The Eagles defense has been pretty disappointing through two games in 2020. The highest paid defensive line in football is severely underachieving, the linebackers look completely outmatched and the secondary still looks subpar. The only real highlight and consistent presence on this defensive unit through two games has been Darius Slay.
After the trade that brought Slay to Philly, many fans quickly jumped to the Nnamdi and Byron Maxwell comparisons, pointing out how unlucky this organization has been at acquiring cornerback talent for the better part of this past decade. They weren’t necessarily wrong, but they failed recognize the most crucial aspect of all these deals: Nnamdi and Maxwell never fit our defensive schemes, whereas Slay fits right into what Jim Schwartz wants to do defensively.
Schwartz wants to man up across the board and create pressure with his front four, but he’s never truly had the talent in the secondary to pull it off effectively. Slay is a pure man coverage corner, so it should be to no one’s surprise that he’s played at a high level so far this year.
Slay has been targeted four times, allowing just two catches for 18 yards. Quarterbacks have just a 62.5 rating when targeting him, and he’s also recorded five tackles and one tackle for a loss. We finally have a legit corner in Philly, but his presence on the field has highlighted some glaring holes on this defense.
With Slay on one half of the field, teams have been targeting Avonte Maddox a ton so far this year, and he’s failed to step up to the challenge. In last week’s game against LA, Maddox was targeted six times, which resulted in five catches for a total of 79 yards. One of the completions he allowed was a 25 yard catch and run by Cooper Kupp that setup a Rams touchdown. His Pro Football Focus coverage grade is currently 35.5, with an overall grade of 37.5.
I’ve been saying this since his rookie year, but it’s abundantly clear now: Maddox is not an outside corner. He doesn’t have the height nor the speed to play on the outside, he belongs in the nickel or at safety. When he played those positions as a rookie in 2018, he looked really promising. But forcing him to play on the outside has hindered his development. I’m not really sure how Schwartz hasn’t recognized this yet.
Slay’s presence has also led teams to target our below average linebackers while they’re in coverage, mostly with tight ends. Nate Gerry, like most of the defenders on Sunday, fell victim to the Rams constant pre-snap motion, routinely playing undisciplined football and finding himself out of position. He allowed two touchdowns to Tyler Higbee on the afternoon too, with one being a 28 yarder to put the game out of reach.
Having a shutdown guy with Slay is great, anyone could tell you that. But honestly, what’s the point if everyone else in the secondary is terrible in coverage? I think players like Gerry and Maddox are capable of playing better than they have so far this season, but that doesn’t mean teams won’t continue to target them over Slay.
If this defense is to reach its full potential this season, Slay can’t be the only one who shows up on Sunday. He’s been just as good as I thought he’d be, now we just have to hope the rest of the defense starts to follow his lead.