The Eagles may have left FedEx field with a victory over their divisional rivals in week one, but they also left with a substantial hit to their secondary. Starting cornerback Ronald Darby fell awkwardly on his Ankle, sustaining an injury that will keep him sidelined for roughly 4-6 weeks. While both Jim Schwartz and Doug Pederson have openly discussed the possibilities of who steps up to the mark, nothing has been set in stone and that will likely be the case up until gameday. The Eagles kept just three corners active during the season opener, so will they go slightly heavier this week? Here’s a closer look at the names who could be called up to the plate in Sunday’s clash with Kansas City.
The logical decision here is to shift Patrick Robinson back outside. The Eagles signed the former Colts corner as a free agent to partner up with Jalen Mills on the outside to begin with, but a tricky offseason and training camp saw his stock wobble as receivers continued to exploit his weaknesses. Inside is where Robinson is at his best…and it’s inside I expect him to stay.
Robinson is no stranger to working out of the slot. In fact, it was with the Chargers in 2015 playing in the position that he had arguably played his best season of his career, with 49 combined tackles, an interception, a FF, and 8 passes defensed. His numbers weren’t amazing, but a 55.9% completion rate allowed absolutely was. In his lone year there, Robinson showed the potential he had flashed at times playing for the Saints.
According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed 8.9 yards per catch during that lone season with San Diego, the best among corners targeted 40 times or more. When lined up in the slot, he allowed 0.78 yards per coverage snap, the second best among corners targeted over 200 times in the slot.
Amassing four tackles in his Eagles debut, coming off the edge on blitzes and wrapping up ball-carriers with ease. A reliable corner over the middle, Robinson flexed outside once Darby went down and continued his production.
Robinson’s move outside is fully dependent on how the team view Rasul Douglas and whether or not they’re comfortable with the third-round pick starting in week two after a camp based on development. If Douglas does move outside, it leaves a vacancy in the slot. Enter….
…this man. The Eagles poached McDougle just before the end of an impressive preseason, giving him one opportunity to thrive in the Jim Schwartz Defense against his former team. It didn’t take McDougle long to make an impression and assert himself as a nickel backup to Patrick Robinson.
The 5’10 corner was a three year starter during his time at Maryland, totalling 151 tackles, 6 interceptions and 22 passes defensed. Dinner. Cornerback. McDougle is a corner who thrives at the top of routes and is at his best when the ball is thrown in his direction. Preseason was very much a proving ground on that front.
With some time to get the scheme down, McDougle would likely move into the starting nickel role which allows the Eagles to go heavier elsewhere and move an experienced starter outside. The Chiefs have a flurry of speedy receiving threats and composure and experience will be needed.
There is a chance however that third-round pick Rasul Douglas earns his first NFL start. The knock on Douglas from the moment he was drafted was that he never played in a lot of man coverage…and one week after Mills allowed 108-yards in man situations, Douglas may not bring the sense of comfort that the Eagles desire as a band-aid for Darby’s services.
What Douglas does have however is an offseason lining up against Alshon Jeffery and company. With length on his side, the 6’2, 210 lbs, New Jersey native has the size to mix it up with bigger bodied players and never shies away from the big hit. There would very much be a chip on the shoulder for Douglas after being listed as inactive when the first game of the season arrived.
The main perk of moving Douglas up to a starting role is that it enables Robinson to resume his duties in the nickel and keeps the optionality of the wide-nine scheme open. NASCAR packages galore? Maybe. Whether or not Douglas earns such a call-up falls onto the coaching staff and how they feel he’d be able to cope against the lightning-fast Tyreek Hill or dangerous De’Anthony Thomas.
Don’t be surprised to see the Eagles keep Douglas stashed away for now as opposed to throwing him in the deep end when it isn’t warranted.
Watkins is another intriguing option. The versatile safety has previously shown that he has cornerback potential, shutting down DeSean Jackson for the Eagles two season’s ago and surviving an onslaught against the Cardinals, it was clear Watkins had the intangibles to be valuable at the position. The problem was his reliability. Missed tackles and blown coverages happened all too often in his first few outings in the NFL, but after moving to Safety and working with Malcolm Jenkins, he’s proven his worth.
Going against the odds and beating out Blake Countess when he switched to the last line of Defense, he was tasked with having to defeat Terrence Brooks in a roster battle that felt beyond lopsided. But somehow, Watkins managed. In the first game of the season, Watkins shifted to the outside in place of Darby and made some impressive plays on the ball.
Whether the Eagles choose experience over youth in this scenario is likely going to be the deciding factor here, but don’ be surprised to see Watkins at least take some cornerback reps on Sunday against the Chiefs, regardless of whether or not he starts there.
Jenkins has long been the team’s fallback option when it comes to nickel corner. He has the experience and production to play both inside and out, and the swinging factor here is Corey Graham. The durable former Bills Safety will be able to stand in for Jenkins should he be called elsewhere on the battlefield.
We saw Jenkins blitz Kirk Cousins in a “kitchen sink” type attack that resulted in a Jalen Mills interception and should be prepared to see much of the same this weekend. Jenkins probably won’t start outside, but his versatility will be key to keeping the Eagles secondary afloat with some important decisions ahead.
Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports