Facing the Arizona Cardinals' talented trio of wide receivers is a tough task for any defense. Facing them without the top two cornerbacks on the depth chart is an even steeper slope to climb, but that proved to be the situation for the Eagles on Sunday night.
In the second quarter, Byron Maxwell came out of the game with shoulder injury. After being slow to get up earlier in the quarter, Maxwell tried to play through the pain, but was ultimately unable to continue. Later in the same quarter, it was announced that fellow starting corner Eric Rowe had left the game to be evaluated for a head injury. It was announced later that a concussion would keep the rookie sidelined for the rest of the contest.
With Maxwell and Rowe unable to go, Jaylen Watkins and E.J. Biggers were forced into their most extensive playing time of the season, tasked with limiting Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown. While the Cardinals hit on some key passes and came away with a commanding 40-17 victory, Watkins and Biggers both turned in solid games given the circumstances.
Lining up against a depleted Eagles secondary for two and a half quarters, the Cardinals' "Big Three" receivers were held in check to a degree, to 151 yards and one touchdown. If defensive coordinator Bill Davis was told before the game that those would be the final numbers for those three, he'd probably take that outcome any day of the week. Yet, the Cardinals were able to get enough from their receivers and rely on a monster 187-yard running game from rookie David Johnson to get the win.
Thrown into the fire against one of the most potent NFC offenses, Biggers and Rowe held their own under the bright lights of Lincoln Financial Field.
"This doesn't bother any of us," Biggers, who has seen most of his time as a slot corner this season, said after the game. "We practice all the time. We're all getting reps and the same looks in practice. It wasn't a drop-off as far as knowing what's going to happen and the game plan.
"There are always going to be things you can correct. We had some plays, but we also have some plays that we have to fix and get better with. We challenged most of their deep passes so they were getting some passes underneath and got their running game going."
Like the veteran Biggers, Watkins felt prepared and ready for the moment, despite spending much of the season on the Buffalo Bills' practice squad before re-signing with the Eagles just a few weeks ago.
"It was right there in my face and I was looking forward to it," said the 2014 fourth-round pick of his opportunity on Sunday. "I obviously don't want to see our players get hurt, but I wanted this opportunity to show people that I can play in this league."
As of now, there's no sign as to when Maxwell and Rowe will be able to return to the field, but there's no time for the Eagles to sit back and wait for the duo to get healthy. Saturday night's meeting with Washington will determine whether or not the Eagles' playoff hopes will still be alive come the final week of the regular season. There is still a lot that will be determined during the week, but should Watkins and Biggers be called upon again on Saturday, they'll have proven themselves as viable options in the Eagles' secondary.
The Sunday Night Football showdown against the Cardinals kicked off with the Eagles sporting their #BackInBlack uniforms. View the full gallery here...