It's no secret that the Eagles' starting cornerbacks struggled in 2014. Both Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, despite their solid pedigrees, struggled to limit the big "X-plays" that haunted the Eagles for most of the season. And while Williams and Fletcher saw just about all of the snaps at outside corner, Nolan Carroll patiently waited for his chance, which finally came in the season finale against New York.
"I just treated it like a regular game," Carroll said. "I didn't treat it as anything (different). They just gave me an opportunity to go out there and play, and that's what I did."
Carroll showed that he could be a viable option for the Eagles at corner in that game, but he made his biggest strides toward becoming a starter in the offseason, where his work on the practice fields and in the locker room was second to none. Now, more than nine months later, Carroll gets set to make his sixth start of the season as the Eagles face the team where it all started for the University of Maryland product.
"I'm much further along," Carroll said looking back to the 2014 finale. "Just to be out there with the defense and go through all the calls and hear them and be able to go outside and process them and play (was important). During that whole season, I was playing mostly dime, so my mindset was a little bit different at that time, so I had to kind of tweak my mindset on the outside rather than the inside."
Fans hoped for a more productive secondary coming into the 2015 season, but it's hard to imagine that a secondary comprised of three new starters compared to a year ago at this time could jell together so quickly. Safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Walter Thurmond are playing as well as any tandem in the league, and Carroll and Byron Maxwell have been steady on the outside.
According to Carroll, the success in the secondary starts up front and can also be attributed to the unit's turnover-happy mentality.
"Since last year, it's always been all about the ball," Carroll said. "The guys up front are trying to go after the quarterback and hit the throwing arm. When the ball's in the air, the secondary has that mentality that it's ours. We haven't had many X-plays as we did last year, so we're doing a good job keeping the ball in front of us, and we're not letting the ball over our heads."
After handling their business against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, Carroll and the secondary have the chance to once again prove themselves, this time on a national level, against Eli Manning and the Giants. New York operates within a similar offensive scheme to that of the Saints, which means the Eagles' defense had an appetizer last week as they get set for Monday night's main course.
"They try to get the ball out quick, and Eli does a good job of getting that ball out in about 2.5 seconds," Carroll said. "He likes to find (Odell Beckham Jr.), (Reuben Randle) and his tight ends. His running backs are pretty good out of the backfield now. (Shane) Vereen and (Rashad) Jennings do a good job with getting them to become wideouts.
"We're going to try to get him off of his spot and confuse him a little bit just to get him to hold onto the ball. The quarterback is good if he just catches (the snap) and throws it. It becomes seven-on-seven when there's no rush. … For us, it's really just about throwing off that timing and having him hold the ball and letting the rush get to Eli."
If the rush can indeed get to Manning, it might just result in Carroll's first interception of the season, something that the veteran is very much looking forward to.
"I say it every week, so this is the week," Carroll said. "This is the week."