Late in the Eagles’ overtime win over the Giants three weeks ago, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz dusted the cobwebs off of cornerback Sidney Jones and sent him into the game.
It was an act of desperation not faith. The 2017 second-round draft pick had been demoted to the bottom of the depth chart and hadn’t taken a defensive snap in the previous four games. But when Rasul Douglas had to leave the game after cramping up, well, Schwartz’s choices were limited.
Jones went in for one snap on third-and-three with 1:35 left in a tie game. Found himself in man coverage against wide receiver Darius Slayton, who had caught five passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns in the first half when the Giants took a 17-3 lead.
Slayton ran a slant. Jones bodied him up using inside leverage and broke up the pass, forcing a punt.
On Sunday, Jones got another SOS from Schwartz after both of the Eagles’ starting corners, Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, got hurt. Jones entered the game early in the third quarter after Mills rolled his ankle.
On the first play after he went in the game, he cut down Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott snuck through the line and took a second-and-10 pass from Dak Prescott. He eluded linebacker Nate Gerry, but Jones tackled him and limited him to an 11-yard gain.
“That’ll do a lot for your confidence bringing down that guy,’’ safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “It’s no accident that the ball came that way.’’
Jones, who played 18 snaps against the Cowboys, left the game shortly after that when Mills was ready to return. But he got the call again late in the fourth quarter after Douglas made a couple of the boneheaded plays he’s become famous for, prompting Schwartz to give him the hook.
On the first, Douglas somehow managed to let the Cowboys’ Tavon Austin get behind him when his main job was to keep the guy in front of him. Only a poor pass by Prescott prevented a touchdown.
Then, Douglas failed to wrap up Randall Cobb on a pass over the middle.
Jones, of course, ended up making a game-saving pass breakup in the end zone on Prescott’s desperation fourth-and-eight pass to Michael Gallup. Equally as important was his excellent coverage on Amari Cooper on the play before that, forcing an incompletion.
“The more plays he makes in clutch situations the more confidence he’s going to gain as a player,’’ Jenkins said. “He’s a guy who’s battled through his own struggles this year, but kept himself prepared and gave us an opportunity to move forward. Not just one week, but two weeks.’’
What would really provide a big boost to Jones’ confidence is if Schwartz plugged him in at Darby’s right corner spot in Sunday’s do-or-die game rematch against the Giants. Darby was placed on injured reserve earlier this week with a hip injury.
Head coach Doug Pederson suggested earlier this week that Douglas likely would replace Darby. But Schwartz wasn’t nearly as emphatic about that a day later.
“We’ll see the way it goes this week,’’ Schwartz said said. “We have a lot of different combinations and a lot of different personnel groups that we can have ready, but (Jones) is certainly in the consideration.’’
Schwartz likely will rotate both Douglas and Jones. While Jones is a much better in coverage than Douglas, the 6-2, 209-pound Douglas gives the Eagles another big-body on the outside to deal with Giants running back Saquon Barkley in both the run and pass game.
Asked Thursday whether he expected to play a lot Sunday, Jones said, “Hopefully. I’m not sure what’s going to happen. It’s up to the coaches. Whatever happens happens. I’m looking at it (like) I’m the next guy up. I’m embracing it.’’
Jones said the Eagles have been doing “some rotational stuff’’ in practice. “I was getting some decent reps,’’ he said. “Not just sitting out there or helping on the scout team.’’
That’s basically what Jones’ role became earlier this season after he was slowed by yet another hamstring injury and played poorly, giving up two touchdown passes in an 18-point loss to the Vikings.
As Jones sat on the bench, the suggestions that the Eagles had made a major mistake in drafting him grew louder. The fact that the Eagles weren’t interested in playing him seemed to suggest that maybe even they agreed with that assessment.
“It’s been a long road,’’ Jones said. “Going in and helping my team the last couple of weeks means a lot. I always knew what I could do. People can say this or think that. But I’ve had some unfortunate injuries. That’s what’s been holding me back.
“If I can stay healthy and play consistently, I know I can dominate.’’
With Darby and Mills both eligible to become free agents after the season, the Eagles really need Jones to pan out. They really need him to prove that he’s the player they thought he was when they drafted him three years ago.
Sunday would be a terrific time to make his case considering that a win will give the Eagles the NFC East title and a postseason bid.
—Vinny Curry and Josh Sweat have been the Eagles’ two most productive pass-rushers over the last four games. Curry has four sacks and 12 total quarterback pressures in just 73 pass-rush opportunities in the last four games according to Pro Football Focus. Sweat has two sacks and 10 pressures in 86 pass-rush chances. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham each have nine pressures, Cox on 134 pass-rush opportunities, Graham on 126. Derek Barnett who has missed two of the last four games with an ankle injury, has a sack and six pressures in just 59 pass-rush opportunities.
—The Eagles have been running more plays from under center lately. In their last three games, 35.1 percent of their offensive plays (78 of 222) have been from under center, compared to 26.1 percent (210 of 803) in their first 12 games. They’re also throwing more from under center. Forty of their 78 plays from under center in the last three games (51.3 percent) have been pass plays. In their first 12 games, just 57 of 210 under-center plays (27.1 percent) were pass plays.
—In their last two games, the Eagles have had 22 possessions. None of them started at better than their own 37-yard line.
—The Eagles’ home v. road defensive numbers this season have been shockingly different. They’ve given up an average of 12.3 more points per game on the road (29.0) than they have at home (16.7). Their home average is the best in the league. Their road average is the fourth worst. They’ve given up 388.7 yards per game on the road compared to just 273.7 at home. They’ve allowed opponents to convert just 29.0 percent of their third downs at the Linc, but 41.5 percent on the road.
—The Eagles haven’t allowed any first-possession points to an opponent in the last eight games. Opponents have averaged just 2.0 yards per play on their first possession in those eight games.
—Between them, Carson Wentz and the Giants’ Daniel Jones have fumbled 29 times this season and have lost 17 of them.
—The Eagles ran just four plays with 11-personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR) last week. They ran 50 with 12-personnel, 10 with 13-personnel, four with 21 and three with 22.
—Carson Wentz has a 104.6 passer rating in the last four games with 12-personnel, including a 69.2 completion percentage, 7.2 yards per attempts, five touchdown passes and no interceptions in 114 attempts.
—Greg Ward has 11 receptions in the last two games. Eight of them have been for first downs.
—Wentz has completed 10 of 21 passes of 20 yards or more in the last five games. He was 2-for-3 on 20-plus-yard throws against Dallas.
Periodically this season, draft analyst Ben Fennell has been breaking down some of the top prospects in the 2020 NFL draft. Ben is an Emmy award-winning producer, editor and researcher for several media outlets, including the NFL Network and ESPN college football. Today, he takes a look at the all-important quarterback position:
Fennell: “He’s incredibly athletic, both inside and outside the pocket. There’s nothing sneaky athletic about him. He can run and he can move. He has an elite combination of accuracy and anticipation. His pocket poise and his ability to diagnose pressure is as good as any quarterback in the last 20 years.’’
Con: “Arm strength. He doesn’t have a huge arm, either velocity or distance.’’
Comp: Tony Romo/Marc Bulger
Fennell: “Herbert has functional mobility. He looks to use his athleticism to be a thrower. He has ideal size, a sturdy frame and excellent arm strength. He’s more accurate than he’s given credit for. His completion percentage the last two years has been impacted by an inordinate number of drops by his receivers.’’
Con: “He’s wildly inconsistent.’’
Comp: Derek Anderson/Elvis Grbac
Fennell: “Tua has a very strong arm. He’s a high-velocity, drive thrower with high-level accuracy and touch, who can change pass trajectories. He’s got good pocket movement and awareness.’’
Con: “His injury history, most recently the dislocated hip that ended his season. He’s expected to make a full recovery, but it could cause him to fall a little bit in the draft. Also, he’s short for a pocket-passer and is a bit heavy-legged.’’
Comp: Drew Brees/Charlie Batch
Fennell: “Excellent arm talent. He has great touch and anticipation and can make the deep and intermediate throws. He’s an effortless flick-of-the-wrist thrower, especially on the move outside of the pocket. He’s a ‘loose’ athlete with good mobility and foot quickness.’’
Con: “He throws too many interceptions (17 in 473 attempts this season). There’s also a question about whether he sees/understands coverages or is just letting it rip?’’
Comp: Ryan Tannehill/Brett Hundley
Fennell: “He was an experienced leader from Day 1 at Georgia. A high-character captain. He’s a cerebral quarterback who operates a timing offense. A good decision-maker. He’s accurate, but must anticipate to make up for average arm strength.’’
Con: “Average arm. He doesn’t have any exceptional traits. He’s not athletic. There’s a question as to whether he’ll be able to get himself out of trouble in an NFL pocket. He’s a bit of a game manager.’’
Comp: Colt McCoy/Greg McElroy
Best of the rest:
6—Jacob Eason, Washington, 6-6, 227
7—Tyler Huntley, Utah, 6-1, 205
8—Anthony Gordon, Washington St., 6-3, 210
9—Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma, 6-2, 218
10—Steven Montez, Colorado, 6-5, 230
11—Shea Patterson, Michigan, 6-2, 203
12—Jamie Newman, Wake Forest, 6-4, 229
13—Nate Stanley, Iowa, 6-4, 242
14—Cole McDonald, Hawaii, 6-4, 220