They're going to throw at him. Eric Rowe knows it. When Tom Brady surveys the field on Sunday, he's going to pay particular attention to the rookie cornerback and he's going to test Rowe over and over and over again.
"Oh yeah, definitely. As smart as Tom Brady is, he's watched the Lions film and I had a couple of nervous reps. I looked pretty bad, technique-wise. I know they're probably going to have something planned," Rowe said. "He's going to look my way. I'm expecting that, big time."
Rowe is putting in the effort, trying to bust through the learning curve that every rookie experiences, especially one who plays a position that is so limiting in the NFL and one that, for Rowe, is still so relatively new. A second-round draft pick in the spring, Rowe came to the Eagles after playing safety at Utah for three seasons before switching to cornerback. The Eagles have worked him at both positions in his time here and think that his combination of size and speed and burst translates well to either spot.
He's a cornerback now. And he's a starter with Nolan Carroll out after his season-ending injury suffered in Detroit. Every player says he prepares as if he is starting, but there is a difference: Now that Rowe is in the lineup, he's taking the reps, he's getting the feedback and he's got more on film to watch as he studies his technique. The kid is taking it seriously, and has done so since he became an Eagle. Get to practice early and you'll see Rowe and fellow rookie corner Denzel Rice lining up against each other, shadow boxing, if you will, working on hand placement and footwork as they smooth out the wrinkles of their press-man technique.
"Confidence. Comfort. Taking what you learn from film and making adjustments on the field. More comfortable within the defense," Rowe said. "It makes a difference taking all the reps. I think I've made a lot of improvement since I've been here. A lot. But it's not like I'm anywhere close to where I want to be or where I know I'm going to be."
The Eagles are searching for answers on defense after back-to-back rough outings. It's not going to be easy on Sunday against Brady, who finds a weakness and goes for the kill. The Eagles are going to give Brady a lot of different looks, will throw the kitchen sink at him, and none of that will matter unless all 11 men on the field are on the same page, talking the same language and seeing the same things.
Rowe is going to be tested. He's on the island now, in theory, for the rest of the season. The Eagles are going to have a really good feel for Rowe by the time this year is out. He's going to know where he stands because opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators are going to test him every which way.
How much improvement has Rowe made, for example, closing on a receiver at the top of the route? How has his change of direction gotten better and his recognition of routes and the way he uses his body? Rowe is a wonderful kid, a hard worker, the kind of young man you want to see have success. He knows he's going to lose some of the battles. He knows he's going to emerge from Sunday a better player.
He hopes, as do the Eagles, that he wins more plays than otherwise.
Rowe was asked in the Eagles' locker room after Thursday's training if it is "tough to convince yourself that you can do this." Interesting question to a professional athlete in his rookie season, as if his career path is anywhere beyond baby steps at this point.
"No. It's not tough convincing. We all know we have the ability to play," he said. "It's not even like a question in the locker room. The only thing we have to do is keep grinding, keep the effort up. We just know we're going to pull one out.
"We just keep going through our same routine, working hard, nothing changes and we'll pull one out."
Those who play Brady for the first time come away understanding how special he is. The ball is on a receiver's hands faster than just about every quarterback out there. Brady sees things before they happen. If a cornerback peeks into the backfield, Brady feels it and makes the defense pay.
He's extraordinary. Playing against him is something special.
"He can fit the ball. He can make every throw - deep throw, the intermediate throw, I mean he's fitting the ball in tight windows," Rowe said. "He's throwing the ball before the receiver breaks because he already knows where he wants to go with it. We have to keep our eyes on our man. The minute we look (away), he can change the route and do a double move and we're in trouble."
The formula to beat Brady? It doesn't happen often, obviously. Teams must be fastidious in the attention to detail with technique and discipline. They have to be sure when they tackle. They have to catch any football that they have a chance to intercept.
"There is no magic formula," Rowe said. "We just keep with our same process - studying film, obviously work hard in practice, off the field recovery. Really, you've just got to keep doing what you know how to do."
And when you're a rookie, and you don't know as much today as you will tomorrow, you just understand that what's ahead is a challenge unlike anything you've ever faced. Tom Brady and the Patriots are the opponent on Sunday and Eric Rowe will be prepared for whatever comes his way. There is just no other option.