Looking for leadership and production at linebacker, the Eagles acquired DeMeco Ryans from the Houston Texans in March 2012. There was a dose of skepticism about the deal, even though Ryans had been to two Pro Bowls before he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2010.

Contending teams don't often part with all-pros unless there's a reason. The Eagles learned that lesson the hard way in the past.

But in his second season with the Eagles, Ryans is validating the Eagles' end of the trade by pushing to make his first Pro Bowl since 2009.

"This is the level I was playing at," Ryans said. "It's fun being back at that level, being able to make plays."

Ryans, 29, is not especially boastful. His claim echoes what has been said elsewhere in the organization, from the locker room to the coaching staff to the front office. Ryans ranks fourth in the NFL with 89 tackles and is second in solo tackles with 71. He also has two sacks and two interceptions, and is a major reason that the Eagles have held opponents to an average 16.25 points in the last four games.

"DeMeco is the leader of our defense and he's having an outstanding Pro Bowl year and we couldn't be happier with everything DeMeco is doing for us," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "Between tackle to tackle, he is a force."

Outside linebacker Connor Barwin played with Ryans in Houston during Ryans' last Pro Bowl season and agreed that the veteran has returned to his pre-injury level.

"If not even better," Barwin said.

Ryans was a leader in the Texans locker room. After returning from the injury, he played second fiddle to Brian Cushing in the Texans' new 3-4 defense in 2011. He was not believed to be an ideal fit for their scheme - the Eagles even said Ryans was better for a 4-3 defense when they acquired him.

When the Texans traded him, "everybody was shocked, everybody questioned it, and nobody really understood it," Barwin said.

Not all the 3-4 defenses are built the same, and Ryans said the gaps are different in Philadelphia's system from those in his final year in Houston. Ryans came off the field on many passing downs in that season, but he has been a three-down linebacker in Philadelphia. Ryans plays 96 percent of the snaps.

"You get the same DeMeco every game," Barwin said. "He's on the field every snap. All 80 snaps. He gets us in the right play. And he just does his job, and he has a knack for getting the ball."

Davis gives his defensive leader the leeway to change many of the calls. There are some calls that the defense must play regardless, and it's Ryans' job to set the formation on the field and ensure that his teammates are in the correct position. At other times Davis gives Ryans two defensive calls, and the linebacker can choose which to use depending on the way the offense lines up.