MYCHAL Kendricks is well aware of the "rookie wall." You know, the one that hits rookies at about this time of year, when the college season is winding down and the NFL is really just getting started.
Kendricks, 22, just hasn't had a lot of time to think about it.
"I'm tired. Of course, I'm tired," Kendricks said Thursday. "That comes with the territory. But I ain't even got time to worry about that right now."
Kendricks will have his hands full on Sunday against the Cowboys, going up against seven-time Pro Bowler Jason Witten. The Eagles were gashed by Saints tight end Jimmy Graham on Monday night, allowing eight catches for 72 yards and one touchdown. Kendricks, the starting strongside linebacker, was covering Graham on the touchdown and two other grabs for 27 yards.
Through the first half of the season, Witten, 30, has 58 receptions - fifth in the NFL - and is on pace for a career high in a season. He's second on the Cowboys behind Miles Austin, with 538 yards and passed Michael Irvin Sunday to become Dallas' all-time leader in catches.
"Many have tried, many have failed [to cover Witten]," Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said Thursday. "You've just got to try to slow him down. You've got to try to hope he has a bad day and things fall your way."
Kendricks is hoping for a little more than that. His play has middled out after a hot start to the season. According to ProFootballFocus.com, which assigns ratings to players' games using data obtained from game video, Kendricks fared well early (1.4, 1.8, 1.9, 0.2) in the first 4 weeks before plummeting in the last four (-7.5, -1.8, -2.0, -4.9).
Kendricks' cumulative -10.9 rating ranks him last among 72 outside linebackers in the NFL, regardless of scheme.
"It's gotten harder as the season progresses," Kendricks acknowledged. "Teams are prepared to go against you, because they've actually got film on you now. Teams have more of [our] tendencies, more of a look at what you usually run. They can make adjustments. Everything is heightened; everything is just that much harder."
Kendricks has used down time during this short week to study Witten's tendencies. Witten has 11.35 yards per catch against the Eagles and more touchdowns (seven) against them than he has against any other team in his Hall of Fame career. Overall, Witten has netted 1,078 yards in 17 games against Philadelphia. He's seventh in active leaders leaguewide in terms of receptions.
"I see a dominant tight end in the league," Kendricks said. "He's fast, strong, tall. He's a pretty big part of their offense, too. I feel like we've done pretty good [against tight ends]. I know I've played my hardest on them; it's hard to cover those guys."
Kendricks said New Orleans schemed well for the Eagles, having Drew Brees target Graham on play-action passes after sliding out of chip blocks.
Bowles was the Cowboys' secondary coach from 2005-07, but said he didn't have a competitive advantage by knowing tendencies, saying both he and Witten had changed since then.
Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, one of the Eagles' most consistent performers this season, has played against Witten before.
"We've got to just get some hands on him, wrestle with him," Ryans said. "He does a good job of competing. He's always in a good position with his body, getting in between the defender and the ball."
Perhaps the best thing for the Eagles would be a big day from Witten. His splits are staggering: 10 catches for 62 yards in the Cowboys' three wins, 48 grabs for 476 yards in the Cowboys' five losses. Kendricks wouldn't mind both keeping Witten quiet and getting back on track - for both himself and the team - with a win.
"I knew this struggle was going to happen when I got drafted," Kendricks said. "The NFL is totally different from college. I've tried to prepare for it as best I can mentally. I've got my teammates going through the same thing I'm going through. We're all in this together."
Contact Frank Seravalli at firstname.lastname@example.org.