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Duffy: How did Darius Slay win NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors?

Darius Slay
Darius Slay

Arguably, the biggest question surrounding the Eagles going into Monday's game against the Vikings was how they would match up to Justin Jefferson. One of the best receivers in the league, Jefferson tuned up a talented Green Bay secondary in the season opener, creating big plays up and down the field. The Vikings lined him up all over the formation, including the backfield, and consistently found ways to get him the football. How would the Eagles' secondary respond?

Jefferson finished Monday's game with six catches on 12 targets for 48 yards and a measly 8.0 yards per catch. That last number was the second lowest of his career, his worst since the fifth game of his rookie season on the road in Seattle. How did the Eagles do it? After going through the film on Tuesday, there was no one magic bullet.

Firstly, the Eagles mixed up their coverage looks. The Vikings dropped back to pass 52 times on Monday night. According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles played seven different coverages with a mix of both man (Cover 1, 1 Double, and 0) and zone (Cover 4, 6, 3, and 2).

They pressed and they sat back. They rushed with four and they blitzed. They disguised their intentions. They rolled coverage. They changed things up consistently, keeping Jefferson, quarterback Kirk Cousins, and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell guessing. And while they cycled through a solid rolodex of coverages in this matchup, there was one tool that stood out most to me as being particularly fun and effective – the use of Cover 1 Double.

Cover 1 Double is a pretty simple concept. You have one high safety and man coverage across the board – except for one receiver. That player has two sets of eyes dedicated to him with two defenders. In the Eagles' case on Monday, those two DBs were Darius Slay and Marcus Epps.

In order for this coverage to be successful, you have to win your one-on-one matchups and take care of business to prevent explosive plays. The Eagles' defense, in this scenario, did that.

By changing up the plan throughout the course of the game, the Vikings could not get zeroed in on the Eagles' tactics. The variety of both man and zone coverages forced Cousins to hold the ball a tick longer or just go to a checkdown faster. From an X's and O's standpoint, the Eagles had the advantage, but how about the "Jimmys and Joes?"

One player who saw plenty of Jefferson in this game was Slay, who – in short – had himself a day.

Slay lined up to the same side as Jefferson on nearly every snap on Monday night, and while he didn't travel with him inside into the slot, he was always somewhere in the vicinity. In both man and zone, from both press and off techniques, Slay was impactful in this matchup.

There are a bunch of beautifully executed, teachable reps there from Slay, who is PFF's highest-graded corner so far through two weeks, in that cutup. He showed patience, ball skills, instincts, competitiveness, and all of the athletic traits required to be a big-time corner in this game.

You can't talk about the Eagles' pass defense in that game without also discussing the pressure concepts. The Eagles blitzed Kirk Cousins often in this one, including on six Cover 0 snaps (meaning that they sent an all-out blitz with no safety help and straight man coverage across the board). Those Cover 0 blitzes? They were effective against Cousins in this game.

When you put heat on the quarterback, you can expect the ball to come out fast. And when you line up in off coverage, you have full vision on the quarterback and the throw. This resulted in some big plays for the Eagles' defense, not including a couple of others that could have gone the other way for turnovers. Credit Jonathan Gannon and his staff for knowing which buttons to push and when in this matchup against the Vikings.

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