Heading into the regular season, the secondary was the strength of this Eagles team. After a huge bounce back in 2017, the unit looked locked and loaded to embody the ‘No Fly Zone’ each and every week. With Sidney Jones named the starting nickel corner, Avonte Maddox his backup and Rasul Douglas was to be the next man up. As we approach the mid-point in the season however, the fortunes have flipped.
An injury-riddled secondary saw Avonte Maddox forced to start at a position he had never played before and the injury to Sidney Jones left a gaping hole at nickel corner. Instead of shifting Jalen Mills inside and promoting Rasul Douglas, or any variation that would see the West Virginia Ballhawk take the field however, Schwartz decided to give that position to Dexter McDougle.
Signed in the middle of the week, McDougle was first signed by the team last preseason and played in eight games for the Eagles. Playing in 27.6% of special teams snaps and 5.2% on defense, it’s safe to say his role was not primarily on defense, let alone as a starter. However, the only reason for his release was to make way for veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who was replacing an injured Jordan Hicks.
McDougle had stints elsewhere after his departure, but the trust put in him, despite his lack of recent game experience was interesting to say the least. Especially considering that Rasul Douglas played in 40.7% of defensive snaps last year and flashed turnover potential when dropped into the game against Atlanta.
“Dexter was with us last year and was our backup nickel, and with Sid [CB Sidney Jones] being week-to-week, we thought it was best to plug-and-play one guy in there rather than layering and moving a lot of different guys in there, so that was probably the biggest thing.” Jim Schwartz told reporters on Tuesday.
McDougle played 48 snaps in Sunday’s loss to the Panthers, just five less than he played during his entire first stint with the team. However, he allowed just one catch for nine yards on two targets. There were some coverage and missed tackle issues and what was very nearly a burning touchdown at the end of the game, but overall, McDougle played well all things considered.
“A little bit like those first preseason games, you’re always worried the most about tackling, I think that’s what we saw with Dex, but he went in, executed coverages well, got his guy covered.” Schwartz continued. I’d just like to see him be able to make a couple of those tackles, and I don’t want to single Dex out there. Defensively, as a whole on those drives, we got a lot of yards after catch and some runs that went against us. We got to do a better job with that.”
The defensive coordinator doubled down, calling Douglas an outside corner, but it seems like there’s certainly more to this than meets the eye. When asked about the decision, the answer was simply that Douglas is an outside corner, as is Jalen Mills and he would rather have a guy ‘plug-n-play’ as opposed to somebody who hasn’t had a wealth of experience at the position.
That makes sense, but it’s not like Rasul Douglas has been a lost cause when asked to step in.
Ronald Darby went down with a horrible injury in the opening fixture against Washington last year, paving the way for third-round selection, Rasul Douglas to make his mark in week two. The high-flying Kansas City Chiefs presented a sheer mismatch of speed and electricity on paper, something that had many fans biting their nails over. Yet Douglas held his own.
With four tackles to his name, Douglas also broke up a crucial pass on third down to force a Chiefs fourth down. Douglas kept plays ahead of him and more importantly, held his nerve against an Offense that has the ability to turn a dead play into a touchdown. We’ve seen many cornerbacks drown in the deep end once dropped in, but Douglas began the swim to safety onto his own Island, giving the team a level of confidence that may not have been there in the days after Darby’s injury.
From there, he went on to total 11 passes defensed, 2 interceptions and 25 tackles in 14 regular season games. Douglas was not perfect by any means, but the week-to-week progress made was beyond impressive.
Having not played much press coverage at West Virginia, Douglas came into the NFL with that as one of his primary concerns. However, Jim Schwartz opted to play his corners way from the line of scrimmage, giving them time to dissect the play and feeding off of the strengths in his secondary. When Darby returned, Douglas once again spent most of his time watching from the sideline until week 17 where he played a huge chunk of time.
With a wealth of depth during the offseason, Douglas was somewhat lost in the shuffle. But right now, this team is crying out for production in the secondary.
“Jalen Mills has allowed a league-high 541 yards in coverage as the nearest defender, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Eagles as a whole has given up a league-worst 1,410 yards to WRs and 8 touchdowns, as compared to just 2 interceptions.”
So surely with even Jim Schwartz craving turnovers, he’d play the corner that has 50% of his teams total on the season? Or the corner who had 11 passes defensed and 2 picks in his rookie year? or the corner who had 8 interceptions during his final season at WVU? Oh, they’re the same person.
Douglas may be a little too tall for the slot and he may not be a prototypical safety, but with Jalen Mills struggling so much and his history playing inside at times, would it not make more sense to shuffle that duo around instead of bringing a name off the street who hasn’t played a game in months?
There was a suggestion from a source last year that Douglas was disgruntled after Darby’s return. The rookie corner was playing exceptionally well given the circumstance and being ripped out of the defense while Darby was picked on for his first few games didn’t sit too well. Whether this caused a potential rift between Douglas and Schwartz is a complete unknown.
Then, there’s this cryptic tweet.
Learned a lot today and I’m all for it .
— rasul (@rd32_era) October 24, 2018
Now this could mean anything, but if we’re to assume it’s relevant to the Eagles, it doesn’t look good. Jim Schwartz is flat-out refusing to to give Douglas playing time in a situation where his secondary is begging, crying and screaming out for any kind of game-tilting production.
Why Douglas isn’t receiving the snaps here remains a mystery, but phrase it however you want. Bringing a player off the street who had minimal exposure to the NFL last year to START, while Douglas remains sidelined and watches that player then plays more in one game than he has all year, is a bonafide statement.
Something isn’t right here. Rasul Douglas has shown no signs of concern when on the field, or at least certainly none worthy to keep him the dark in the team’s hour of need. Could he be a potential trade pawn, or a player that simply doesn’t fit the Jim Schwartz mold and the coordinator wants to stick to his scheme? We may never find out the answer, but if the young corner isn’t going to get any kind of game time under Schwartz, the Eagles would be wise to cash in while value his at its highest. Because let’s be honest, if Douglas remains sidelined right now, he can’t be valued that much by his defensive coordinator.
andatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports