Patrick Robinson's play in the slot has been important for Eagles' defensive success
When the Eagles traded for Ronald Darby, Robinson was moved inside to the slot, and he has flourished with a team-high four interceptions.
Patrick Robinson's football career was on the ropes this summer.
Already released by two teams in two years, it was beginning to look like the 30-year-old cornerback might not even make it to the 2017 starting line with the Eagles.
He signed a one-year deal with the team in late March and spent spring OTAs and the first couple of weeks of training camp as one of the team's two starting corners along with Jalen Mills.
But he wasn't playing very well, and when the Eagles traded for Ronald Darby in mid-August, Robinson's roster stock plummeted.
He had spent most of his career in San Diego and Indianapolis playing outside but with the addition of Darby was moved inside to the slot. It was pretty much a sink-or-swim move. If he couldn't cut it inside, he wasn't going to make the team.
"I started off a little slow in camp,'' Robinson admitted. "But I kept going. I didn't really worry about the outside world.
"To be honest, I was thinking, things aren't going well for me right now. But I'm definitely going to fight through this.
"I'm not going to get down on myself. I know what type of player I can be. I felt if I kept working hard and doing what I had to do, I'd be fine. Obviously, things are going great for me right now.''
Robinson has been one of the NFL's top slot corners this season and has been a valuable contributor to the success of the Eagles' defense.
He leads the team with four interceptions, including one in the third quarter of Monday night's 19-10 win over the Raiders. It was the Eagles' 19th interception this season and their ninth on third down. Just two teams have intercepted more passes – Baltimore (22) and Jacksonville (21). And only the Ravens have more third-down picks (10).
Once the Eagles acquired Darby, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz thought Robinson's quickness might be a benefit against the NFC East's dangerous slot receivers – the Giants' Sterling Shepard, the Cowboys' Cole Beasley and the Redskins' Jamison Crowder.
"He's a good compliment to the other guys" in the secondary, Schwartz said. "Patrick is a different kind of player, and it gives us the ability to, when we have maybe a smaller, quicker guy [at slot receiver], we can use Patrick in there. When we have a bigger, more physical guy, we can use [versatile safety] Malcolm [Jenkins].
"He's played some good quality snaps for us outside this year, too. But he's really taken that nickel spot and given us good consistent play there.''
Robinson knows a lot of people had given him up for dead this summer. But he never gave up on himself.
"It's very rewarding,'' he said. "At my age, they just assume you're going to slow down. Right now, I'm just trying to prove that I'm still good. That's I'm still running as fast as I've ever run and am still as quick as anybody in the league. I'm definitely not slowing down.''
The play is much more physical inside than it is on the outside. But the 5-foot-11, 191-pound Robinson is holding up well. He has done a good job against the run as well as the pass and has proven to be a reliable tackler. He's made a number of big open-field tackles this season.
"It's definitely tough in there,'' he said.
The slot takes a much bigger toll on your body than playing outside, particularly when you're in your eighth pro season like Robinson.
"It's just a matter of being consistent with your body,'' he said. "Sometimes guys, they start out pretty good. Cold tub every day. Then, as the year goes along, they start to slack off. You start to get a little lazy.
"When I was younger, I didn't really need to do any of that, to be honest. Now I try to go in the training room and do the cold tub. Do my stretching. And get a lot of rest. I try to get as much rest as I can.''
Robinson is spending more time in the weight room than he has in his career, trying to build up his body so that it can withstand the physicality of playing inside.
"I have to make sure my shoulders are always strong and ready to take on those guards,'' he said. "Maybe a fullback. And big running backs like Zeke," the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott.
Robinson said the key to his success this season has been consistency.
"That's probably the main reason why I'm having the year I'm having,'' he said. "I'm a lot more consistent than I have been in past years.''
Robinson will be a unrestricted free agent after the season, and it will be interesting to see what the Eagles do.
They will have 2017 second-round pick Sidney Jones completely healthy and available next season. He and Darby likely will be the two starting corners on the outside.
Do you move younger, cheaper Jalen Mills inside and wave bye-bye to Robinson? Or do you try to re-sign Robinson?
Robinson said that's the last thing on his mind right now.
"I'm just doing my job right now,'' he said. "I'm not worried about that right now. When the time comes, then I'll do what I've got to do.
"It's a business at the end of the day. After the season, we'll handle that business and see what happens.''
Peters not ready to retire
Jason Peters will turn 36 in less than a month, but there doesn't seem to be any doubt that he wants to play again next season.
Peters tore his AC ligament in October but is at the NovaCare Complex every day rehabbing and serving as a very-well-paid assistant to offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. Peters has been invaluable to Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who has replaced him at left tackle, as well as the rest of the offensive line.
"It's been great for all of us to have JP around but in particular V,'' center Jason Kelce said. "JP was actually out there the last couple of games giving coaching points out on the field. Stout's an incredible coach, and he offers a lot. But it's always better when you have more eyes. And when you have a guy who's been around that long playing that position, he's played against pretty much any and every technique or different type of player that you can have. To have somebody with knowledge like that on the sideline to draw from is huge.''
Kelce said Peters has made it clear that he's not ready to retire.
"You can tell he wants to be out there really bad,'' he said. "It's an unfortunate thing what happened to him. But I don't see anything in him that leads me to believe he's done playing football.''
Peters signed a one-year contract extension in June that reduced his salary cap number to $6.9 million this year. But it jumps back up to $11.6 million in 2018, which is a hefty number for a 36-year-old guy coming off a torn ACL, even if he is a nine-time Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer.
Right tackle Lane Johnson's 2018 cap number is $12.2 million, and right guard Brandon Brooks' is $10.9 million. Throw in Jason Kelce's $7.2 million cap number next year, and you're talking about $41.9 million in cap space for four offensive linemen.
Figuring the Eagles
–The Eagles have turned the ball over just 18 times this season (eight interceptions,10 lost fumbles). Even though there are eight teams in the league with fewer giveaways, if the Eagles manage to get through Sunday's game turnover-free, they will set a new franchise record for fewest turnovers in a season. The current record is 19 by the 2013 team.
–With their five second-half takeaways against the Raiders on Monday night, the Eagles increased their season total to 30. That's the third-most in the NFL, behind Baltimore (33) and Jacksonvile (32). They are fourth in turnover differential (plus-12).
–The Eagles haven't had a rushing touchdown in the last five games. Despite being second in the league in rushing, they have just nine rushing touchdowns this season, which is the ninth-fewest in the league. Just two of the teams with fewer rushing touchdowns are ranked higher than 21st in rushing – Houston, which has seven and is ranked 12th, and Denver, which has eight and is tied for 13th.
–The Eagles' awful 1-for-14 third-down performance Monday night against the Raiders dropped them from second to fifth in the league in third-down efficiency. Their current 42.9 third-down success rate still is their highest since 2014, when they converted 43.5 percent of their third downs in Chip Kelly's second season. The Eagles have managed to be successful on third down this season despite the fact that 96 of their 219 third-down situations, or 43.8 percent, have been eight yards or more. That's the sixth- most third-and-longs in the league. The only teams that have dealt with more third-and-longs have been the 8-7 Bills (102), the 0-15 Browns (101), the 5-10 49ers (100), the 5-10 Bears (99) and the 5-10 Broncos (97). The difference between the Eagles and those teams is the Eagles have managed to convert a league-best 33.3 percent of their third-and-longs.
–The Eagles have an NFL-high 28 red-zone touchdown passes – 23 by Carson Wentz and five by Nick Foles. Tight end Zach Ertz is tied for second in the league with eight red-zone TD catches. The Seahawks Jimmy Graham is first with 10. Alshon Jeffery is tied for fourth with seven. Ertz's eight red-zone TDs equal the combined total of his first four seasons with the Eagles. His previous career high was three (in 2013 and 2016). Jeffery's seven red-zone TDs are a career-high. He had six with the Bears in 2014.
–The Eagles are first in the league in red-zone touchdown percentage (65.5) after finishing 24th last year. Their 55 red-zone opportunities are the fourth most in the league, behind only the Patriots and the Rams (66) and the Steelers (61).
–Nick Foles attempted just 10 passes longer than 10 yards against the Raiders. He completed one of them, for 15 yards to Ertz. Foles was 0 for 5 on throws of 20 or more yards and 1 for 5 on attempts between 11 and 19 yards. The week before against the Giants, he was 8 for 14 with four touchdown passes on throws between 11 and 19 yards.
This and that
–In Monday's game against the Raiders, Nick Foles and Jason Kelce had some problems with a few shotgun snaps. Foles fumbled one and bobbled at least one other. Foles took the blame for them Thursday. "That's on me,'' he said. "I've got to make sure I look it all the way in. A lot of times, you're trying to look at the coverage at the same time [you're taking the snap]. Trying to see them moving. Because they rotate their safeties late. So you're trying to see exactly what coverage [they're in] and what they're doing. So those were on me.'' Kelce said a few of his snaps were low. He also said the wind might have been a factor. "It was a real windy game,'' he said. "I don't snap the ball with a spiral. Sometimes, I think when the wind gets a hold of the ball, it kind of knuckles. So, it's easy to kind of lose track of it for a split second.'' Kelce said the shotgun snaps are a point of emphasis in practice this week. "I'm going to do my best to put it where Nick wants it,'' he said. "But I'm not too worried about it.''
–Alshon Jeffery was targeted just twice by Foles Monday night and didn't have a catch in a game for the first time since his rookie year in 2012. Considering that Jeffery has a team-high nine touchdown catches and had 28 receptions in the previous six games, including 24 for first downs, that's inexcusable, and Foles knows that. "I need to make sure I give Alshon the opportunity to make plays,'' he said Thursday. "He has the ability when he's covered, or double-covered, to make plays. It's hard to cover Alshon. Even when he's covered, he's not covered. That's definitely something I took from the last game and I'll move forward with.'' Jeffery has a huge catch radius. He's exceptional at beating out defenders for 50/50 balls. The trouble is, it's not in Foles' nature to throw balls up for grabs. In 2013, when he had the 27-touchdown, 2-interception season, he seldom threw the ball into tight windows. It took Jeffery and Carson Wentz half the season before they had each other's trust. Unfortunately, Foles doesn't have that kind of time.
–Ertz on the Eagles converting just one of 14 third-down opportunities against the Raiders: "We have to be better [on third down]. We know we have to be better. Third down and the red zone are what we've emphasized all season. We've been great at both of those situations most of the year. Monday, it wasn't good. It was horrible. We've got this game [Sunday against the Cowboys] and a week of practice to get it right. Hopefully, it's an outlier of a game, and it's not going to be a trend that continues. We're going to do everything we can to make sure it's an outlier. We're not in panic mode. We have the guys here to get the job done.''
From the lip
–"We had a lot of people doubting us, a lot of people sleeping on us, and we love it. We love to silence the doubters.'' – Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner after his team kept its playoff hopes alive with a 21-12 win over the Cowboys Sunday
–"Minus our record, we're a really good football team. Next year, we're going to win the Super Bowl.'' – 49ers RB Carlos Hyde, whose team won its fourth straight game Sunday to improve to 5-10
–"MVP for sure. If he ain't winning, there's something wrong. You see it. What he's putting on film and what he's doing week in and week out, definitely for sure with no doubt in my mind, that's the MVP. For sure.'' – Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald on teammate Todd Gurley, who leads the league in rushing and yards from scrimmage
By the numbers
–The Chiefs have won back-to-back division titles for the first time in franchise history. They have not made it to the AFC championship game since 1994.
–The Bucs are 2-7 in one-score games this season. They have lost three in a row by three points.
–There have been 50 coaching changes in the NFL in the last seven years.
–Todd Gurley needs one TD Sunday to become the 13th player in NFL history to have 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns in the same season.
–Notify the NFL career obit writer. Patriots QB Tom Brady, who threw just two interceptions in his first 10 starts this season, has six in his last five.
–Since the NFL went to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, at least four teams have qualified for the postseason every year that were not in it the year before. This season, six teams – the Eagles, Carolina, Jacksonville, the Rams, Minnesota and New Orleans – have all qualified for the playoffs after sitting out the postseason in 2016.