The recipe for disaster had all the ingredients coming together. The Packers were throwing heavy doses of 232-pound running back Eddie Lacy at the Eagles’ defense. One of the Eagles’ best run defenders, linebacker Mychal Kendricks, hobbled off the field during the first series with a knee injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the game.
Out went Kendricks, who had led the team in tackles over the past three weeks. In came Najee Goode, who had played just nine total defensive snaps this season, all in mop-up against the Broncos.
Except that disaster hardly ensued. Goode, in his first extended playing time, was one of the unsung heroes of a run defense that held Lacy to just 73 yards on 24 carries, the rookie’s fewest rushing yards and lowest yards-per-attempt average (3.0) in six weeks.
“One of the things about Naj, he's a really sharp kid, I mean real smart guy,” head coach Chip Kelly said Tuesday. “I think he was an industrial mechanical engineer major (at West Virginia). He has a really good grasp. When he got here, that's one of the first things that struck us, this guy is an intelligent football player.”
Goode wasn’t credited with a tackle, but he played a major role in the game plan against Lacy, who had been the NFL’s rushing leader since Week 3. The Packers entered the game riding backup quarterback Seneca Wallace, who injured his groin on the first series and gave way to No. 3 Scott Tolzien. The Eagles knew they’d get heavy doses of Lacy and backup halfback James Starks.
With that in mind, they sold out against the run, frequently blitzing linebackers to get extra men at scrimmage and clog lanes for the Packers’ dynamic rookie. Goode, who took very few first-team reps during the week, still managed to time the snap count and shoot the gaps on his blitzes, causing disruption at scrimmage and forcing Lacy into quick cutbacks or re-directions. DeMeco Ryans benefited from slowed-up halfback, collecting 13 tackles, including two for a loss.
“That was part of the game plan,” Goode said. “That’s just something I’m good at, and Coach (defensive coordinator Billy Davis) told us, ‘Get to the line of scrimmage, get to the line of scrimmage.’
“Big back like Eddie Lacy, you’ve got to get vertical with him so you could get him going sideways. Once I was able to do that, I could mess up, clog up the lanes and get off [blocks] and help make the tackle.”
Goode covered well, too, and nearly had a pick-six later in the game.
To have Green Bay’s snap count timed up in his first major action, that’s just part of the second-year linebacker’s intelligence and study habits.
“That just comes back to watching film,” Goode added, “listening to every little thing. Because a lot of players don’t realize, you watch film, you see the plays, you watch the voiceovers, you hear the quarterback’s cadence, and once you got a feel for it, it’s just like practice. Getting there, timing it up, hitting it, staying low and run through it.”
The experience from the Green Bay game could help Goode if he’s back on the field for Sunday’s division showdown against the Redskins, another team that rides its running game heavily.
Kendricks’ injury isn’t severe, but there’s no indication yet of whether he’ll be able to play Sunday.
“When you watched him out here since the first day we got him in September, there was something about him,” Kelly said “He's an extremely hard worker. He prepares like a professional. When his opportunity came, he took advantage of it. You can't rely on the, ‘I haven't got a ton of reps (excuse).’ That's what the deal is in this league. You're not going to be able to get a ton of reps if you're a backup. But if you go in, you're responsible for all that stuff.
“Some guys gravitate to that a little bit better. He's one of those guys. I think it's a credit to him on how hard he's worked, even though he doesn't get the predominant amount of snaps. But when he got his chance in there, I was really happy with what he did.”
To think, the signing of Goode right after the cutdown date wasn’t the most popular move in the area. Fans had become enamored with linebacker Emmanuel Acho, who had dazzled in training camp but was among the final cuts. The Eagles claimed Goode off waivers
But the 244-pound Goode, a fifth-round pick of Tampa Bay in 2012 whose father, John, played for the Eagles in 1995, better fit what the Eagles were looking for from their reserves.
“When he became available that was an easy claim for us, upgrade our depth at linebacker,” general manager Howie Roseman said Monday on his 94.1 WIP radio show. “We thought he had upside because of his skill set, great kid, works hard at it, and he’ll continue to get better at it.
“He [went] to West Virginia, he’s a captain at West Virginia, great kid, plays at a really high level, goes in the fifth round to Tampa Bay. You watch him and you saw him as a rookie, how he played.”
Roseman said he and his staff had their eyes on Goode even before he became available.
“Tampa had a lot of depth at linebacker, they play a 4-3 (scheme), so they’re not going to keep as many as a 3-4 team is going to keep,” he said, “and he made it through that first cut and then they tried to kind of sneak him through during the season and you see teams try to do that on Tuesday and try to get cute about it. Shoot, we all try to do it, right?
“We all want to keep all our players, and when we had the opportunity to get him this was a guy we were looking for. Upgrade our speed, getting a different body type. He had a different skill set than the guys that we had on our roster, the backups that we had, and we were really looking for a backup who could play behind Kendricks.”
The Eagles have since re-signed Acho, but Acho backs up Ryans.
“Acho was a guy that we cut, and Acho had some similar skill sets to some of the guys that we had, in (Jake) Knott and (Casey) Matthews, so we were looking for more of a speed, athletic guy, and [Goode] was a perfect fit for us,” Roseman added. “And to think that he goes out in Lambeau Field, maybe the toughest environment in the National Football League, maybe in all of sports, to go in that sort of atmosphere and then go play like that? Just the physicality that he played with, just playing downhill and getting off blocks. That was just fun. It was fun to watch.”