In case you missed it, the Eagles eked out a win on Sunday after a terrible start to week one against the Washington Redskins. Headed into the locker room down 20-7 at halftime, the team finished the game with a statement, putting up 25 unanswered points before a late — and meaningless — Washington touchdown. While the whole team looked lethargic and unprepared in the first half, what stuck out most was the struggles in the secondary.
Temporary lapses in coverage, poor tackling and bad angles of pursuit gifted the Redskins two long touchdowns which put the Eagles in a hole early. The coverage tightened in a major way in the second half, but early struggles coupled with the deployment of an unorthodox revolving door of cornerbacks is bound to raise some eyebrows.
Going into the week one clash with a division rival, we were already well aware that the corner position was less-than solidified. Top corner Ronald Darby is still working his way back to 100% after a torn ACL. Head Coach Doug Pederson admitted Darby would be on a snap count. Veteran corner Jalen Mills, sidelined with a lisfranc injury, is still weeks away from seeing the field. Avonte Maddox has earned the slot corner role after a tantalizing rookie season, but his versatility has seen him all over the defensive backfield. In essence, that left open a race for the second corner position that has been neck and neck since the early spring.
That meant that even nearing Sunday afternoon, few had a true idea of what the cornerback rotation would look like. Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz was frank in his pregame interviews, noting this was partially by design:
We are going to play that one close to our vest. No sense — I don’t think we gain any advantage sort of letting Washington know about what our rotation will be, who is playing right, who is playing left, who is playing nickel, who is playing dime . . . I think one thing over the course of last year, I think we’ve seen everybody is going to have to contribute at some point.
In the end, Schwartz was honest: each of the top four corners saw significant playing time. As expected, Maddox was a fixed feature in the slot, playing 61 of 67 snaps. He left the field with some cramping, but otherwise would have likely played all 67. After Maddox, the waters become less clear.
Darby was given a lot of time on the field despite being on a snap count. It’s likely he will see even more snaps as he continues to work towards 100%. Expect him to be the team’s entrenched number one. Until he is fully healthy, however, this week may have been an indication of how many snaps he will see in coming weeks.
Rasul Douglas was given the second most run of all corners. After a year of seemingly not getting his deserved opportunities and constantly fighting rumors that he has fallen out of favor with the coaching staff, this was a huge step for the third-year DB. His performance was a mixed bag, but the coaching staff clearly had the confidence to let him duke it out after being burnt for a long touchdown.
Sidney Jones’ role on defense will be the most difficult to determine from week to week. When Maddox spent time on the sideline, Jones moved into the slot. Otherwise, he split his time at the right and left outside corner position. While this will make his usage volatile over the span of the season, his moving around the formation didn’t exactly catch anyone off-guard. Jim Schwartz has always commended Jones on his versatility, and requires it out of his corners:
He can do both. Pretty much all of our guys in the secondary cross-train somewhere. He played nickel at the beginning of last year; finished at outside corner. Depending on how it all shakes out match-up-wise, injury-wise, everything else, we got confidence in both of those positions.
So, that’s how it all shook out for week one. A rotation in the truest sense of the word and, according to the coaching staff, entirely planned. Heeding Doug Pederson’s post-game press conference, the cycling will continue for the near future:
It’s all part of the plan, early in the season like that, especially with Darby, putting him on, not a pitch count, but a rotating basis. All of those guys were going to play. When you have four corners out there and the three that played corner position, obviously, but yeah, all part of the plan.
Still, not all things are created equal. The Eagles early secondary struggles aren’t blameless and simply won’t cut it when the team faces more dangerous passing attacks. It’s fair to mention that the defensive line failed to get any type of significant push against a very poor Redskins’ offensive line. Still, the performance in the secondary did the team no favors. Out of 79 eligible, Avonte Maddox and Rasul Douglas were PFF’s 68th and 63rd ranked corners, respectively.
Douglas started the game over Jones, but allowed a perfect passer rating when targeted. He was absolutely torched by rookie Terry McLaurin for a 70-yard touchdown. To be fair, not many players have McLaurin’s 4.35 quickness, and long speed has never been Rasul’s strength. However, if Douglas continues to be a liability against deep threats, teams will notice and take advantage. After reports that he lost weight in the offseason to improve his speed, that play was not a good look. He also allowed the final touchdown of the game — however meaningless — on a fairly simple rub concept in which he completely lost his cover while looking into the backfield. His run support saved his grade to some extent, where he has always been dependable.
Maddox’s grade is lower than expected, but he did allow some receptions in the slot. He slipped up on one play when Trey Quinn put the moves on him for a first down. However, there were no glaring mistakes. Overall, he looks better in press-man than off or zone coverage. His lack of length can be problematic when asked to play too far away from the football. His ability to lock down tricky slot receivers is ever important as the position grows in importance.
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