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Cornerbacks: Reality Vs. Opinion

Posted Oct 7, 2014

Bill Davis knew it was coming, because the cornerbacks have been a subject of his weekly press conferences for the last few games. What is your level of comfort with the outside cornerbacks, coach? ...

Bill Davis knew it was coming, because the cornerbacks have been a subject of his weekly press conferences for the last few games. What is your level of comfort with the outside cornerbacks, coach?

Two days after the late-game scare against St. Louis, the Eagles' defensive coordinator had answers for the defensive miscues that added up to three Rams touchdowns in 13 minutes and nearly cost the Eagles the game.

"You know, I went back, I know everybody is on the corners, but man, I went back and looked at every play," Davis began, warming up. "We did as a staff over and over again. And the corners have their share, but it is not them and them alone. I can break down every play that they had and tell you multiple other people that had a breakdown on that play. For instance, on Bradley Fletcher, the throw up, it was just really almost a Hail Mary type thing where you threw it up, but we had a half safety that came out of the half, so there should have been two players there. We had a contain element in the pass rush that lost contain that let the quarterback out. So there was a series of breakdowns, and then at the end, Fletch still should have made the play. He still should have finished through the hands like he did in the first half when he had a similar play down their sideline and he made it. So it's just a consistency of play that we've got to get done.

"The Nate Allen touchdown was man coverage. He just needed to hold on to his man, as, again, the quarterback scrambled around because we had great coverage for the entire down, scrambled around, threw it up in the air, and Nate took his eyes off his coverage, put it on the quarterback, separation happened, and a touchdown happened.

"So over and over again, you look at a series of events on a play that hurt us that led to it, but not one individual player. I have complete confidence in our corners, I really do. And I watch every play of every snap of practice, obviously, and I know everybody wants to pin it on them, but I'm telling you, that's not where the issue is all the time."

For the fans and the media in Philadelphia, it's been tee-off time on the cornerbacks, particularly starters Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. Understanding the point of view from those corners, and from what some digital metrics may say about their performances, Davis defended his starters and the entire group of cornerbacks.

They are, said Davis, fulfilling the demands the coaches are asking of them. That is all that matters for the team.

"As you ask a player to do something, and that's when I look at these corners, are you doing what I'm asking you to do, and that's the first phase, and then can you make the play at the ball, and they do make more than they don't," said Davis. "We didn't play at the ball perfect in the fourth quarter, and that probably was our biggest fault was at the football, how we played it, and we'll continue to work on that and get better at it.

"But as far as every snap, if there was a change to be made, I promise you, we would make it, but it's got to be for the right reasons. It's got to be are they doing what we're asking them to do and can they get it done, and right now the answer is yes to that, and we'll continue to grow and be the defense that we want to be."

Playing "at the ball" has been an issue. The cornerbacks need to locate and then adjust to the football and then get in position to get their hands on the ball. The Eagles have "ball" drills every day during their training sessions, and they are aware of every issue and are working on, as Williams says, "getting better each and every day."

Beyond there, there are no plans for sweeping changes. The Eagles love Brandon Boykin, and who wouldn't? He's a great player, a star on special teams and in the slot at cornerback and he played 26 snaps in the fourth quarter alone on Sunday, said Davis. Boykin is staying right where he is, because he's the starting slot cornerback and he's extremely valuable in that role.

Nolan Carroll II saw his snap total increase on Sunday as the Eagles played with their "dime" personnel, meaning they had six defensive backs on the field.

And, yes, Williams and Fletcher are staying outside as the Eagles prepare for a terrific challenge on Sunday when the Giants come to town for a prime-time game.

"There are things that I could have done better, but there are things I did well in the game, too," said Fletcher, as the media pack finished up with Davis and then moved to Williams, Boykin and then Fletcher in the locker room. "There are plays we left out there and there are definitely things we did right. We're competing for every ball and we just need to make more plays. We just have to make the play when the ball is in the air. We're going to get all of that fixed up and everything is going to be just fine."

Life on the island isn't easy in the NFL, not with the rules emphasis on contact beyond five yards and the size and strength and speed of the receivers and the back-shoulder throws that are almost impossible to cover. Cornerbacks are going to get beat. That's just fact. The Eagles permitted a torrent of big plays in the closing minutes of the third quarter on Sunday and throughout most of the fourth quarter before clamping down on the Rams final drive to save the win.

And despite the inconsistencies throughout the defense in five games -- not just the cornerbacks, mind you -- the Eagles shut out Jacksonville in the second half, battled and ultimately defeated the dangerous passing game of Andrew Luck and the Colts, lived through three quarters of poor play against Washington and Kirk Cousins before a shutdown fourth quarter, played well in California against the 49ers and then played a fine three quarters against St. Louis before the near-meltdown fourth quarter.

"Receivers are going to make plays in the NFL, no matter what you do," said Williams. "They are great players. You just keep going out there and playing with confidence and battling. That's what we're doing. We're 4-1, and that's the bottom line. Sometimes, you do everything you can and you're right there and they still make the catch. You just have to get ready for the next play."

The cornerbacks have their heads screwed on right. Sunday night is a biggie in Week 6. The world is watching. The Giants are coming to Lincoln Financial Field's bedlam.

Does it get any better?

"It's huge. It's the most important game right now. It's our division opponent going into a bye week, so it's going to be great," said Boykin. "It's pivotal for us to get a win at home, in the division. We're all excited to play a very good team with another group of great receivers. That's what it's like every week in this league."

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