The Eagles are riding a lifeline right now. The margin for error is smaller than ever, with one more loss likely ending an almighty comeback to take control of the NFC East. It’s been a rollercoaster season, but the last few weeks have inspired plenty of hope, especially defensively. There are still some large questions looming, but given that the Eagles have been missing all of their starting cornerbacks (or at least a combination of) during the last three weeks, the rise of one man in particular has been a strong highlight.
Rasul Douglas hasn’t had the easiest season. After a promising rookie campaign, one would assume that a secondary decimated by injuries would call his name imminently, especially after an interception in the first game of the season. However, that wouldn’t be the case.
When the Safety depth was tested due to the losses of Rodney McLeod and Corey Graham, the Eagles opted to drop rookie corner Avonte Maddox into the deep end. At the time, this move seemed confusing, but the hard-hitting DB has proved a lot of people wrong. But when Sidney Jones suffered an injury, surely, surely the Eagles had to turn to Rasul Douglas?
Instead, they brought in Dexter McDougle, who spent time with the team last year, playing primarily on special teams during the first half of the season before being cut to make room for emergency linebacker help. In two weeks, McDougle, who was signed off the street, played 106 snaps on defense, proving to be a liability in most. Douglas, a former third-round pick, meanwhile has played in 94 through 8 games.
In 106 snaps, McDougle didn’t really show anything positive. He ran into Jordan Hicks on a pick play, almost gave up a deep touchdown against the Panthers having been completely burned, tripped over on another play and looked lost in London. In his defense, that was to be expected given he was literally signed after not playing a regular season game since November 2017.
Douglas was finally given his opportunity to shine in the loss to Dallas earlier this season and it didn’t end too prettily. Although, he did end that game with 8 tackles to his name, second only to Nigel Bradham that night. In fact, every game up until Monday night followed the same trend. Douglas was beaten deep on several plays and made a few mental errors, perhaps highlighting the unseen side to his game and that there is still plenty of growing room for the young West Virginia product.
But against the Washington Redskins, Douglas snapped. He didn’t just lead the team in tackles (7), but he was a monster contributor against the run, something that in recent weeks has completely evaded the unexperienced Eagles corners. Tackling has been poor to say the least but despite a few errors, Douglas may have had the best game of his career.
On a trick-play that saw the ball passed back across the line of scrimmage to a wide open Chris Thompson, Douglas burst down into his path and sniped his legs, deadening the play in the process. If not for that tackle, the Redskins were in a position to do some serious damage and keep the game alive. Something Jim Schwartz was only too happy to comment on.
I had been waiting to see this angle on that big play from Rasul Douglas on MNF. He really saved the #Eagles on this trick play. pic.twitter.com/8uY3ApxMgh
— Dave Zangaro (@DZangaroNBCS) December 5, 2018
“Rasul did his job on that play. He was the last line of defense and was able to get — again, a tough back and he also had to defeat [Redskins T] Trent Williams, who is obviously one of the best blockers. That was a huge play for us at a critical point in that game. If they were able to keep that drive alive and score, and all have a sudden it’s a one-score game.
So obviously that was a big play, and he can build off of that.”
Build off that, he did. Douglas began to find his mojo and was a brute force in tackling all night long. It’s no coincidence that this was a focus for him coming into the game.
“We’ve been tackling [poorly] the last few weeks, the defensive backs, including myself.” Douglas said at his locker after the game. “So we emphasized that we have to make the tackle if it came to us. And with a lot of teams that go 13 personnel or two tights ends, block down and leave the corner unblocked so we just try to make as many tackles as we can.”
Douglas is beginning to shine, showing growth in an area of his game that previously alluded him. Known as a ballhawk who could pluck passes from the air with ease due to his great length and wingspan, Douglas rarely played in press situations or was relied on to make big tackles on an island. That’s changing now, with Mills and Maddox still absent from practice. There’s every chance that Douglas will be called upon against the team he set a career-high in tackles against, even if he doesn’t start.
Not only that, but if tackling in the open field comes into question, there’s a big problem just around the corner.
“Elliott is just so strong. He’s hard to tackle one-on-one.” Jim Schwartz said in his weekly presser. “He has enough speed that he can get to the edge and he can create big plays. But he’s so strong. They are not very complicated in the run game and they don’t need to be. Just sort of hand him the ball, and even if there is an extra guy, he can run through them or make them miss.
He has also really increased his load as his career has gone on in the passing game also. He is a dangerous screen runner. You have to account for him. He’s obviously one of the best backs in the league.
If we’re going to come out with a win, we’re going to have to get him stopped.”
The Cowboys are absolutely going to try and force the cornerbacks to come down and make a tackle, knowing full well that Elliott has 458 yards after the catch alone this season. Screens, swings and an arsenal of short passes are bound to play a part and if Ronald Darby and Sidney Jones, who have both proven to be very inconsistent when it comes to wrapping up more physical ball carriers, are unable to get the job done, this could be a huge lifeline for Douglas.
It’s been a long and frustrating year for Rasul Douglas. But if he can ball out in the absence of Jalen Mills and make a statement, even after some major wobbles a few weeks ago, it may finally be enough to convince Jim Schwartz that he does belong in this defense. The good news is, he’s in the perfect position to do so.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports