The word of the day – of the week – for the Eagles cornerbacks as they prepare for Sunday’s wild-card game against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks is plaster.
“He’s a phenomenal player,’’ Cre’Von LeBlanc said of the elusive Wilson, who threw 31 touchdown passes and only five interceptions this season. “He can make plays with his feet. He has great pocket awareness.
“When he’s running around a lot, back in coverage you have to plaster your guy. You can’t be too nosy with your eyes. You just have to stay on your guy and allow the rush to get there.’’
The Eagles did a pretty good job of that six weeks ago in a 17-9 loss to the Seahawks at the Linc. Wilson had his third-lowest passer rating of the season (75.4), threw just one touchdown pass and was sacked a season-high six times.
It should be noted, however, that Jim Schwartz’s defense did get lucky on a couple of plays in that game. Wilson overthrew wide-open tight end Jacob Hollister for what should have been an easy touchdown, and wide receiver D.K. Metcalf dropped a deep ball in the end zone after getting behind cornerback Ronald Darby.
“He missed one wide-open guy in the end zone,’’ Schwartz said. “You can’t count on a quarterback like that missing that kind of play. We didn’t match up that coverage right. So that’s something we can correct.’’
The Eagles need to be a little more vigilant, however, about not letting Metcalf, a 6-4, 220-pound rookie with 4.3 speed, or the Seahawks’ other wideout, Tyler Lockett, get behind the secondary.
“It’s all about keeping those guys in front of us,’’ cornerback Jalen Mills said. “With Russ back there, he’s one of the top two guys right now for MVP of the league. He can make an explosive play any time, whether it’s with his arm or his legs.
“He’s going to run around. He’s going to get our defensive linemen off their spots and try to extend plays. We just have to be clean [avoid penalties] on the back end, knowing going in that we’re going to have to plaster sometimes.’’
Plaster means staying with your man not just through his initial route, but also through the scramble drill that follows when a quarterback like Wilson is able to get out of the pocket and extend plays.
Mills, who missed last week’s game against the Giants after rolling an ankle against Dallas the week before, said Wednesday there is “no doubt’’ he will play Sunday. “It still was a little sore [last week] and we had guys that could go out there and get the job done,’’ he said.
Darby, who was the Eagles’ other starting corner against the Seahawks in Week 12, is on injured reserve with a hip flexor injury. Rasul Douglas started in his spot last week against the Giants and played every snap. It’s likely he’ll start on the right side again Sunday over Sidney Jones and Avonte Maddox.
Jones, the Eagles’ 2017 second-round pick, was exiled to the bottom of the depth chart earlier this season but has made some huge plays during the Eagles’ season-saving four-game win streak, including a fourth-quarter interception last week against the Giants and a game-saving pass breakup in the end zone the week before against the Cowboys. But Schwartz isn’t ready to completely trust him yet, even though the erratic Douglas has had his share of problems.
“We’ll just see where we get to on Sunday with everybody,’’ Schwartz said.
LeBlanc, who spent the first 12 weeks of the season on injured reserve recovering from a foot injury and wasn’t activated until after the loss to Seattle, is expected to start ahead of Maddox in the slot Sunday.
He is coming off a solid performance against the Giants, which included a big stop on Saquon Barkley on a fourth-and-2 run in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve always had a lot of confidence in him,’’ Schwartz said. “With the injury situation we had, he had to go out and play just about every snap in the game and really came through for us. Our ability to win that game had a lot to do with Cre’Von.’’
Schwartz likely will use all of his corners against the Seahawks, either rotating them in for Douglas, LeBlanc, and Mills or using them in dime packages.
“We’ve always had a next-man-up mentality on this team,’’ Mills said. “Right now, even in our cornerback room, whoever’s going out there, they’re going to give it their all. Everybody knows the scheme. We don’t have a guy in our group who doesn’t know what’s going on if they have to go out there.’’
While LeBlanc is strictly a slot corner, Maddox can play inside or outside, as well as safety. The problem with putting the 5-9, 184-pounder outside against the Seahawks is that he would be giving away 7 inches to Metcalf if he had to cover him.
“He’s big and fast,’’ Maddox said of Metcalf. “We have to keep him in front of us. When you’re lining up against him, you just have to stay in front of him and don’t let him get those 50-50 balls.’’
In their four wins over the Giants (twice), Redskins and Cowboys, the Eagles held their opponents to a 58.4% completion rate and 6.9 yards per attempt, and gave up just five touchdown passes. But they also had only one interception – the one by Jones last week.