraid of running at defenders, either.
Ben: Right here, he just makes a small mover after the catch and it picks up another 15 yards.
Derrik: He finds yards, though. He isn’t afraid of running at defenders, either.
Ben: Yeah, he is tough as hell with the ball in his hands. He isn’t afraid to run through guys and his size/strength combo makes power running an asset, but his agility helps too.
Derrik: He can create yardage in a number of ways, he just isn’t special at any one of those. But really, with as many different situations as any given play can present, being multifaceted like that is arguably more valuable than being dominant in any one area. Like I said, it’s just not as exciting.
Ben: For sure. Matt Harmon, who does excellent work at NFL.com, often talks about the importance of a ‘trump card’ for a receiver: Having one dominant trait to define their game and make them dynamic. How ever, I think Matthews hasn’t fully developed his yet, but he is such a well rounded player, he can be productive. And there is still room to improve. He is just 24 years old heading into his third year in the league and his first year playing outside. So he can definitely develop a dominant trait, but for now, he can be a major offensive piece by how complete of a receiver he is.
Derrik: I don’t think he even needs a trump card, necessarily (though it would certainly help). He is more than good enough at a number of things that he will always be productive.