After looking closely at the Eagles' passing attack against the New York Giants on Tuesday, I want to now look at the secondary's performance in the division-clinching victory in Week 17. This is a group that, for many fans and media members, has been the butt of jokes, but when you take the overall result into context, I thought this game was a nice microcosm of what this group brings to the table.
First of all, the group went into this game after putting starting cornerback Ronald Darby on Injured Reserve and also making the other starting cornerback Jalen Mills a late scratch due to an ankle injury suffered in Week 16 against Dallas. Missing Mills, in particular, was a loss for the defensive backfield. The Eagles had to shuffle the deck. Rasul Douglas stepped in at right corner in place of Darby, while Avonte Maddox (typically the slot corner) slid outside to Mills' spot on the left. Cre' Von LeBlanc replaced Maddox in the slot and Sidney Jones was the first man off the bench.
Throughout the game, the Eagles needed to shuffle some pieces further. Douglas left briefly at one point due to an injury, and Maddox exited the game in the first half as well, putting Jones into the lineup. Throughout this game, all four of the Eagles corners made impressive plays on the ball.
ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS
These were some of the plays we saw from Maddox, Douglas, and Jones. Each of them did a great job of getting the ball on the ground in separate situations. This brings up a bigger discussion, however, in regards to DB play. A lot of people will scream at their TV when they see a defensive back who doesn't turn to find the football at the catch point, but it's important to remember that the situation does not always call for that.
In fact, if a corner looks back too early to find the ball, instead of worrying about his man, he is prone to losing the receiver in coverage and allowing a big play down the field.
The defensive back is working on getting "in-phase" with the receiver, meaning he is running hip-to-hip with the opponent. The corner is typically taught in this situation to turn his head and find the football. When you look at Maddox on his pass breakup, he is perfectly in-phase with the receiver, and can make the play. If you look at Sidney Jones' pass breakup to help seal the victory against Dallas in Week 16, it was the same kind of play.
The thing is – it's not easy to be in-phase. No matter who you are at corner, you are going to get beaten at the line of scrimmage at times. When you're in "catch-up" mode down the field, this is what is called "out of phase." When you look at that first pass breakup from Douglas, he is out of phase. In this situation, you have to work your tail off to get back in-phase ... THEN you get your head around and find the ball. If the ball arrives before you arrive in-phase, you're reading the body language of the receiver. If he shows his hands in an attempt to go up and catch the football, that is when you take your hands and shoot them through the catch point, raking the football and knocking it to the ground. Douglas does this perfectly on these plays, as he's coached to do.
Quickly, take a look at a trio of plays from LeBlanc, who really flashed in the victory.
LeBlanc came up with some timely pass breakups and a critical run stop on fourth down to get the Eagles the ball back. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday that LeBlanc's performance was a big reason for the win over the Giants, and the tape backs that up.
The Eagles have given up some big plays this year, for a variety of reasons. Some have been a result of bad technique, some have been a lack of discipline and/or awareness in zone coverage assignments, and other times they simply just got beat one-on-one. Big plays have been an issue. The corners, however, have been able to make plays on the ball. Their production in coverage has been impressive, as our friend Ben Fennell pointed out on Monday.
The Eagles finished the regular season 28th in the NFL, allowing 13 touchdown passes of over 20 yards. They ranked 13th with 49 completions of 20-plus yards. The big plays have been a bugaboo, but if they can find a way to limit those in the postseason, it will go a long way toward success in the playoffs.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominatedEagles Game Planshow which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts,Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as theJourney to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices, and opponents.