The Eagles may not have had a sack in Sunday’s win over the Giants. They may have had a sloppy fourth quarter which saw them allow all 24 of the points scored by New York. But that doesn’t mean that the Defense didn’t shine brighter than arguably any game so far under the tutelage of Jim Schwartz.
The Eagles Defense was not only relied upon constantly, but it was forced into situations where Schwartz had his back to the wall. A risky fourth down conversion attempt that backfired set the Giants up in perfect position to march down the remaining fifty yards and score. They very nearly did, but the unit sent Eli and the Offense into halftime without points and without direction.
For New York, the gameplay was simple. Their offensive line has been anything but consistent over the last few weeks and the Eagles pass rush has simply ran rampant. If the team could get the ball out quickly and efficiently, running an offense with tempo, they wouldn’t have to worry about the maulers ripping through their Offensive line. For the most part, the plan failed…and that all comes down to confidence in the secondary.
The game was extremely reminiscent of Green Bay’s win over Philadelphia last season. A game in which Aaron Rodgers picked apart the Eagles Defense with quick throws underneath, taking advantage of the Eagles lack of press coverage prowess. Reminiscent, but not identical. Schwartz entered this game with a “bend but don’t break mentality”, and it worked.
As a result, this only enhanced Manning’s willingness to throw underneath. Mills was targeted 21 times…which is more single-game targets than any cornerback in the last ten years, and more than any other corner has been targeted this season so far. The second year corner held his own and racked up 12 tackles. He may have given up two touchdown passes…but given the situation, it’s a small price to pay.
Mills is no stranger to Odell Beckham Jr, but until a fourth quarter that saw his former LSU teammate snag a one-handed TD grab and then a deep burner down the sideline to kickstart his resurgence, it was safe to say that Mills had the advantage.
“I’m really proud of the way he hung in there, and like I said, never flinched, never flinched when we said we’re going to switch sides, never flinched as the game went on. Jim Schwartz said. “Like I said, it was a hot game, we started playing a lot of snaps, we got over 70 snaps, never asked for doubles or Cover 2. That’s the competitor that he is, and he’s competitive, also, when it comes to technique.”
“Last year he played almost exclusively press coverage because his technique wasn’t good enough. A lot of times people think that being off is less technique. You have to be very, very sound to be off because one misstep you can’t make up, and he’s worked really hard at doing that. I think it’s added something to his game. He can still press, but now the ability to play off and stay square has been a big advantage for him.”
The cornerbacks were tasked with keeping an explosive yet underperforming offense at bay…and it wasn’t something Schwartz took lightly. Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas spent most of the day working in off-coverage looks, giving the receiver a few yards to work with before the initial bump is made. This reduces the risk of being burned deep in press-coverage if the likes of Odell are able to replicate the headaches he caused the Eagles over the last two years.
“There’s been plenty of teams that have done it.” Schwartz said regarding his decision to sit his defensive backs a little deeper than usual. “I mean, Tampa Bay won a Super Bowl and never got within six yards of a wide receiver. They played Tampa 2 and they played Cover 3 and hardly ever blitzed or played man. Indianapolis won Super Bowls doing that same thing. I think a lot of it depends on your talent, the specific talents of your guys, where your offense is, how the game is being played, how your pass rush is doing – all those different things play into it. That was the decision we made in this game. Every game is a little bit different. I think it surprised all you guys how much pressure we had in the opener against the Redskins and a lot of questions about, ‘Hey, is that going to be the thing?’ Hey, every week is probably a little bit different, and it’s all really depending on the offense, what your match-ups are, who the quarterback is, what their scheme is, how that best fits against us, what our injury situation is – all those go into account.”
Not only that, but the Eagles lacked the insurance policy of help over the top. With Rodney McLeod, Jaylen Watkins and Corey Graham all sidelined, there was more responsibility on the corners to hold their own and keep the play ahead of them. Something both Mills and Douglas did extremely well.
Douglas came down with his first interception after the Giants decided to take a shot down the field to Brandon Marshall that fell into the arms of the leaping 6’2 cornerback. The Eagles have had plenty of setbacks in their secondary since the start of the season, but for such a young group of defensive backs to hold their own against two of the most renowned WR names of the last decade says a lot about the potential within the locker room.
While it was the start of a promising road for Douglas, it was the next step for his teammate shadowing Odell Beckham Jr.
“I think that short memory is a good sign for a corner. I’ve said this for a long time about Jalen: I love his competitiveness. That took every bit of his competitiveness to be able to survive that game. That was a very difficult game to play the way we were doing it, because we were trying to limit their ability to make big plays. I thought Jalen did a good job of that, and tackled, and it was an important part of our win.”
While the front four and linebackers completely stagnated the run game, it was the secondary’s patience, composure and competitiveness that arguably won the day on Defense. Something that very few would have foreseen given the amount of injuries that the team had to deal with. Potential within the unit is high, and so is the excitement around the city. The Eagles may finally be on their way to some much needed continuity in the secondary.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports