What the stats don’t tell you about Eagles CB Darius Slay

NFL: SEP 27 Bengals at Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 27: Philadelphia Eagles Cornerback Darius Slay (24) interacts with the Bengals bench after a play in the second half during the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles on September 27, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Despite continuing to rank near the top of the lead in sacks, the Eagles haven’t exactly been a defensive powerhouse this year. In recent weeks, the reinforcements have caved in and with injuries piling up, the secondary has been battered and bruised. Logically, a lot of attention now turns to Darius Slay, who signed a three-year $50.5M contract with the Eagles after being traded from Detroit this past offseason. Jim Schwartz had never had a lockdown cornerback in Philadelphia, but did he live up to the billing?

Ahead of week 17, the Eagles’ secondary is in shambles. Kyler Murray threw for 406 yards in week 15 and Andy Dalton sliced the group apart to the tune of 377 yards on Sunday. Oddly enough, these ridiculous games come largely as a result of two things – a very strong CB1 and a very beatable and inexperienced CB2. If your WR1 is going to be blanketed, you’re not going to throw his way. You’re only going to be more inclined to look elsewhere if there is a salivating matchup on the other side of the field.

Slay’s season so far has been fairly bland from a statistical perspective. Slay has just 6 passes defensed to his name, the lowest since his rookie season in 2013, while his 57 tackles are the highest since 2016. His lone interception so far took 16 weeks to fall into his hands.

Through 14 games, Slay has allowed 740 yards on 57 receptions, while being targeted 74 times. If we subtract DK Metcalf’s 158-yard romp and Davante Adams’ 100-yard outing that came one week later, that’s 482 yards surrendered through 11 games on 40 targets (having missed one game due to injury). That’s not bad at all.

Slay’s two worst games came against two of the top receiving talents in the league in scenarios where Jim Schwartz refused to give safety help. It’s understandable that the man who had Slay as a rookie in 2013 would have full confidence in his abilities, especially after a season like this.

“He shadowed the best receivers. He’s made some guys disappear.” Schwartz said about his CB1. “He’s had a couple games that he wasn’t — he probably wasn’t at the top of his game, but I think that more falls to the NFL and the load that we put on him and knowing that you’re not going to pitch a shutout against great receivers every single week.”

As for the other games this season? He helped hold Terry McLaurin to just 28 yards, Jarvis Landry to 13, Michael Thomas to 33, and Juju Smith-Schuster to 11. Slay had only given up 50+ yards to a receiver twice this season and both came in those wildfire defeats. He’s also only allowed two touchdowns this year, with Davante Adams doing the damage on both.

Schwartz has long stood on the hill that states you can’t chase turnovers and that they’re simply a product of an elite pass-rush (tick) and a decent secondary (…). The team may rank 25th in takeaways, but the defensive coordinator brought up a very interesting comparison when discussing the 29-year-old.

“I was talking to him a couple weeks ago, I think it was 2002, maybe 2003, about the best season I’ve ever seen from a corner was [former NFL DB] Samari Rolle with the Tennessee Titans, was — I mean, pitch a shutout every single week and had zero interceptions until the last week of the year, and I think he had one or two. It was against Houston. Didn’t get any votes for the Pro Bowl or anything else because he had zero interceptions. But it was as fine a season as I’ve ever seen from a corner, got everybody covered, quarterbacks wouldn’t throw at him. 

So I’m not comparing him to that season, but I would be cautious of judging guys just based on some metrics like interceptions. It’s a little bit like D-line; if you judge guys just on stats, it doesn’t always tell the story. We put a lot of pressure on Slay. He’s been up for it every week, and I think that’s a great comfort to me and for the rest of the team.”

Darius Slay has manned-up some of the most intimidating receivers in the league. In fact, 6 of Slays opponents this season have been receivers who currently rank inside the top 20 in yardage. The Eagles might be leaking a ton of yardage right now, but it’s only becuase quarterbacks often refuse to throw in the way of Big-play Slay. Unless your name is DeAndre Hopkins or Davante Adams, you’re going to have a hard tiem finding much success against Darius Slay.

With two years left on his contract, the Eagles have plenty of time to appreciate the speed, senses, and success of Darius Slay. Their next task is to find him a running-mate who won’t undo al of his hard work.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire