The offseason was a complete rollercoaster for the Philadelphia Eagles. From trading away the likes of Kiko Alonso, Byron Maxwell and DeMarco Murray, the Eagles completely renovated their roster. The acquisition of Carson Wentz sparked a small quarterback controversy in itself that ended in Sam Bradford being traded to Minnesota on the cusp of the regular season. But through all the cuts, trades and chaos..one move still makes little sense and unsurprisingly, it’s the move that is hurting the team more than any other made.
Just one week before the season opener against the Browns, the Eagles traded Eric Rowe to the New England Patriots in exchange for a conditional fourth round pick in the 2018 draft. The pick could become a third rounder if Rowe plays in at least 50% of the Pats defensive snaps in 2016 or 2017.
From the moment Jim Schwartz arrived in Philadelphia, it seemed as though there was a strange feeling surrounding the future of Eric Rowe. After a rookie campaign that saw him endure a baptism of fire against Megatron before emerging as an impressive man-coverage corner, many expected Rowe to become a reliable option on the outside.
Instead, the Eagles bought in Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks. Two former Buffalo Bills who had experience of the wide-nine scheme and had worked under the new Eagles Defensive Coordinator.
Throughout Training camp and preseason, the media and Schwartz alike continued to put pressure on Rowe..with a “lack of physicality” and “a struggle in adapting to the new scheme” being common concerns. However in each preseason appearance, Rowe did nothing but impress. He may not have been the toughest corner on the Eagles roster, but his footwork and ability to contain big-name receivers certainly made up for it.
As much as Rowe “appeared” to struggle in Training camp, facts are facts. In his rookie season, Rowe gave up just three catches on seven pass attempts against the Redskins for 46 yards, allowing a 65.2 passer rating. If that wasn’t impressive enough, he was forced into a starting role due to injuries and was targeted 12 times against the Patriots, allowing only 25% of those targets to be rendered complete..giving up just 42 yards and breaking up two passes.
The Patriots liked Eric Rowe before the draft..and what they saw him do against them last season obviously sparked interest. That interest was only ignited once the team looked to move away from a then 23-year old player entering his second season…and third season playing the position.
The move left the Eagles light on cornerback..but that weight was shed even more when slot corner Ron Brooks fell injured. Lingering injuries to Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll have thrust seventh round pick Jalen Mills into the spotlight on numerous occasions, with the success levels varying.
The development of Jalen Mills has been exciting to watch, and he’s only going to get better with time. But the reliance on the former LSU standout is simply too much at this stage in his career. Despite a recent surge from Carroll and Mills, the Eagles cornerbacks have largely struggled this year.
Leodis McKelvin simply hasn’t found a rhythm and at this point, the injury excuses have run dry. Game after game, play after play, the veteran corner simply struggles to prevent a big pass from being completed and is often burned on deep routes.
In each of their last three games, the Eagles have allowed a season high in in passing yards..worsening their last effort. Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Andy Dalton have all combined for 917 total passing yards, 5 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.
Jim Schwartz alluded to the fact that a lack of cornerback consistency has limited his Defense in today’s press conference:
“…facts of life, our corners aren’t playing very well right now. Doesn’t mean I’ve lost confidence in them. Those are the same bunch of corners that shut down some of the best offenses in the NFL. But we’re in a slump.
It didn’t matter what we were calling against Atlanta or Minnesota, I said, ‘It didn’t matter what I was calling. They were all working.’ And this game, it didn’t matter what we were calling. It wasn’t working. I watch enough baseball and talk baseball, baseball players deal with slumps all the time. The only thing you can do with a slump is go back to basics. Go back to technique. If you’re a corner, it’s about two things: it’s about technique, and it’s about confidence. We’re not playing with a lot of confidence at corner, and we need to tighten up our technique”
So while the Eagles are struggling mightily at cornerback…how is Eric Rowe doing in New England?
After missing the first five games due to an ankle injury, Rowe has played in over 30% of New England’s total Defensive snaps this season. In the six games Rowe has featured in for New England, he’a amassed a total of 19 tackles and 4 passes defensed.
Against the Jets and the Niners, Rowe really came into his own however.
The Patriots win over the Rams came at a price, as Rowe left the game with an injury. But the point is very simple..Eric Rowe is having a much better year than the Eagles cornerback corps.
Despite being traded to the Pats just days before the season started and enduring an injury, Rowe has played in over 95% of the Patriots Defensive snaps 3 times already..
For the Eagles, their lives don’t get any easier. Kirk Cousins, Eli Manning, Dak Prescott and Joe Flacco all sit just around the corner with a flurry of receiving threats who will be licking their lips at kicking a top Defense while it’s down. If the Eagles cornerbacks can’t get out of their funk soon..it’s going to be a stressful end to the year.
He may not have been a perfect system fit..and he may not have screamed physical monster, but Eric Rowe was easily the best cornerback on the roster when it came to man-coverage..and the Eagles decision to trade him for a conditional pick is one that will haunt a struggling and inconsistent unit for the remainder of the season.
Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports