There has been a lot of talk surrounding the future of the Eagles cornerbacks. From the free agency additions of Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks to the drafting of seventh rounder Jalen Mills, fans and writers are like have had plenty to talk about during the offseason. But one man has been left in the dark and put on the shelf in favor of a brand new toy. That man is Eric Rowe, the unsung hero of the Eagles Defense.
A player that was labelled as “soft” at times during his rookie season, Rowe is reported to have struggled in adapting to the aggressive Jim Schwartz Defense..something that’s resulted in seventh round pick Jalen Mills succeeding him on the depth chart. But in both preseason games that the Eagles have played so far, Rowe has by far been the most consistent corner in man coverage..so why is he being so unfairly overlooked?
Rowe showed flashes of his rookie campaign in the preseason opener against the Bucs. This play was extremely reminiscent of the clutch play he made in the game against the 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.
When it comes to man coverage or stopping fade routes in the endzone, Rowe is the best on the roster, period. He may not hit like McKelvin, have the most physical upside or wrap up guys as consistently as the likes of Nolan Carroll..but he outshines both of the aforementioned when it comes to covering deep down the sidelines and keeping passes out of the endzone.
Against the Jets, Rowe was a force to be reckoned with. In the space of a few minutes, the rookie corner knocked down a vital pass on third down…
…and then went on to grab an even more important interception on yet another third down, ensuring that the Eagles would retain their 24-7 lead.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. When many think of Eric Rowe, they think of the rookie corner who was dropped in the Sea and unable to swim away from Megatron Island. What they don’t think of, is the cornerback who gave up just three catches on seven pass attempts against the Redskins for 46 yards, allowing a 65.2 passer rating. They don’t think of the rookie, forced into a starting role during crunch time who was targeted 12 times against the Patriots, allowing 25% of those targets to be rendered complete..allowing just 42 yards and breaking up two passes.
The defining game of Rowe’s rookie season was arguably his humbling in Detroit. A future HOF Receiver schooled Rowe like nobody else could, but few remember that once again in the endzone, Eric Rowe came up several times with a big play after making it known that he wanted mark Calvin Johnson.
Even on the touchdown passes, Rowe showed fantastic coverage, it just so happened that Johnson is somewhat of a monster in these situations and made plays that only Megatron could make.
“But Liam, if Eric Rowe is so good then why is there such a split opinion on him?” I hear you ask. It really comes down to something this simple. Flash. Nolan Carroll for instance is a playmaker. He jumps routes, picks off passes and makes his way into highlight reels. In preseason, it’s players like Aaron Grymes and Jaylen Watkins who have been captivating the hearts of the Philadelphia faithful for that very same reason. Eric Rowe isn’t flashy, he won’t make a stunning interception or a hit that will make it into some pump up video on YouTube, but he’s efficient.
A lot of Rowe’s greatest moments in 2015 flew completely under the radar. Take this play against Buffalo, for example.
Rowe, (far corner), picks up his man and despite a constant change in direction is able to shadow him stride-for-stride. Even after the receiver cuts outside of Rowe and then tries to fake him out, the rookie opened his hips and was able to shadow him every step of the way in what was almost exemplary coverage. The play was never recognized because..well, the pass was never thrown in his direction.
His performance against the Redskins was yet another prime example. On this touchdown pass, Rowe was able to stick to former Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson like glue on the outside, something that a starter would be expected to do twice a year under Jim Schwartz..but because of the outcome, nobody picked up on it.
Jackson wasn’t the only receiver who was marginalized by the rookie in that game. Pierre Garcon was blanketed by Rowe down the sidelines on the play below, resulting in an incompletion.
After all of the negative press, the absurd rumors that stemmed from an opinion and the coaches admitting that Eric Rowe hasn’t exactly blossomed under Jim Schwartz..many have been quick to turn their back on the Sophomore cornerback. But what people fail to realize is that he’s playing in what is just his third year at the position. To add even more pressure, he’s also learning his third Defensive system.
Rowe picked up Utah’s system as a cornerback after transitioning from a Safety in his Senior year before learning the ins and outs of how Billy Davis does things in the NFL. Fast forward yet another few months and he’s learning a binary opposite system under one of the most tenacious Coordinators in all of Football.
But from the headlines we read on a daily basis, the analysis and the coaches feedback, you would expect Rowe to be almost invisible in preseason..when actually, he’s been the opposite.
Those of you who have read my weekly Cornerback analysis articles will recognize these gifs, but for those that haven’t..this defines Rowe’s preseason. Does this look like a struggling cornerback to you? Sure, he probably should have had the pick on the last play but a forced incompletion was the next best thing.
Rowe doesn’t show up on stat sheets very much. In a two-game span, Rowe has registered just one tackle while the rest of the Defense have accounted for a total of seven turnovers amongst an abundance of hits and pass breakups. Perhaps this is why people are so quick to overlook him and turn their attention to the rookies.
Jalen Mills, the Training Camp standout, a highly regarded player among coaches, the seventh round steal and the newly nicknamed “Green Goblin” had an atrocious showing against the Buccaneers, lining up against depth receivers. Once again, Eric Rowe’s work was done behind the scenes..under the radar and out of sight. Maybe it’s this out of sight, out of mind mentality that sees Rowe rapidly emerging as one of the most vastly underrated players on the entire team.
A year ago, it was Eric Rowe in the shoes of Jalen Mills..but after being forced into a starting role during an injury crisis, he was held to the same standards as everyone else and expected to go from a developmental project, into Richard Sherman in the space of a few games. What he actually became, was a Swan. On the surface, you just see the Swan, stagnant in water, devoid of all attention. Underneath the waves is a pair of legs working tirelessly to keep that Swan afloat and if they fail, things get ugly.
Jim Schwartz wants a very specific type of cornerback on his team and that’s completely understandable. Eric Rowe doesn’t fit the prototypical Schwartz corner mold, he isn’t physically dominant and while he can contribute to the run game, it isn’t his specialty. He doesn’t have great recovery speed and his entire style is based more around his frame than it is explosiveness or an ability to come up with big plays.
But in a wide-nine system in which passing yards over the top become a release valve for a dominant pass rush, you need a cornerback who can make those under the radar plays so that the rest of the cornerbacks can perform as Schwartz needs. Eric Rowe may only be a block in the Jenga tower, but if you pull him out..the entire Secondary will begin to wobble.