It's one of the most talented position groups on the Eagles' roster. The cornerbacks have two Pro Bowl starters and the safeties have up-and-coming players. How has the secondary performed? What are the biggest questions moving ahead. Find out in our Midseason Report ...
1. Can Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie Continue To Play At A Pro Bowl Level?
There were always a few constants during the dog days of Training Camp this summer. It was always going to be hot, fans would always pack the stands and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was going to put on a show. It was during those sweltering afternoons Eagles fans were introduced both to his new green mohawk and signs of his season to come.
For much of camp Rodgers-Cromartie looked far and away like the best player on the team, and hopes were high that he would be able to deliver for the Eagles when it mattered most. So far, he has done that and more.
Drafted 16th overall by the Cardinals in 2008, Rodgers-Cromartie had thirteen interceptions in three years with Arizona. During that span, he had one pick-six every year and had two in 2010. When the Eagles traded for him during the 2011 offseason they envisioned him having the same success, but Rodgers-Cromartie became a man out of position after the Eagles signed Nnamdi Asomugha.
Rodgers-Cromartie was asked to handle the slot cornerback spot in 2011, and did so with mixed results. Being in the slot nullified Rodgers-Cromartie's speed, one of his greatest assets. But the trading of Asante Samuel in the offseason allowed "DRC" to move back outside where he can use his speed and physicality to shut down opposing receivers.
So far this season he has three interceptions and, according to Pro Football Focus, has held opposing quarterbacks to a dismal 28.7 quarterback rating when throwing in his direction.
To best understand the play of Rodgers-Cromartie, it helps to have a frame of reference. The last Eagles cornerback to make the Pro Bowl was Samuel, who went three years in a row between 2008 and 2010. His best year statistically was 2009, during which he posted nine interceptions, 16 passes defended and 42 tackles en route to an All-Pro nod. Here's how Rodgers-Cromartie's numbers compare to Samuel's through the first six games:
The tackles and interceptions are close, while Rodgers-Cromartie has a greater edge in passes defended. This isn't a surprise, given the fact that Samuel preferred to play off receivers, while Rodgers-Cromartie has made a name for himself with a more physical style of play. If these numbers hold, and Rodgers-Cromartie has shown no signs of slowing down thus far, he could be in line for more than just a Pro Bowl nod.
|Rodgers-Cromartie Vs. Samuel|
|Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (2012)||17||3||8|
|Asante Samuel (2009)||23||4||5|
2. What's Next For Brandon Boykin?
A fourth-round pick in last April's draft, slot cornerback Brandon Boykin's abilities as an athlete and a football player were never in question. At the time the Eagles nabbed him with the 123rd overall pick, NFL.com's Bucky Brooks described Boykin as "one of the best athletes in the draft with superior quickness and leaping ability."
Going into Training Camp, he was locked in competition with incumbent Joselio Hanson for the slot cornerback job. The two players were essentially neck and neck all summer, and conventional wisdom said the rookie would sit while he learned the ropes. But the coaches were confident enough in Boykin to part ways with Hanson, who had been with the team off and on since 2006. This meant the Eagles were turning one of the most difficult positions on the defense over to the Georgia product.
Though he checks in at only 5-9 and 182 pounds, Boykin is extremely athletic. In high school Boykin won a slam dunk competition, and he again highlighted his ups with an impressive fourth quarter pass breakup against the Ravens in Week 2.
Through the first six games of his rookie season Boykin has learned the meaning of the phrase "trial by fire." In six games he has already lined up against the likes of Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Brown and Calvin Johnson. If you're counting at home, those four players have been to a combined 12 Pro Bowls.
Not only has Boykin held his own against them, he's played well. According to Stats, Inc., Boykin has allowed completions on just over 43 percent of his passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. How does that stack up against the team's other corners?
As you can see, Boykin's numbers are right there with his Pro Bowl-caliber teammates. So far, Boykin has performed beyond expectations, and his play against these elite receivers has won him the respect support of his teammates.
"I think it's helping him. It's going to mature him fast as a player," Rodgers-Cromartie said of Boykin. "One thing I try to tell him, he comes in here and he asks me, 'How do my struggles just first coming in,' and you have to understand, it's your first year and you're playing the hardest position there is to play, and you're playing Pro Bowl-caliber guys. It's not like you're playing this guy or that guy. You're playing guys who have been doing it for years. I think it's given him a plus. He's learning more quickly."
While he still has 10 games left to play, fans should feel good about Boykin manning the slot position.
|Eagles CB Stats 2012|
|Player||Targets||Rec. Allowed||Yards||TDs Allowed||INTs|
3. Is Nate Allen Flying Under The Radar?
With a secondary as stacked with big names and impressive players like Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie, it can be easy to forget about the safeties. But with his play this season, safety Nate Allen is hoping to change all that.
Allen was drafted with high expectations. A second-round pick in 2010, the pick used to draft Allen was the one the Eagles received in exchange for trading Donovan McNabb to the Redskins. And as if that wasn't enough, Allen was expected to fill the void left by none other than Brian Dawkins.
His career started off with a bang. Allen recorded three interceptions in his first four games with the Eagles, and was having a solid rookie campaign before suffering a knee injury Week 15 against the Giants. Allen struggled to return to full health last season, but is now fully healed.
Through six games Allen is third on the team with 37 total tackles, including two for a loss. While he has yet to add to his five career interceptions, Allen has displayed the speed and range he hinted at his rookie season. With a bevy of talented corners in front of him, Allen and fellow safety Kurt Coleman are able to provide insurance on the back end.
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