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Big Question: Who Will Step Up At Cornerback?

Posted Sep 12, 2017

This feature is all about you, Eagles fans. We solicited your questions and the PhiladelphiaEagles.com writers answer them below.

"Clearly, this is going to take a village, and that includes the coaching staff. The Eagles lose a great deal of athleticism and speed with Ronald Darby out of the lineup, and they can’t just snap their fingers and replace him. So they have to rely on some young players working really hard on improving in a short period of time – players like Rasul Douglas and Dexter McDougle. They have to hope that a player like Jaylen Watkins can help out in certain situations at the corner. They need Patrick Robinson to stay healthy and play a key role as, likely, a starter. Jalen Mills, of course, now has the responsibility of being the “No. 1” cornerback.

The coaches are also going to have to disguise some of their coverages and schemes and give different looks and keep the changeups flowing. The front seven has to dominate at the line of scrimmage, the safeties have to be secure over the top in coverage, and, in the case of Malcolm Jenkins at the nickel position, help out in straight-up man-to-man coverage.

Losing Darby is a blow, no doubt about it. Hopefully, he is able to come back before the end of the season and help the defensive cause. But there are a lot of good pieces on this defense. The Eagles may not be as good at the cornerback position, but they do have some options and they have no choice but to make it work. - Dave Spadaro

To me when you look at the cornerback position, you’re really hoping that you get a repeat performance of what we saw this week against Washington. When Ronald Darby went down, Patrick Robinson played outside in the base defense and fared well. The deep ball he defended down the field was picture perfect, as he pressed his man to the sideline, got his head around to find the football, and was in position to defend the throw. In nickel, when Robinson slid inside, I thought Jaylen Watkins also performed very admirably. Rookie Rasul Douglas will obviously be active as well, and we know what he brings to the table physically, it’s just a matter if the rookie is going to be ready mentally for the speed of the game at the NFL level, especially if he were to get matched up against an explosive player like Tyreek Hill on the outside. - Fran Duffy

The pass rush and the coverage on the back end was very much in sync on Sunday. Even when Kirk Cousins had time to find an open receiver, the secondary did a great job of erasing his options. I agree that the coaching staff will play a huge role in this as well with the understanding that you will be relying on younger players like Douglas and McDougle. Douglas needs to be ready to become the Mills of 2016, a rookie who didn't factor into the team's original plans but ended up playing two-thirds of the defensive snaps. The decision to make Watkins a cornerback again in Training Camp proved to be a prudent one for the Eagles. But in the end, as Spuds pointed out, the front seven - and more particularly the defensive line - must take control. The rotation up front was successful and needs to continue moving forward so you can have plays like Brandon Graham forcing the fumble that Fletcher Cox returns for a touchdown late in games. - Chris McPherson

We’ve been down this road of using tempo full-time on offense, and while it does have its advantages it certainly has its pitfalls as well. At this point, I think that’s best served as a change-up, a tool in the Eagles’ toolbox that they can bring out and use at any point in a given game when the situation is right. Carson Wentz certainly looks comfortable running a hurry-up offense, but using it in select situations is what’s best for this football TEAM. - Fran Duffy

I’m a big believer in the no-huddle, tempo offense. I really like it – in spot moments during the course of the game. I’m sure the Eagles will go to it in certain situations, as they did in the preseason. It’s effective to jump-start an offense or to catch a defense off guard. It is not effective, as we saw in the Chip Kelly years here, on an exclusive basis. - Dave Spadaro

I think Fran and Spuds explained it best. It was effective in the preseason, but defenses would key in on it and then what happens when the offense stalls for a couple of drives. The defense is left out on the field for long periods of time and then everyone would be wondering why head coach Doug Pederson is still running it. - Chris McPherson

I think the Eagles have a lot of work to do in the running game. They just missed on some big runs at Washington – a block wasn’t held quite long enough, or a back just did not get through a hole soon enough – and that hampered things. It also doesn’t help when teams are blitzing against the running game.

This offense truly does want to get the running game clicking and then set up the play-action passing game, but it’s going to be a game-by-game thing. The Eagles felt they could attack Washington’s secondary and that’s why they came out throwing on Sunday. Had Carson Wentz hit Torrey Smith on the long ball early, well, everything might have opened up for the running game right there and then. Washington would have been back on its heels. The Eagles would have had more room at the line of scrimmage. But ...

Is there a magic number on the number of runs you want the Eagles to call? I’ve always thought that statistic was overrated, honestly. The run/pass ratio does not take into account the score of the game or the circumstances with injury, etc. I like to think of it more as situational running. For example, are you converting third-and-short runs? How about running the ball in the red zone? The Eagles converted 8-of-14 third downs on Sunday and they were able to score a touchdown on the lone red zone possession, so they did some important things right in the win.

The run game needs to be better, no doubt. More explosive. More decisive. It’s going to take some time. The Eagles eventually need to take some of the pressure off of Wentz. - Dave Spadaro

I believe this team will be able to run the ball well eventually. Things were not perfect on Sunday for a variety of issues. The timing with the offensive line wasn’t always right, the backs didn’t always hit it exactly where it needed to be, or make the first man miss the way you’d hope for. There were some missed assignments as well, and you have to give credit to an improved Washington front as well. This Doug Pederson playbook, like what we see in Kansas City, has a lot of layers to the run game and gives opponents a lot to prepare for. Once this offensive line can get going on the same page, I think we will certainly see improved numbers on the ground. The trap plays on the inside were perfect for LeGarrette Blount, and we saw a lot of that against Washington. I’ll be interested to see if they stick with that or try to change things up against the Chiefs. While they need to perform at a higher rate, I still really like this run game overall schematically. - Fran Duffy

The hope this week is that the Chiefs allowed 124 yards on the ground to the Patriots last week and ranked 26th in the league against the run a year ago. It seems like early in the Redskins game, the Eagles got behind the sticks and were forced into predictable passing situations or gained some yards on the ground on first down but a penalty or sack negated the advantage on the next play. You definitely want to see the Eagles convert the third-and-short situation and more importantly run the ball to close out games. If the Eagles get the third-and-3 with just over two minutes left in the game, they can grind the clock some more, still add the points, and leave little time for Kirk Cousins to engineer a potential comeback.

I will say I was encouraged by the fact Blount looked spry, Darren Sproles was Darren Sproles after not playing at all in the preseason, and Wendell Smallwood was able to be a factor on third down. - Chris McPherson

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