A lot has changed since the Eagles last played the Cardinals. In fact, many fans have only just stopped having nightmares about David Johnson’s domineering touchdown and the 40-17 onslaught that ensued. With the two teams preparing to lock heads once again, I thought it would be a great opportunity to go back and look at one player who really shined on such a dark day…and it’s a name you won’t expect.
Having played just three snaps all season, Watkins was forced into the firing line and tasked with stopping Carson Palmer and the gunslinging Offense. The one thing that stands out here is the missed tackle on that spine tingling David Johnson touchdown…a missed tackle that almost created the false narrative that Watkins struggles to wrap up receivers. Or maybe it was the 29-yard reception given up to a leaping Michael Floyd. But what Watkins did against such a speedy wide receiving corps to this day stands as one of his best performances.
Towards the closing stages of the second half, Palmer did what Palmer does best, air one out downfield. His target, John Brown, was primed to slip through the Eagles cover-2 look, but there was an extra chip on the shoulder for the former FSU defensive back. Watkins picks up the physically imposing wideout and even though Brown breaks inside for separation, it doesn’t stop Watkins from leaping up to punch the ball away and force the incompletion.
In the second half, the Cardinals began to test Watkins, looking to pluck away at his inexperience. Michael Floyd ran a simple curl here, knowing that Watkins had his back to the sideline and his eyes fixed downfield. Watkins turned a little early, but his closing speed after recognizing the curl and ability to jump over the top of Floyd was impressive.
Then, the big one. Larry Fitzgerald lined up opposite Jaylen Watkins and could surely smell blood in the water. The future hall of fame took his time eyeing up Watkins and tried to make him bite on a double move that many cornerbacks have been burned by in the past. Watkins kept his eyes on the quarterback, got out of his back-pedal quickly and jumped the route for his second of a career-best three pass defenses that day.
Watkins played a total of 49 snaps against the Cardinals and has since moved to Safety and carved his own niche in the Jim Schwartz Defense. After missing two games due to an injury however, the Eagles were incredibly light on Safety depth. Rasul Douglas was forced onto the battleground as Watkins was two season’s ago and for the most part he’s been able to hold his own. There is the possibility ever that things swing back around for Watkins, who could have his second shot at covering one of the all-time greats.
The Eagles may decide to give the more experienced player snaps on Sunday. After Douglas allowed two deep plays to Phillip Rivers and the Chargers, this speedy Cardinals Offense could only further hurt his development. Watkins has been here before. With experience at both corner and safety, he may end up seeing a huge chunk of playing time on Sunday…but will he have another career game as he did when the teams first met?
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports