The Eagles schedule was released last week, and micro-analysis of the matchups continue.
Darius Slay will be asked to mirror the opposing team’s number one wide receiver on a weekly basis, and he’s drawn some pretty difficult matchups in 2020. Here are the five most difficult:
I think it’s fair to throw these two together. There’s a world where by week 8 it’s clear that Dak-to-Lamb is the matchup you want to take away for Dallas. It’s not like Amari and Dak have exactly been Aikman-Irvin or Romo-Bryant—there’s no reason that CeeDee can’t be the guy there from day one.
Slay has had Cooper’s number throughout his career, so the Eagles could choose to take him out of the game and shade coverage toward Lamb/stack the box for Zeke depending on circumstance. Even if Lamb is Dallas’ guy by mid-season, Cooper has torched every other DB on our roster over the past two seasons—488 yards, 4 TDs vs the Eagles are his best numbers vs any NFL team—so it’s not like we can go wrong with Slay on either player.
Odell will certainly give Slay fits in a one-on-one matchup, but the big question is if Baker Mayfield is able to take advantage of those opportunities enough to make Slay pay. That’s the main reason he’s ranked down at four. While Odell has had a down past two seasons by his standards—1,000 yds, 10 TDs is impressive for a “down” season—his separation-ability and ball skills are still elite. Slay has had up-and-down matchups with Odell in the past, and both players will be in new threads for this face-off.
Adams and Beckham are neck and neck, but I’ll give Adams the nod because of the man throwing him the football. Rodgers elevates a threat like him in ways that Baker or Dak simply don’t elevate their guys, and that’s obviously a bigger concern for Slay—who has plenty of firsthand experience with this matchup.
Being together in the NFC North, Slay and Adams have generally faced each other twice a year for the past six or so seasons, and for the most part Rodgers-Adams have gotten the better of him. There’s some bad tape of this matchup out there, but let’s be real, is anyone consistently locking up an explosive, physical route-technician like Adams with a guy like Rodgers throwing to him? Probably not.
The history between these two players and the gravity of a late-season Eagles-Packers game at Lambeau makes this a marquee matchup for Slay.
More so than anyone on this list, Hopkins is the most likely wideout to make a play with coverage draped all over him—that’s what separates him from the pack. Slay could be in the hip pocket of Hopkins all day long, and that wouldn’t fully matter with the three-time All-Pro capable of climbing the ladder and plucking a ball out of Slay’s airspace.
Hopkins has been a top three wide receiver in football for the past five years, and at 28 years old is entering his prime. He’ll get to experience that with a new team and quarterback, and while Kyler Murray isn’t the threat that Watson is, that won’t matter much to Slay, who will have his hands full when he lines up across from Hopkins in week 15.
Michael Thomas is the best receiver in football and has been for a while now. His combination of size, speed, and precise route-running gives him the rare skillset that allows him to uncover against anyone, and his ability to win contested balls and make defenders miss after the catch is paralleled only by Hopkins. The first four years of his career have seen him amass 470 receptions and 5,512 yards receiving—which is easily an NFL record for a receiver in the first four years of his career, and one of the best four year spans of any receiver’s career.
Thomas may not be as “flashy” as your favorite wideout, but he’s pretty much made history from the moment he stepped in the NFL. Remember how at some point over the past few years when pundits argued whether Hopkins or Julio was the best receiver in football? That was never the case. It was always Thomas, who stacks up better than his peers in almost every way. That may not be the popular narrative right now or over the past few years, but he’s just a notch above his contemporaries right now, and Slay will have his best chance to prove his worth with this week 14 showdown.
We remember the “Alshon drop” from our 2018 Divisional round playoff loss to the Saints, but some might forget that Thomas posted 171 yards over 12 catches in that game, and having someone like Slay completely changes the dynamic of that matchup. Ultimately, this is why we brought in someone like him, and this will be as good of proof of his worth as any matchup on the year.