271.2. That’s how many passing yards the Eagles are giving up on average per game this season. It’s not pretty, but that’s been the case ever since the arrival of Jim Schwartz, But if the motto ‘bend, don’t break’ remains, there are two cornerbacks who have to embody that over the next month.
The Eagles have suffered from cornerback instability for years now and despite investing significant draft capital to build the current corps, injuries are still a pressing issue. Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, the starters heading into 2019, are sat on the sideline, as is Cre’Von LeBlanc and 2019’s rookie standout Avonte Maddox. It leaves a group of Rasul Douglas, Sidney Jones, Orlando Scandrick, and Craig James, to deal with opposing wide receivers.
There’s optimism that Jones will return in week 6 and that’s just as well. The Eagles go on a three-game road trip that will see them face the Minnesota Vikings, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Chicago Bears. Talk about tough sledding.
And whether you agree or not, the Eagles have shown faith in their young, shorthanded group. Jalen Ramsey has been dangled in front of Howie’s nose for weeks along with a flurry of other names, but Roseman has kept his composure and his finger away from the trigger.
Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones are the only cornerbacks outside of Avonte Maddox who could be considered starters and are contracted through next year. Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills are both set to enter free agency and will do so off the back of yet more injury setbacks. Now, with a 3-2 record and a month of facing receivers who have ripped past these corners before, they have to step up.
We all remember that fateful game against Dallas where Rasul Douglas kept Amari Cooper quiet all game before surrendering a touchdown in overtime under the unluckiest of circumstances. But this has to be a ‘coming of age’ for both players.
Sidney Jones was a second-round pick but has battled injury problems ever since the heartbreaking injury that saw his stock drop to begin with. Rasul Douglas, meanwhile, struggled to win over the coaching staff during his first two years (for reasons unknown) and was constantly caged up like a Rabid Dog just waiting to attack.
Both have flashed a lot of potential this season, but that has to translate into consistency. As tacklers, in coverage, and in communication.
The pairing have carried the ‘underdog’ label for too long now. All Darby and Mills can do for now is watch from the sidelines as their long-term futures are arguably taken out of their hands. Douglas and Jones may bring different skillsets to the table, but Jones has yet to prove himself as a reliable outside CB and Douglas has only ever been afforded a real opportunity when injuries strike. The moment is now for both cornerbacks to help remove the stigma around the Eagles secondary.
The Eagles pass defense has been worryingly bad this season, but the pass-rush getting hot at the right time might just help balance the scales. This is undoubtedly the biggest stretch of games in the careers of both Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas. If they can hold their own, it’s unlikely Darby sees the field as a starter again when healthy and the Eagles can march into the playoffs and beyond with a core to build around. If they struggle and history repeats itself, the carousel will continue to spin and pressure will begin to build.