PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles’ secondary had just gotten roasted for 333 yards and four touchdowns by Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings, and safety Malcolm Jenkins was in no mood to coddle.
“This game is not for suckers,” Jenkins said Sunday, when asked how to keep Philadelphia’s young corners aggressive and confident as opposing quarterbacks continue to go after them. “If you aren’t confident on the outside, we can’t use you. We don’t mind that they’re challenging the outside. We can do what we can to protect them [in terms of] calls, but at the end of the day, our defense is going to call for guys to go on the outside and cover, and that won’t change.”
Chris Berman and Tom Jackson recap the weekend’s games with extended highlights and analysis.
The show will stream live at 7:30 p.m. ET each Sunday during the 2019 season and will be available on demand each week until late Wednesday night. Watch on ESPN+
It was a rough day at the office for Rasul Douglas and 2017 second-round pick Sidney Jones, who were part of a group that yielded 13 catches, 224 yards and four touchdowns to the receiver duo of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. It wasn’t all on them, certainly — Jenkins himself issued a mea culpa for one of Diggs’ long TD catches — but the corners weren’t good enough.
Poor pass defense has developed into an issue that is putting the Eagles’ Super Bowl hopeful season in jeopardy. The unit needs to turn things around starting Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) in a battle for first place in the NFC East.
Is a trade in the cards? Can help come from in-house? Let’s take a look:
How bad is it?
Pretty bad. The Eagles (3-3) are fifth-worst in the NFL in average passing yards (280.2) and in touchdowns (13) allowed. They have yielded seven pass plays of 40-plus yards, tied for the most in the league with the New York Giants. Six opposing receivers have posted 100-plus yard outings against them in as many games, including Diggs, who had seven catches for 167 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-20 Vikings rout Sunday. It hasn’t been pretty.
What’s behind the issues?
Injuries have played a significant role for the Eagles’ secondary. Jalen Mills (foot) and Ronald Darby (hamstring), last season’s starters, have been sidelined. Cre’Von LeBlanc (foot), Avonte Maddox (neck/concussion) and Jones (hamstring) have missed time as well. Mix an inconsistent pass rush with a depleted cornerback group lacking adequate recovery speed, and opponents can create big plays galore.
Any relief in sight?
Yes. Mills is eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list this week and is expected to practice. If all goes well, he’ll have a role Sunday against the Cowboys. Darby is on track to participate this week as well after missing the past three games. “We’re slowly starting to get some guys back [whom] we can work into practice,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. Expectations should be kept in check, though. Mills hasn’t played for a year since suffering a foot injury against the Jaguars in London last October. Darby has not only been dealing with a hamstring injury, but is coming off ACL surgery and didn’t look like himself at the beginning of the season. Their return is not a cure-all for the Eagles’ woes.
How about a trade?
The Oct. 29 trade deadline is fast approaching and the Eagles have been doing their homework. They were in on Jalen Ramsey before the Jaguars declared their intention to keep him, and will be standing by should Jacksonville’s ownership change its mind. Meanwhile, other names are beginning to surface. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the Arizona Cardinals have fielded calls from at least three teams regarding veteran Patrick Peterson, who is scheduled to return from his six-game suspension Sunday against the Giants. The Cardinals say they aren’t interested in dealing him. Same goes for the Denver Broncos and Chris Harris Jr. Despite the Broncos’ slow start at 2-4, general manager John Elway recently said no Denver players are on the trade block.
Positions could always change over the next two weeks. GM Howie Roseman and the Eagles are constantly working the phone for deals. Most of the those calls don’t result in anything. But, like any good Jenga player, Philly will continue to search for the loose block.
There is no guarantee outside help at corner will save them, and the in-house pieces set to return such as Mills and Darby will probably be a work-in-progress as they reacclimate. Though corner might be a “sucker”-free zone, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz should look to give his guys a little more safety help moving forward to limit the amount of big plays against them. As defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (foot) continues to round into form, and the secondary works the projected corners back into the mix, maybe, just maybe things will begin to stabilize approaching the halfway point of the season.