Losing Rodney McLeod Presents New Challenge for Eagles

NFL: SEP 20 Rams at Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 20: Philadelphia Eagles free safety Rodney McLeod (23) looks on during the game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles on September 20, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

The Eagles’ defense had its strongest performance of the season sacking New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill five times and creating two turnovers in the 24-21 win Sunday. Unfortunately for the Eagles, their leader in the secondary, Rodney McLeod, won’t finish the season in the lineup.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson announced in his press conference Monday that safety McLeod tore his ACL in Sunday’s game that will end his 2020 campaign.

“Rodney McLeod, I can say, he’s going to miss the rest of the season,” Pederson said Monday. “Torn ACL, showed up on exam again this morning. Unfortunate, with him, that he’s going to miss the remainder of this season.”

This is the second time in the last four seasons that McLeod has torn his ACL after it happened back in 2018 as well. McLeod is second on the team in tackles (66), first in pass deflections (7), first in fumble recoveries (2), tied for first in interceptions (1), and returned a fumble for a touchdown.

The news is devastating. McLeod was one of the biggest impact players on this defense and now his status for 2021 will also be up in the air, putting substantial strain on younger players.

Not only that, but the secondary as a whole was ripped apart on Sunday. Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox were also knocked out of the game with injuries. Slay’s head injury has him questionable for this week’s game against the Arizona Cardinals. Pederson told the media Monday that Maddox will miss some time with a knee injury.

The Impact of Losing Rodney McLeod

Philadelphia’s secondary struggled the last two games prior to the Saints game with top receivers. Slay struggled with covering Seattle’s DK Metcalf and Green Bay’s Devante Adams in coverage. McLeod is considered by many to be the best player in coverage for the team. McLeod is top ten in opposing quarterback’s passer rating (54.8) and also allowed only a 46.2% completion percentage in coverage.

This presents a major problem for the Eagles as they try to make one final push to dethrone the Washington Football Team from the top spot in the NFC East. Maddox is lost for a few weeks and Slay’s injury leaves some questions about his playing status against the Cardinals.

Fans got to see Marcus Epps and rookie K’Von Wallace control the safety positions while Jalen Mills was forced to return to corner. If Slay is out Sunday against Arizona, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz may have to keep Mills at corner and start Nickell Robey-Coleman at the other outside corner position. This will leave young safeties, Epps and Wallace, as the starters.

The secondary was challenged against New Orleans after losing both Slay, McLeod, and Maddox to injury. While Epps and Wallace show promise for the future, the real question will be are they ready to take on a well-rounded receiving core like Arizona.

Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins is widely considered the best receiver in the league due to his size and strong hands. This season has shown that even a top corner like Slay has struggled against receivers of Hopkins’ level. Robey-Coleman’s play as a slot corner has been inconsistent at best and he will be challenged in covering Hopkins.

Philadelphia will be relying on their defensive line to get pressure on the quarterback like they did Sunday. Javon Hargrave and Josh Sweat had huge games with two sacks each and could see more playing time because of it. The Eagles need to hope for star players like Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox to dominate the rest of the way.

Schwartz faces his biggest challenge of the year in trying to find a new leader in the secondary to take over for Rodney McLeod. Expect Mills to fill that role and release the “Green Goblin” energy to the younger players.

Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire