Does a revamped Eagles secondary have the antidote to Terry McLaurin?


It took a Carson Wentz & DeSean Jackson masterclass in week one last year to pull the Eagles back from the brink of a meltdown. There was so much hype around the team before the season but it all fell apart so quickly, with one man bringing a harsh reality-check to the team – WR Terry McLaurin.

A third-round pick in last year’s draft, McLaurin quickly became a problem for the Eagles. Many overlooked his blazing speed and craftiness due to where he was drafted, but were soon made to pay. McLaurin made his NFL debut in spicy fashion, punishing the Eagles with 125 receiving yards and a 69-yard touchdown.

The team’s wouldn’t meet again for twelve weeks so you’d assume that by then, the Eagles would work out a gameplan for such a rapid receiver who by this point had over 700 receiving yards to his name already. Nope. McLaurin would burn the Eagles for a further 130 yards and another 75-yard touchdown. Fun.

After opening up as 4.5 point road favorites against the Redskins, the Eagles have already moved to 6 point favorites according to SBD’s NFL odds for week one. It’s safe to assume that a revamped secondary may well factor into the reason why so much money is being poured onto the Eagles.

Nobody is expecting the Redskins to be a serious contender in the NFC East this year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be problematic as they almost were last year…especially with that defensive line and a new Head Coach. But it’s McLaurin who should be drawing the gaze here.

Now entering his second year with a former Buckeye teammate as his quarterback, the expectations are high for the 24-year old speedster. But the Eagles defense he’ll face in week one will be very different to the one he faced 12 months ago.

The main difference now is that McLaurin is the team’s certified WR1 as opposed to being the secondary option on the other side of the field. Last year, one touchdown came against Jalen Mills (who is hardly prolific on deep passes) and the other against Rasul Douglas, who was expecting Safety help in a cover-2 robber look. Douglas shaded outside, McLaurin ran right by and the Safety bit down underneath, creating a gateway to freedom.

This time around, he’ll face a very different threat in the way of Darius Slay, as explained by Conor Myles in a recent article for PSN.

According to Pro Football Focus, Slay was on the field for 214 off-man coverage snaps in 2019 and only surrendered 177 receiving yards. Press coverage, however, is where Slay stumbled. The cornerback saw 162 snaps in press coverage while allowing 346 receiving yards.

Slay has the most forced incompletions in the NFL with 85 since 2014, according to Pro Football Focus.

During week one of the 2019 season, Slay played an NFL-high 58 coverage snaps in the season-opening tie against Arizona. The Pro Bowl cornerback allowed one reception for six yards that came on a third-and-16. Cardinals quarterback, Kyler Murray, avoided Slay’s side of the field, only targeting him four times with a quarterback rating of 39.6 on 59 dropbacks.

2019 was a tough year for Slay, who battled a lingering hammy injury. He still ended up with 2 picks and 10 passes defensed in 12 games played along with 23 solo tackles. Slay allowed a 55% completion percentage in 2019 and a 46.8% in 2018, giving up 9 touchdowns combined in those two years. Not bad…

McLaurin will no longer be lining up against Jalen Mills or Rasul Douglas, rather a veteran who can go stride-for-stride with the raging young bull. In 2018, Slay was fourth in the NFL coverage rating with a 0.0% burn rate. He allowed the third-lowest catch rate (51.6%), and a passer rating of just 72.3. Those are true CB1 numbers and we don’t need to mention his ridiculous 2017 campaign.

The matchup with Washington runs far deeper than just one player, but McLaurin was the man who continued to change the game and snatch momentum. The Eagles may have an answer for a receiver they’ll face twice a year for the foreseeable future.

Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports