Throughout the preseason, DeMeco Ryans faced questions and criticism about what appeared to be lackluster performances. A 28-year-old, the two-time Pro Bowler endured accusations that he is past his prime and is in decline. These theories were exacerbated when other linebackers started taking his snaps in practice and a dose of buyer's remorse appeared near.
So after last Sunday's 17-16 win over the Cleveland Browns, when Ryans was perhaps the Eagles' best player on the field with nine tackles - and three for losses - while playing 60 of the Eagles' 62 defensive snaps, Ryans had his chance to say "I told you so." He could have smiled and strutted and insisted that he was right all along when he implored that he'll be fine come the regular season.
Offered the chance, Ryans didn't take the bait.
"I don't need to tell anybody 'I told you so' about anything," Ryans said. "Because I go out and play on Sunday. That's what I do."
But the stakes become even higher for Ryans this week. The Baltimore Ravens feature a better offense than the Browns, and they're bolstered by a no-huddle attack that looked sterling in their win on Monday. Ryans watched the Ravens on Monday Night Football, and the offense reminded him of what he saw from Peyton Manning when the Houston Texans faced the Indianapolis Colts.
The Eagles' defense relies so much on substitutions, which are difficult to do when a no-huddle offense is clicking. Ryans says if personnel is matched correctly, the lack of substitutions is not the issue. But the way for the defense to change players and catch its breath is by inducing incompletions or forcing the Ravens out of bounds.
"You can't panic; that's the biggest thing," Ryans said. "They want you to panic and try to change personnel, match up what they're doing. You just have to be calm, play solid, stop them on first and second, get them in third and long. That's the thing to do. Get them off the field quick. Because when they're trying to move as quick as they are and you get them off the field quick, it stops them from trying to come out of the no-huddle."
The Eagles have been working on a no-huddle defense since the spring. Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said most offenses feature an element of no-huddle, which is why the Eagles invested so much time into planning to play against one. And the key, Castillo said, is identifying what type of no-huddle offense the Ravens are using.
"Sometimes it is a fast tempo, like a two-minute mode," Castillo said. "Sometimes they'll snap it off at 13 or 14, and then sometimes they'll go right to the end. I think just with us the good thing is that we have been practicing hard at it, and we're kind of excited to see what our no-huddle looks like."
The preparation has included working on hand signals that must be used for play calls, because if the defense cannot huddle, the play call must come from the sideline. A central part in any effort will be Ryans, who mans the middle of the Eagles' defense and proved last week that he can play against both the run and the pass.
Asked when the Eagles were convinced to use Ryans all three downs, Castillo answered: "I'm not sure when we decided not to." Yet it was clear last week that the team was experimenting with different packages. Coach Andy Reid explained that part of the reason was because Ryans did not play all three downs during his final season in Houston. Ryans' performance in Cleveland should assuage those concerns, and his versatility will be critical against Baltimore.
Marty Mornhinweg says the Birds' offensive line was excellent at times, less so at others. philly.com/eaglesvideos