Darius Slay was acquired for just this moment. The man-defending cornerback was brought to the Eagles to follow and cover wide receivers like DK Metcalf.
But the Eagles and Metcalf have a little history, and Slay was an unknowing plot device in the story of how Howie Roseman drafted J.J. Arcega-Whitside over the Seahawks receiver.
Metcalf torched Slay for 10 catches for 177 yards in the Eagles’ 23-17 loss to Seattle on Monday night. Only three of quarterback Russell Wilson’s targets to the receiver weren’t caught. As gaudy as that stat line may look, Slay did battle. He was often close. He knows close wasn’t enough.
“I lost every 50-50 ball today. I’m usually on the other side of that,” said Slay, who called the performance the worst of his NFL career. “Today I’m on the other side. I let the team down. I told the defense that game was on me.”
Kudos to Slay for holding himself accountable, especially against the 6-foot-3, 228-pound Metcalf, who has already in his second season developed into an elite receiver. But to see him make catch after catch while Arcege-Whiteside, who was taken seven picks prior in the 2019 draft, has tallied only two catches this entire season, was like salt in the wound.
Metcalf sprinkled a little more on after the game when he noted that Philadelphia could have been home.
“I’ve got to make them pay,” he told Seattle-area reporters.
Before the game, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz went up to Metcalf and told him how much he reminded him of his former player and future Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson. According to Metcalf, Schwartz said he “was good, but wasn’t Megatron yet,” and that he used the sentiment as motivation.
Schwartz, through a team spokesman, said that he went up to Metcalf before and after the game and said essentially the same thing — “you may not be Calvin yet but you’re on your way” — and that he meant it as a compliment.
It’s hard to see Schwartz providing such ammunition, especially after last season when Metcalf caught three passes for 35 yards when the teams first met in the regular season, and seven passes for 160 yards and a touchdown in an Eagles playoff loss. Arcega-Whiteside had all of 10 receptions in his rookie season.
The Eagles are 3-7-1 for many reasons. A lot of ink will be spilled on coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Carson Wentz for yet another disheartening performance from the offense. They deserve it.
Schwartz’s defense came to play, again, and made two fourth down stops early, and played with physicality throughout. It’s hard to come down hard on that side of the ball, even Slay, who was asked if there was any discussion about giving him addition help vs. Metcalf.
“Hell, no, I don’t need no help,” he said. “What kind of question is that?”
The 29-year-old Slay, as well as he’s played this season, was another faulty roster decision by Roseman. A cornerback can only influence so much of a game. Offenses have gashed the Eagles in other weak areas all season.
Slay, for the most part, has taken away top receivers. If there’s been a disappointment, aside from Monday night, it’s been the lack of a single interception.
But cornerback may be the most thankless position in the NFL. He had tight coverage on Metcalf’s 31-yard fade in the fourth quarter. He almost broke up an 18-yard pass that Pederson challenged was either incomplete or a fumble (it was neither and upheld).
It was just one of those nights. Metcalf, fittingly, capped the game when he caught Jake Elliott’s last-second onsides kick.
He was involved from the word “go.” Wilson went to Metcalf on shorter routes in the early going. He hit him on slants of 13 and 10 yards. On the first, safety Rodney McLeod threw his body at the receiver, but bounced off. A few plays later, Wilson checked down to Metcalf for eight yards.
Slay was playing off coverage early, but there was nothing soft about his tackling. He played with great effort. But his emotions got the best of him when a run play had Metcalf blocking the cornerback. Metcalf started the tussle, but Slay finished it and was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.
It ultimately wouldn’t hurt the Eagles as Derek Barnett made the first of his back-to-back fourth-down stops — this one inside the 5-yard line. But after a couple of defensive stops — which included a few underneath Metcalf catches — the stage was set.
Faced with third-and-13, Metcalf ran a deep post against single-man coverage with no safety held over top. Slay trailed, caught up some, but Metcalf used his large body to ward him off for a 52-yard grab down to the 1-yard line.
“It was an all-out blitz [Schwart] called and they max protected it,” Slay said. Wilson “took the shot and I kind of sat down at the yard mark, and after that, it was speed on speed. Good catch by him. I just got to finish that play.”
Seattle cashed in two plays later when Wilson lofted a fade to receiver David Moore over Avonte Maddox. The cornerback’s coverage was sound, but even the 6-foot receiver had a three-inch advantage.
Maddox, it should be noted, handled his assignment well for most of the night. Tyler Lockett, who had logged more catches than any Seahawks receiver coming in, finished with only three catches for 23 yards. Slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman helped whenever Lockett lined up inside.
But Metcalf was a beast. He had seven catches for 118 yards by the half. He also drew an illegal contract penalty from Slay. His lone blemish was a poor block on Barnett on the aforementioned fourth-down goal-line stop.
Well, at least Arcega-Whiteside, who missed his third game in a row because he’s been on COVID-19 reserve, has the edge on Metcalf in blocking. Maybe.
The comparison isn’t exactly fair, and certainly not to Arcega-Whiteside. It’s not his fault the Eagles drafted him where they did. They weren’t the only team to pass on Metcalf before he went late in the second round.
But the Eagles were one of the few receiver-needy teams that opted for another option. The team’s medical staff had Metcalf red-flagged because of a neck injury he suffered in college and had him around the fourth round on their draft board.
The Eagles weren’t the only team. But that was still a mistake, and one again, on Roseman, whether it’s personnel or medical. Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson in this year’s draft is just another example of a missed evaluation at receiver.
They’re draft errors — Reagor has some potential — that should have owner Jeffrey Lurie question whether Roseman deserves to stay. In Roseman’s defense, he likely wouldn’t have made the selection had his boss not pushed for Arcega-Whiteside, per sources.
And therein lies one of the underlying problems with the organization. Lurie has every right to want to be involved with his team. He has to ultimately make the big decisions. But the lesser ones need to be left to the football guys.
Roseman allows for Lurie to be involved, as Pederson does, as well. But signs continue to point to the coach being on the hot seat, rather than the GM. The Eagles’ struggles on offense fall on Pederson and Wentz’s shoulders, but an offense that has been this inept can’t solely be the fault of just two men.