Grading & analyzing performances of Eagles CB’s in preseason win over Steelers

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After a worrying display against the Buccaneers, a somewhat depleted Eagles Cornerback corps faced a Steelers Offense that was also lacking fire power in week two of preseason. Without Jalen Mills or JaCorey Shepherd, the backups and rookies vying for a spot on the roster had a chance to standout and present their cases..but was anyone able to do so? Here are my grades and analysis of every cornerback’s performance from Thursday night.

Eric Rowe: 
Snaps played: 42%
Tackles: 1

He may not have registered a single tackle, Pass deflection or pick against the Bucs, but it was Rowe who stood out among an underperforming unit in the Eagles preseason opener. Against the Steelers, while the overall efficiency of the unit improved..it was Rowe who once again stood out.

The main thing that caught my eye was how quickly Rowe is able to read the route. Whether it’s letting a receiver go by to pick up a screen in a cover 2, showing blanket coverage on the outside or keeping his man in front of him when playing in the Nickel spot, Eric Rowe was the Eagles most consistent cornerback on Thursday night.

There were two standout moments for Rowe on Thursday.  The first came on this play in which the coverage on the sideline was near perfect. The feet were light and while the play wasn’t overly physical, Rowe asserted his presence just enough to force the incompletion and become a hindrance for Sammie Coates.

The second play came in the third quarter where Rowe looked to lose some leverage off of the line, letting his man gain some momentum outside. Some “argy bargy” and a leap of faith more than made up for it as the Sophomore corner almost came away with what would have been yet another team interception.

For a cornerback whose has been demoted on the depth chart due to a “struggle to adapt” and a cornerback who has been struggling in Camp while a seventh round flourishes, Rowe is making a very strong impression on the field. I said it last week and I’ll say it again now. Eric Rowe in man coverage is incredibly impressive. I will be publishing an article in the coming days detailing how Eric Rowe is becoming the unsung hero of the Eagles Defense, stay tuned.

Grade: A-

 

Denzel Rice:
Snaps played: 39%
Tackles: 1

Rice struggled massively against the Steelers. The former Coastal Carolina cornerback wasn’t just inefficient on Special teams however, his struggles at the cornerback position weren’t overly well documented because of how under the radar they were. It was rare to see a pass come in Rice’s general direction, but that didn’t mean his level of play was without question.

One of my main concerns with Rice was his inability to win the battle at the line of scrimmage. It was a problem for Jalen Mills last week, bur Rice would often give up way too much leverage off of the line and leave a lot of work to the Safeties.

For instance on the play below, not only does Rice allow his man inside, but actually falls over after trying to make the comeback and stop any YAC if a pass was thrown in that direction. Luckily for Rice, the Safety dropped down and the pass went for a short gain that was covered by Grymes instead..but this was a very poor play for Rice that almost led to some deep trouble.

One of the very few “highlights” was his lone tackle of the night. Rice stormed down to make the stop but tackled low. The instincts were very good, something that helped Rice retain his spot with the Eagles after the dismissal of Chip Kelly..but it seemed like a very scrappy tackle.

There was a particular route (we’ll analyze this later) that burned Ron Brooks completely, the same play didn’t quite fool Denzel Rice, although he did allow his man inside albeit in a closer proximity.

Overall, Rice’s worrying struggles on special teams followed him onto the Defense and made him a liability at times, which is a real shame. Without Shepherd or Mills, Rice, who had a strong Training camp had a real chance to make a statement here but was unable to do so.

Grade: D-

 

C.J Smith:
Snaps played: 36%

One of the more exciting cornerbacks in the Eagles win over the Bucs, Smith surprisingly only saw 36% of Defensive snaps against the Steelers and was unable to draw attention as he did in seven days beforehand.

Smith did display something several Eagles corners have struggled with, an ability to jam at the line of scrimmage and even win the route against his receiver. Smith is incredibly agile. He may not have the strongest 40-yard dash time, but a prowess in the 20-yard shuttle (ran a 4.13) and an impressive three-cone drill (7.0 seconds) show jus how agile he can be. It’s this level of lightness in his footwork that enables Smith to go toe-to-toe with much bigger receivers on shorter routes.

Smith would have had a tackle if the play stood..and it would have been a big one too. Not only that but on the very last passing attempt, Smith was inches away from another crunch time interception. In fact, he was only targeted in man coverage once, so there wasn’t a lot of room to showcase what he can do when the pressure is on as he did against Tampa Bay.

Overall, Smith had another strong outing, it was just under the radar and under the interceptions and big plays of the first team. I don’t think Smith increased his value to the team massively, but he certainly didn’t lose any value either. Cory Undlin will undoubtedly be impressed with the athleticism that the undrafted rookie showed…something that could bode well now that the cuts are looming.

Grade: B-

 

Leodis McKelvin:
Snaps played: 34%
Tackles: 3
Passes Defensed: 1

McKelvin had a much stronger outing against a weakened Steelers Offense which was to be expected, but was still nice to see. The main takeaway from McKelvin’s play was his secure tackling. He may have made a few mental errors including a misread route, but he followed them up with some huge hits…which is exactly why Jim Schwartz chose to reunite with his former Buffalo corner,.

Sometimes, the aggression was a little much and at one stage it did lead to a penalty. Considering that the Eagles gave up 96 yards on penalties against the Steelers, it’s not something that should be taken lightly. In any other game, it wouldn’t have been a big deal but considering how rapidly this penalty problem is evolving, discipline has to improve.

McKelvin was another cornerback who played Cover 2 plays extremely well, making a huge tackle on Toussaint when it mattered most.

 

His biggest play was undoubtedly the huge tipped pass in the endzone that led to a Malcolm Jenkins interception. The tough, physical, in-your-face play in the endzone paid off for McKelvin who forced the turnover..a fitting play to sum up his game.

McKelvin had a strong, physical yet sometimes reckless game. But when talking about the recklessness, it’s more just the aggression that Schwartz wants to see that needs capping in certain situations. McKelvin was a force to be reckoned with and contributed in several facets of the game.

Grade: B

 

Nolan Carroll:
Snaps played: 34%
Tackles: 2
Interceptions: 1
Pass deflections: 1

Rowe may have been the most consistent corner on the team, but it was Nolan Carroll who stole the show against the Steelers. Carroll showed exactly what made him so impressive under Billy Davis in 2015 and made his case to cement his starting role sooner rather than later with dominance.

The very first play that Nolan Carroll made set the tone for his night, it was simply exemplary. He opened his hips, went stride-for-stride with his receiver before some light contact and a leap to swat the ball away. When I look at Carroll, I see what Eric Rowe could one day develop into.

Then just a matter of plays later, Carroll jumped the route perfectly to secure an interception and take it to the house. Physicality may be the name of the game under Schwartz, but the natural instincts of Nolan Carroll are going to be a huge asset to the Eagles Secondary in 2016.

 

Even after the pick, Carroll’s blanket coverage continued. Leading by example, Carroll had a stunning game. The only bone to pick was that he was caught out too easily on a screen and as a result ran straight into a block that helped the Steelers move the ball down he field. But other than that, Carroll was near perfect. If one play in which the Steelers executed a screen as they’re expected to was all that there was to criticize about Carroll’s game, then it definitely says something about how well he executed on the night.

Grade: A

 

Aaron Grymes:
Snaps played: 28%
Tackles: 4
Interceptions: 1
Pass deflections: 1

Another cornerback who shone at the right time was former CFL star, Aaron Grymes. A huge Training camp has sent the rookie soaring up the depth chart only to then be supported by a strong preseason opener. A week later, Grymes was just as effective..although there were some flaws that many seem to have overlooked.

Grymes is fun to watch, there’s no questioning that. He’s more physical than some (but are we really complaining?) and forces his receiver onto a tightrope during coverage most of the time. There were a few instances, especially when playing in the nickel or coming over the middle where Grymes seemed to struggle a little.

The two plays where I would say that Grymes did struggle were passes over the middle. Passes where the responsibility of wrapping the receiver up fell to Grymes, but he lacked effort or simply couldn’t make the hit..this almost led to one crucial 3rd & long conversion.

The other concern is that like a few of the Eagles corners, Grymes struggles at the line of scrimmage. Once the route is in motion and it’s one-on-one, there are no complaints at all..but the initial bump is something that he really needs to work on considering the caliber of receivers he could face if the Eagles keep him on the final roster.

Minor concerns aside, Grymes played fantastically well to build on the foundation he’s already laid in Philadelphia and topped it off with this stunning interception in the endzone.

He finished second on the team in tackles, put up a number in almost every relevant category and proved to be unbeatable down the sidelines. His ability to read the eyes of the quarterback, stay light on his feet and stay patient to ensure that a play is made was honestly beyond impressive for a rookie. Grymes is coming from a slightly different background and it definitely shows in how confident he is on the field..that poise and calmness in pressurable situations really show as he is able to force incompletions, run perfectly alongside his man and come up with plays like the above interception. Grymes played brilliant game but had a few bumps along the way. Bumps that will no doubt be ironed out in practice.

Grade: B+

 

Randall Evans:
Snaps played: 23%
Tackles: 2
Passes Defensed: 1

Evans was another corner who finds himself buried on the depth chart. However, he came out swinging against the Steelers with some huge plays on what was a minimal amount of Defensive snaps.

Evans looked raw. There were times where he would demonstrate the intensity and physicality needed to succeed under Jim Schwartz and others where he seemed to wobble and give up some leverage. The first major talking point however was a controversial catch that was ruled complete, through no fault of the second year corner. Evans had solid coverage all the way down the line but arguably jumped a bit early. It’s not the worst thing to see and it did result in bringing down the receiver, stopping the potential for any extra yards.

What really impressed me however was the way in which he almost intuitively learned where he went wrong a few plays earlier and corrected his technique when Dustin Vaughan tried to hit what he thought was a sweet spot for a second time. Evans was much more physical and instinctively more patient here, resulting in a crucial incompletion on third down.

 

 

Evans’ performance was mostly under the radar, but there were some big plays that would have caught the attention of Jim Schwartz. Quiet isn’t always a bad thing..and Evans potentially raised his stock on the Eagles roster. Solid would be the word to sum up his game..and solid is what’s needed in this Secondary.

Grade: B-

 

Ron Brooks:
Snaps played: 22%
Tackles: 5

Brooks was far more prominent against the Steelers than he was against the Bucs, but he wasn’t perfect. He led the team in tackles and demonstrated his physicality dominantly in the same vein of Leodis McKelvin.

The main highlight was a huge hit on Eli Rogers in which Brooks covered the slot..and this level of hitting was repeated throughout the game. The issue is that Brooks focuses so heavily on hitting..that he often into or even past the receiver, unable to wrap his arm around them..just knocking then back until another player cleans up.

As much as the physically imposing style of Brooks is impressive, if he adapts a secure tackling technique that mirrors Leodis McKelvin, then the Eagles could have a real bargain on their hands.

The play I referenced earlier in which the coverage of Denzel Rice was better than Brooks, was this one. An overzealous guess led to a quick cut that left Brooks staggered on the outside, allowing the drag route underneath to work perfectly. On 3rd & 6, it was a big play for the Steelers and again, Brooks was forced into an overly aggressive tackle which if not executed as he intended, would have resulted in an even bigger gain.

Brooks got down and dirty when needed, hit aggressively and was physically very impressive. If he can refine his technique over the course of the remaining preseason games, he will be one of the most exciting players to watch.

Grade: B-

 

 

 

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