The guy who cost the Giants a fifth-round pick dusted the guy who cost the Eagles a third-round pick. And a little while later, he did it again. On Monday night, Darius Slayton became the latest opposing wide receiver to shred the Eagles secondary, and Ronald Darby submitted the latest piece of evidence in his case for the worst single-season performance by a cornerback in Eagles history. But it was the intersection of their two performances that offered the cleanest distillation of the depths to which this Eagles season has sunk.
There are only three options here, and regardless of the one that’s real, Jeffrey Lurie is going to have to spend part of his offseason lobbing some difficult questions in the direction of one or both of his most prominent subordinates. What has become increasingly obvious for months was reinforced yet again, this time in an ugly overtime victory against one of the NFL’s worst secondaries and a 38-year-old quarterback who has long played as if is predominantly interested in making it to retirement with most of his brain cells. The Eagles have a talent problem, and the only thing that’s left to do is figure out whether the breakdown is on the front or back end.
Here’s what we know: The Eagles have arrived at the end of two straight seasons with the same two positions on the depth chart leaking like an 73-year-old bladder. In fact, if you conveniently ignore that pesky Super Bowl win, they’ve been losing the battle a lot longer. Cornerback and wide receiver. Wide receiver and cornerback. There is an elegant sort of symmetry to the Eagles’ personnel failures that was on display throughout Monday night’s debacle. Twice in the second quarter, Slayton beat Darby in a one-on-one foot race down the left side of the field, and twice the play resulted in a 40-plus-yard grab. The first went for 42 yards, the second for 55 and a touchdown. This was in addition to a 35-yard touchdown that Slayton had caught earlier.
When the Eagles acquired Darby for a third-round pick and wide receiver Jordan Matthews in training camp in 2017, the hope was that he would establish himself as the sort of fixture at cornerback that they’d been trying to find since the departure of Asante Samuel. Instead, he missed half of his first season with a sprained ankle, half of his second with a torn ACL, and has spent most of his third struggling to match strides with whoever happens to be in front of him. Injuries happen, and they are difficult to predict, and in fairness to both Darby and the front office responsible for his acquisition (and subsequent re-signing on a one-year deal this offseason), he looks like a player whose athletic capabilities are a shadow of what they were during their Super Bowl season.
But this isn’t a one-time thing. Over the last three years, the Eagles have spent three top-100 draft picks on the cornerback position, including the third-rounder for Darby, a third-round pick for Rasul Douglas, and a second-round pick on Sidney Jones. That Darby was on the field ahead of both Jones and Douglas tells you all you need to know about how those latter two picks worked out.
Still, it was the spotlight on Slayton that made this night all the more maddening for the Eagles fans who watched their team eke out a win that was hardly deserved. A fifth-round pick of the Giants this season, the rookie became the ninth opposing wide receiver to eclipse the 100-yard receiving mark against them this season. Most maddening was the fact that Doug Pederson’s offense took the field with only three healthy wide receivers on the roster, the most accomplished of whom quickly went down with a game-ending injury (it did not look good for Alshon Jeffery).
Slayton hasn’t exactly set the world on fire this season. But Monday’s performance was his second 100-yard receiving game of the season, giving him two more than the one receiver that the Eagles took in this year draft. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has shown some flashes in the sparing and scattered snaps he has seen in recent weeks that at least remind you why the Eagles deemed him worthy of a second-round pick in this year’s draft. The latest of those reminders came late in the fourth quarter on Monday night, when he made a tricky over-the-shoulder grab of a 22-yard pass from Carson Wentz to help position the Eagles for a game-tying touchdown.
But you look at the wide receivers who have torched the Eagles this season, and these are among the names that you see:
Davante Adams: 53rd overall, 11 spots later than the Eagles selected Jordan Matthews that year.
Stefon Diggs: 146th overall, 126 spots later than the Eagles took Nelson Agholor that year.
Terry McLaurin: No. 76 overall, 19 spots later than the Eagles took Arcega-Whiteside in April.
Every week, it seems, they run into a player who turns in the exact sort of performance that their receiving corps needs. Every week, it seems, their build at the cornerback position looks more faulty.
The question Lurie must hunt is whether the critical failure lies in acquisition, or deployment, or some combination of the two. It almost cost them another game on Monday night. And, right now, it looks like the end of the season will come soon.