Ronald Darby was hurdled by a 140-year old Vernon Davis, but had an otherwise solid game. His coverage was sticky and he had a very impressive near interception early in the game. McLaurin made an incredible catch over top of Darby, but the coverage was tight. He will be exciting to watch when he fully regains his health.
All in all, Sidney Jones had an alright day. Despite beginning the game on the sideline, he got more playing time as the game went on. He allowed some catches late in the game in loose off-ball coverage — which is easily forgiven. The biggest knock was that Terry McLaurin also flew by him on a deep post route, but Case Keenum wasn’t able to connect. On film, it’s obvious Jones was thinking too much. His feet stopped and he couldn’t recover. Some of these mistakes are to be expected as he continues to get used to NFL play speed. After all, that was only his tenth professional game. In his brief time in the slot, Jones fared very well, registering a very important third-down PBU. Growth is the name of the game for Jones. If he can continue to get better week-in week-out, it’s only a matter of time before he regains his former first-round pedigree.
It’s important to note that Doug Pederson said that Jones’ increase in late-game snaps at the expense of Rasul Douglas had nothing to do with performance:
We knew they were all going to play, and really Rasul had been really working at that spot for the majority of the time, and Sidney was going to get some opportunity in this game . . . it was all planned. Everything was planned.
While that may be no more than coach speak from Dougy P, it truly seems as if the coaching staff is prepared to give each corner their opportunity to earn a role. That means, going forward, with just two corners certain to get lengthy playing time — Darby and Maddox — the second outside corner spot and dime corner position are still up in the air. Keep in mind the team will eventually welcome back both Jalen Mills and newly extended Cre’Von Leblanc.
Some, if not all of the dime responsibilities will be given to a Malcolm Jenkins. While he wasn’t seen much on Sunday, Johnathan Cyprien could also slide into the mix. Still, with so many question marks still hanging in the air, it’s fair to question what the secondary will look like from week to week.
With each corner having their fair share of ups and downs, it will likely be a work in progress for at least a few more weeks. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they won’t have the fortuity of a favorable schedule for the coming weeks. Three consecutive upcoming games against the Falcons’ myriad of talented receivers, Detroit’s combo of Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, and Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams’ Packers will be a true test. Facing receivers that will need to be defended as a team, the Philadelphia secondary cannot afford to be fragmented or of two minds. The defensive staff will need to figure out what they are about and quickly.
While it takes a bit of reading between the lines, what the coaches have alluded to the most is having the flexibility to play the match-up game. Through this lens, a corner-by-committee approach makes a lot of sense. There aren’t many corners in the league that are as physical as Julio Jones and can run toe-to-toe with high-end route runners like Davante Adams.
However, Rasul Douglas has shown the ability to shut down bigger, more imposing receivers. At 6’2″, he’s fantastic in jump ball situations and can be stifling in press coverage. Last season, he ranked 10th against the deep ball according to PFF and forced an incompletion on 6.7% of his deep ball targets. His long arms and fantastic ball skills make him very good at disrupting passes. That’s also why he led the team in interceptions last season despite limited starting minutes. This is what happened the last time the Eagles faced off against the Falcons:
Conversely, Sidney Jones has always been known for his incredible change of direction. Against more adept route runners, he will have the edge over Douglas. He’s incredibly smooth and a truly athletic player. After a lengthy recovery process from an Achilles injury — one of , if not the worst injury for defensive backs — many forget that last year was essentially Jones’ rookie season. The mental mistakes still show up on film (i.e. the deep shot to McLaurin in the video above), but so does the coverage ability.
The play below really showcases what each corner brings to the table:
Although we may get more solid answers when Jim Schwartz addresses the media later in the week, it appears as if the corner-by-committee will continue. Against teams that rely on speed, or complex routes look for Sidney Jones to get the nod. Rasul will likely edge Jones on snaps against larger, more physical receivers. Having veteran help at safety will facilitate the Eagles’ versatility in the secondary. It allows Jim Schwartz some room for creativity while keeping his pass rush simple, and therefore fast. Although there will be growing pains, this really is an ideal situation for what the Eagles like to do on defense. As Douglas and Jones continue to grow, Rodney McLeod and Darby return to full strength and the team welcomes back Mills and Leblanc, this will be a cornerback rotation to be reckoned with.
25 year old Eagles writer from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.