CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Darius Slay relied on his teammates all week, but returned the favor come Sunday.
The Eagles cornerback missed practice Thursday to be with his family for the birth of his son and said the frenzy that comes with a newborn baby limited his ability to prepare for the Panthers.
“It was a busy week,” Slay said. “Shout out to my teammates. A lot of times, I couldn’t go to practice, I didn’t get any reps or anything like that. Just walking through, Zoom calls, my baby boy was born. [Rodney McLeod, Anthony Harris,] all the DB guys, I told them, ‘I need everyone today.’ I didn’t prepare as much as I could’ve, so I leaned on those guys. We cover each other, and I appreciate those boys having my back out there and putting me in a position to make the plays that I made.”
Regardless of whatever reps he missed, Slay was the one to shoulder the load during the Eagles’ 21-18 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. The veteran cornerback followed Panthers’ receiver DJ Moore for almost the entire game and picked off Sam Darnold twice to keep the Eagles alive despite an offensive drought.
Moore, who came into the game with 30 catches for 398 yards and three scores, managed five catches for 42 yards against Slay. It was the first time all season Slay has followed an opposing receiver, something he did most of last year and has been outspoken about preferring.
Eagles first-year defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s scheme heavily favors zone coverage over man, but Slay said the coaches came to him with the idea that he’d shadow Moore.
“I think Coach was like, ‘You know what, Slay, we’re going to let you do what you want to do. You can go out there and compete,’” Slay said. “That was the game plan. They drew up a great game plan. Coach knows, I just want to compete, man. Whatever he needs me to do, I’m going to do it at the highest ability.”
After giving up 40-plus points to the Kansas City Chiefs and the Dallas Cowboys in consecutive weeks, the Eagles defense reversed course against Carolina and kept the Eagles in the game as the offense struggled.
The Eagles didn’t have a lead in the game until 1 minute, 15 seconds were left in the fourth quarter largely thanks to a stagnant offense. Jalen Hurts and Co. turned things around late, but the defensive effort kept the game within striking distance.
“That felt like this was a complete team win,” head coach Nick Sirianni said. “When one unit is down, the other units have to bring it up. The defense felt like it was up the whole game, they really did. They played an unbelievable game.”
Going from Dak Prescott and Patrick Mahomes to Darnold certainly played a part in the defense righting the ship, but the defense was opportunistic in a way it hasn’t been all season. Slay had two interceptions and Steven Nelson had another. On special teams, T.J. Edwards had a blocked punt that set up a go-ahead touchdown for the Eagles offense.
The Panthers were 5-for-15 on third down, and Darnold only threw for 158 yards and one touchdown. Last week, Mahomes had five touchdown passes and 278 yards against the Eagles secondary.
Aside from his shadowing Moore, Slay said Gannon didn’t change up much.
“He didn’t have to change anything, it was just simpler and easier for us,” Slay said. “We went out there and executed at a high level. We always takeaways, takeaways and how much it affects the game. He’s been telling y’all for the longest that takeaways are gonna come and now that they came, you see how much they affect the game.”
Slay’s first pick came on the Panthers’ second drive. Avonte Maddox followed Panthers receiver Robbie Anderson in motion, suggesting the Eagles were in man coverage, but they dropped into a zone. Slay stayed underneath Moore and made a leaping catch after seemingly fooling Darnold.
“We had a great disguise,” Slay said. “Our first thing was trying to confuse the quarterback as much as we could and we did that today a little bit. I made the play that was coming to me that needed to be made.”