Can't blame Eagles' cornerbacks for this one
It wasn't the cornerbacks' fault. There was plenty with which to take issue, looking at the Eagles' defensive effort in Saturday night's 38-24, playoff-hope-crushing loss to the Washington Redskins, but the main thing many observers worried about going into the game didn't happen.
It wasn't the cornerbacks' fault.
There was plenty with which to take issue, looking at the Eagles' defensive effort in Saturday night's 38-24, playoff-hope-crushing loss to the Washington Redskins, but the main thing many observers worried about going into the game didn't happen.
As was feared, Byron Maxwell, the Eagles' $63 million corner, couldn't play with a sprain in his SC joint, where the collarbone connects to the sternum. E.J. Biggers took Maxwell's place in the base defense, with Biggers moving inside in nickel and dime packages and Jaylen Watkins coming in on the outside.
Rookie Eric Rowe started after suffering a concussion a week earlier in the loss to Arizona. Former Eagles star DeSean Jackson, who left the game for a while with cramps, did not blaze down the field creating mismatches. He caught four passes for a largely irrelevant 40 yards.
The Redskins had plenty of passing success - quarterback Kirk Cousins threw multiple touchdown passes (four) in a road game for the first time all year, going 31 for 46 for 365 yards - but that success tended to be over the middle, often against linebackers and safeties. The first three touchdown passes went right down the gut, none of them involving coverage by a corner. The fourth went to the right corner of the end zone, but the defenders were safeties Ed Reynolds and Walter Thurmond.
The first time the NFC East rivals played, on Oct. 4 in Landover, Md., Rowe saw his first extensive action of the season and was victimized for the winning touchdown, with 26 seconds remaining, a 4-yard pass to Pierre Garcon. Rowe said this week he had learned a lot since then; Cousins is the first quarterback he has seen twice, in his brief NFL career.
As for Watkins, he was an Eagles' fourth-round pick in 2014, cut at the start of this season, languishing on the Bills' practice squad until Nolan Carroll went down with a broken fibula during the Thanksgiving blowout in Detroit.
Saturday, Cousins went at Rowe in the end zone twice from the Eagles' 10, the rookie blanketing Garcon both times, forcing a field goal that made it 16-10 late in the second quarter, when it seemed the Eagles still might mount a challenge.
"I feel like we did a good job with our man coverage, especially against DeSean, not letting him get a deep ball," Rowe said. "Pierre, he had himself a game [seven catches for 80 yards], but I felt like most of the game we kept him contained."
Rowe's play, especially, was a very small victory that might pay dividends someday. But not this season.
Cousins "just did a good job of finding the mismatch, the back on the linebackers or the tight end on the 'backer. They just did a good job with that," Watkins said.
Watkins noted that he dropped a sure interception when the score was still close.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly said he knew tight end Jordan Reed (nine catches for 129 yards and Washington's first two touchdowns) would be a tough matchup - the Eagles' linebackers haven't covered well all season. But Kelly said he was surprised to see Washington complete eight passes for 68 yards and a touchdown to running backs.