The Eagles may have won on Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the win didn’t mask the inconsistencies at cornerback. The Bucs put up just 31 rushing yards in the preseason opener against the newly installed Jim Schwartz Defense, but were able to rack up 298 passing yards. How much of that was down to the cornerbacks? Let’s take a closer look.
Snaps played: 14%
McKelvin was limited in the opening game of preseason, as was Ron Brooks..but his impact was underwhelming. McKelvin failed to finish a tackle early in the first quarter that contributed to an extended Bucs drive and his overall positioning just seemed sloppy. More notably, he misread a route that led to the Bucs only touchdown of the game. It wasn’t a great showing for a corner who is supposed to be mentoring the younger guys.
Snaps played: 13%
The second offseason addition that formerly played under Jim Schwartz also served a minimal role, but showed his aggression with a big hit early on. There was nothing that really stood out as worrying, but at the same time nothing that screamed starting corner. A hard hit may have demonstrated his physicality, but I would have liked to see Brooks play in more than just 13% of snaps considering that he was primarily a special teamer in Buffalo last year.
Snaps played: 12%
Carroll had a very quiet game, playing in the opening moments of the first quarter. He looked strong and athletic as we’ve come to expect and was never really put in a position to make a play. A quiet outing for Carroll, no complaints but at the same time nothing to really highlight.
Snaps played: 30%
Where to start with Mills. To put it simply, he was disappointing. Whether it was because of how much hype was placed on the LSU 7th rounder after an impressive Training camp or not, this is a cornerback currently listed ahead of Eric Rowe on the depth chart..and he was outperformed by every corner on the roster.
The problems were apparent early on, Mills got burned by Evans down the sideline. He stayed with the Bucs wideout but threw an arm in late which could well have drawn a pass interference flag. This set the tone for the rest of the game..a game that can only be described as “nervous”.
Mills really struggled at the line of scrimmage all game long. For instance here, Mills tried to jam his receiver at the line but focused so much on his own movement that he disregarded what the receiver was doing. The result was almost very messy.
Later on in the game, the rookie drew a defensive pass interference penalty as the struggles continued. This though, was probably the lowlight of the night. Mills was way in front of his receiver but the ball awareness was just completely absent. Mills lost track of his corner, lost a lot of space trying to make up for lost ground and then gave a very weak tackle attempt. This type of play is not what many expected after such a strong Camp.
Overall, it was just a bad game for Mills. He struggled on the majority of snaps he took, failed to jam at the line of scrimmage consistently and gave up numerous big plays. For a corner competing for a starting role, this is not a good look. Hopefully things change next week..but as of right now, Mills lost a lot of leverage on the depth chart.
Snaps played: 36%
Grymes was one of the best corners on the roster last night. His coverage was consistently tight and in the few plays he did let up, he was always in a position to make the tackle if needed. One of the issues when it came to tackling however, was technique. There were a couple of situations where the former CFL standout would be so intent on making the stop, come flying in with a lack of technique and seeing his receiver shake the tackle and move forward.
A big tackle on Vincent Jackson who needs no introduction topped off a strong night for Grymes, who undoubtedly raised his stock even higher coming off of a strong camp and continuing the run of form into preseason.
Grymes may have been quiet on the stat sheet, but it was very rare that a quarterback threw in his direction..and that’s because of the consistently tight coverage shown by the rookie.
Snaps played: 39%
He may not have registered a tackle, he may not have batted down a pass and he may not have picked one off..but Eric Rowe in my opinion was hands down the best corner on the Eagles depth chart last night. Why? Because he excels in one-on-one situations. Rowe was slated all through training camp by writers and the coaching staff even admitted that he seemed to be struggling in adapting to a new aggressive Defense. But, what Rowe may lack in aggression..he certainly makes up for in technique..and if that technique was any weaker and Rowe was more “free” in his style, the Bucs may have mounted a comeback.
Rowe lost the coverage on the above play after being beaten by Jackson, but stayed planted between Jackson and the running back, hesitating on his run to make sure where the ball was going with his eyes firmly planted on the quarterback. Great positioning helped minimize the damage and while his jamming at the line was slightly off, the awareness was excellent.
The above play reminded me heavily of Rowe’s clutch efforts against the New England Patriots. Forcing his receiver to sprint down a tightrope on the sideline, running with him stride for stride with his eyes on the ball until the pass falls incomplete. You could not ask for a much better play from Eric Rowe.
This happened all game. Rowe without a doubt was the unsung hero of the Eagles Defense and while many were quick to jump on the Mills bandwagon in favor of excitement, electricity and playmaking..it’s important to remember that Eric Rowe makes plays when it matters..and you don’t need to be the most aggressive corner on the roster for that.
Snaps played: 53%
For me, Rice was the second most impressive corner on the Eagles roster last night. Not because of a big play or technique..but the hustle he showed. Play in and play out, the former Coastal Carolina standout was around the ball. He was the hardest working corner in my opinion and showed it in numerous fashions. Whether that would be covering his man before sprinting back to try and help finish a tackle on a short pass, or simply showing a “never say die” mentality, Rice’s attitude really stood out to me.
For the most part, his coverage was fantastic. Very similar to the way Eric Rowe covers receivers, Rice is a very agile and intelligent cornerback. He doesn’t allow for a lot of room to open which is why it’s rare to see nor him or Eric Rowe’s name at the top of the tackle list. Even when he does get beaten, he finishes the play..which is more than can be said for some.
Here for instance, Rice was caught out by the footwork of Spencer, but he mirrors it inch by inch and stays within reaching distance of the bigger Bucs wideout. The ball was almost picked off by Jaylen Watkins, but it was Rice who mirrored his man and forced the tight window.
The highlight was a showing of the aggressive mentality recently ignited by Jim Schwartz. Rice suplexed Andre Davis out of bounds in 4th quarter, raising a few eyebrows to say the least. He wasn’t perfect, but Rice had a brilliant game..and the hustle will surely sit well with Jim Schwartz.
Snaps played: 38%
Evans also had a relatively impressive game. There was an early miscommunication between himself and Blake Countess that led to a 24 yard gain for the Bucs, but he seemed to recover well. He covered his receivers well..but physically and there were a few instances where the physicality almost came back to haunt him.
The late round pick from 2015 hit a low tackle in the second half, it was a risky hit due to the speed in which he flew in..if he’d missed there would have been a wide open lane. But it was a big hit..and that’s something Schwartz wants to see.
There were a few times where Evans would end up slightly out of depth but he had a solid game.
Snap count: 32%
Passes Defensed: 3
A former NDSU teammate of Carson Wentz, Smith was easily the biggest surprise of the night. He stepped onto the scene and immediately made an impact, completely shutting down former Eagles receiver Freddie Martino.
One play later, Smith hammered another former Eagle in the way of Jonathan Krause to force an incompletion after the pass was hauled in. At this point, the undrafted rookie had created a bit of a buzz..and rightly so. The level of play continued throughout his time on the field, deflecting another two passes along the way.
But with 1:45, he was burned down the sideline by Kenny Bell. Bell was in perfect position to catch a deep pass in the back of the endzone, but the ball was wildly overthrown, perhaps saving Smith of a few bad dreams. But the corner continued to hustle and like Rice, made sure he was always around the ball.
Smith rekindled his sound covering skills against Martino a few plays later but ran a very physical play and was lucky not to get flagged for Pass Interference. However, that’s exactly the kind of form Schwartz wants from his backs. Smith to me, looks like the perfect mix of Eric Rowe and Aaron Grymes..minus the hair.
Then, the cherry on top of the cake. Smith positioned himself beautifully in the endzone to secure an interception and seal the game. The coverage was good, the positioning was better and the fact that he kneeled straight away showed he still had his wits about him in what could have been one of the best moments in his career, his first professional interception.
There were a few moments that had you on the edge of your seat with Smith, but overall he had an excellent game. In terms of efficiency, Smith easily ranked at the top of the pile..and likely earned himself a few more snaps in the coming weeks.
Snaps played: 34%
Perry had an interesting game. He made a great tackle late on when Randall Evans seemed to lack ball awareness and saved the Eagles from conceding another big play..but the talking point was the interception that never was.
The ballhawking intent was almost too good to be true. Perry stormed over, swiped a pass away from a Bucs wideout, rook a few steps..and dropped it. To think that if he had come away with that pick, Perry would have asserted himself in the race for a depth spot, it was almost heartbreaking to an extent.
For the most part, his coverage was sound and it’s clear that he’s a big hitter. The potential is there..he just needs to work on those hands.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory GIF Credit: NFL/ Philadelphia Eagles Network