Just as it was finally looking like the storm was beginning to settle ahead of the 2016 season, the Eagles made yet another shocking trade..this time sending second year cornerback Eric Rowe to the New England Patriots. The reason behind the trade was simple, Eric Rowe didn’t fit the aggressive and tenacious nature of Jim Schwartz’s Defense..but that doesn’t mean the move was right to make. This could be a trade that has vicious repercussions.
As things stand, the Eagles are extremely light on cornerbacks..both in terms of talent and depth. Beyond Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll, things become incoherently dark. The Eagles now have four cornerbacks on their 53-man roster, with the remaining two being Ron Brooks..a cornerback who proved to be reckless in his technique during the preseason after spending a year in a predominantly special teams based role in Buffalo and seventh round pick Jalen Mills, who has a hugely disappointing preseason, failing to showcase any of the ability hyped up during Training camp.
Like it or not, Eric Rowe was the best man-coverage cornerback on the Eagles roster. You may avidly disagree..but there is simply no proof that suggests otherwise. When people hear the name Eric Rowe, they think of the cornerback who struggled against future HOF receiver Calvin Johnson and who is “soft”, a misfit for this Defense. They don’t view the rookie 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.
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 were quick to turn their back on the Sophomore cornerback, as were the Eagles themselves. 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 was 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.
The wide-nine scheme is a vicious one..but every action has a reaction. The ruthless pass rush is balanced by absorbing a lot of passing yards. While the Eagles may not have allowed a point against a shorthanded Steelers Offense in preseason, they did surrender 158 passing yards. Against the Bucs, that number was 298. The Colts were able to put up 315 yards through the air and the Jets 207.
This is a recurring theme in Jim Schwartz Defenses, as can be seen in the table below..the passing yards become a release valve as such for the wide nine scheme.
Partner this with Schwartz’s somewhat overlooked inability to produce continued cornerback success (just ask the Detroit Lions who beyond Darius Slay, rarely had CB success under Jim Schwartz) and the Eagles are in a bit of a slump.
Mainly because with Nigel Bradham being the teams only reliable coverage linebacker, the cornerbacks are going to have a lot of cleaning up to do..and while Eric Rowe may not have hit like Ron Brooks or been as tough as Leodis McKelvin, what he bought was technique, instinct and an ability to make big plays without drawing PI calls.
Rowe is able to take the pressure off of the other cornerbacks when it comes to big name receivers. From Brandon Marshall to DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, Rowe showed up when it mattered most last season and was able to completely silence some of the biggest threats the team faced.
He doesn’t show up on the stat sheets..but he’s not a highlight play corner. He’s the guy that diverts attention elsewhere in a bid to keep the deep threats quiet. Against the Bills last year, Eric Rowe gave up just two catches on five targets for 26 yards, breaking up a pass in the process. Without the level of consistency Rowe brings to the table under-the-radar, the Eagles will struggle.
Rowe may not be the most intimidating cornerback in the league, but with such an early bye-week, if it came down to Odell Beckham Jr, Dez Bryant, Josh Doctson, Sterling Shepard or DeSean Jackson lining up with a game on the line toward the end of the season..and the cornerback on them was a Buffalo special teamer who flies in for a tackle without realizing the consequence if he misses, or a seventh round pick who severely struggles to jam at the line of scrimmage..the odds will be stacked heavily against the Eagles secondary.
Not only that but with Run Defense being so prominent, teams will almost be forced to attack the Defense through the air as they have during the preseason. If Ron Brooks and Jalen Mills now see more snaps and THIS is the kind of thing we have to expect and compensate for, then the Eagles Secondary..like years past, will be exploited by every Offense they face.
The Eagles could well be looking to replace Rowe. Or, they may bring in Terrence Brooks to cornerback after signing him as a Safety due to a much better system fit. But in a worst case scenario, the Eagles will call upon the services of C.J Smith, an undrafted rookie from the practice squad.
You don’t have to be Eric Rowe’s biggest fan to acknowledge that the Secondary is a lot weaker without him..and in a system where the cornerbacks are going to be crucial in being the safety cushion for a successful pass rush, they need reliability..something that while scrappy at times, Eric Rowe was.
Five days before the start of the regular season, the Eagles have traded away a cornerback who had plenty of talent..but just didn’t fit the system. Echoes of LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson are ringing around Lincoln Financial Field, but in trying to erase every last part of the Chip Kelly era, the Eagles are potentially laying the foundations for an era just as destructive for the Secondary unit.