Eagles have a knack for figuring things out with criticized cornerback groups

Eagles have a knack for figuring things out with criticized cornerback groups

Two weeks ago, Craig James was on the Eagles’ practice squad, and Orlando Scandrick was at home on his couch. On Sunday, they played 57 and 35 snaps respectively in a win.

Along with Rasul Douglas, who began 2019 in a cornerback rotation, the trio did its part to limit Jets quarterback Luke Falk to 120 yards passing. And James and Scandrick have now made arguably the two biggest plays by Eagles defensive backs this season in consecutive games.

So who needs Jalen Ramsey, right?

The current Eagles regime seems to have a knack for cobbling together quality play from largely unheralded corners, even when it’s least suspected. Last season, Douglas, Avonte Maddox and Cre’Von LeBlanc took charge of an injury-depleted unit and helped propel the team to the playoffs. In 2017, the Eagles won the Super Bowl with Darby, Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson, which nobody saw coming.

All of these players, save for Robinson, are still on the team, by the way.

There’s no question a trade for Ramsey or another Pro Bowl-caliber corner would represent a clear upgrade over the current bunch. But after James sealed a victory against Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay with a pass breakup in the end zone, and Scandrick ripped the ball away from Falk and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown Sunday, and after the past couple seasons of watching oft-criticized secondaries become quality units ... one might begin to wonder if cornerbacks in the Eagles’ defense are almost interchangeable to some degree.

The Eagles won’t make the mistake of putting too much stock in their performance against a pathetic Jets offense down to its third-string quarterback. Yet, the outcome does serve as a reminder of how much better any defensive back looks behind a steady pass rush.

The front four has been the engine that runs the Eagles' defense, but through four games, the line produced just two sacks. Not surprisingly, the secondary struggled as a result as well, even when healthy.

On Sunday, the line registered eight sacks, and the secondary was barely challenged. There were so few attempts downfield, you may not have noticed James, who entered the game with two career snaps on defense, was on the field 97 percent of the time.

If the front four is finally coming around — a story for another column, though there’s reason to believe it is — the cornerbacks naturally will improve, too.

They’re also going to get healthier. Darby, Sidney Jones and Maddox are all week-to-week, Mills is eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list after Week 6, and LeBlanc is eligible to come off injured reserve after Week 8. Douglas has been solid all season, and James and Scandrick got the job done for the last 62 minutes of football.

Provided everybody gets back to 100 percent at the same, the Eagles will soon have more corners than they know what to do with.

None of which is to say the Eagles shouldn’t pursue somebody like Ramsey, a young, All-Pro player who could quickly be locked into a long-term contract through his prime.

Then again, if the Jaguars or any team wants the moon for their star corner, there’s no need for the Eagles to make a move out of desperation. Time and time again, they demonstrate they can get by with what they have.

Add Ronald Darby to the list of injured Eagles

Add Ronald Darby to the list of injured Eagles

Starting cornerback Ronald Darby popped up on the Eagles’ injury report Friday with a hip flexor strain and is questionable for the Eagles’ game Sunday against the Redskins.

Darby wasn’t on the injury report Wednesday or Thursday and was a full participant in practice. He’s listed as a limited participant on Friday, which likely means he either got hurt during practice or an injury he suffered Monday night against the Giants got worse.

In either case, it’s yet another injury for an injury-riddled team. The only defensive players to start all 13 games are Malcolm Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Rodney McLeod.

The Eagles do have some depth at cornerback, since they’re carrying seven corners on the 53-man roster.

Jalen Mills is expected to be OK for Sunday after hurting his elbow in the Giants game. He was a full participant on Friday after being limited on Thursday.

Rasul Douglas would likely be the starter opposite Mills if Darby can’t play. Douglas has started 17 games in his three-year career, including five earlier this year.

Avonte Maddox can play outside but has been in the slot for the nine games he’s been healthy, averaging 46 snaps per game. Sidney Jones, who started four games earlier this year, is also available. Cre’Von LeBlanc is being brought back slowly after being on IR most of the year, and Craig James hasn’t played a defensive snap in nearly two months.

Darby missed half of the 2017 season with an ankle injury, half of last year with a torn ACL and four games earlier this year with a hamstring injury. He’s played only 29 of a possible 50 games since he got here in the summer of 2017.

The Eagles have don’t have a cornerback who’s played defense in every game this year. They’ve used eight different combinations of starting corners in 13 games.

The Eagles signed the 25-year-old Darby to a one-year contract worth $6.5 million. He has two interceptions in nine starts.

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Eagles vs. Redskins 2019: TV schedule, storylines, game time and more

Eagles vs. Redskins 2019: TV schedule, storylines, game time and more

The Eagles (6-7) are visiting the Redskins (3-10) at FedEx Field on Sunday afternoon. 
Here’s everything you need to know:  

•12 p.m.: Eagles Pregame Live on NBCSP
•1 p.m.: Eagles at Redskins on FOX 
•4 p.m.: Eagles Postgame Live on NBCSP 
•10 p.m.: Birds Outsiders on NBCSP 
The FOX broadcast crew for this game is Thom Brennaman (play by play), Chris Spielman (analyst) and Shannon Spake (sideline). You can also stream the game on FuboTV.
Merrill Reese, Mike Quick and Howard Eskin will have the call on 94WIP. 
The Eagles opened as 6-point favorites in some places but that has slipped to around 4 1/2 points. The over/under is 39. 

The referee for Eagles-Redskins is second-year referee Shawn Smith. This is his first game reffing an Eagles game. The Eagles were 2-1 with him as an umpire in 2016 and 2017. 

Keep it going

The Eagles got off to a terrible start against the Giants last week before they turned it around, scoring the last 20 points of the game and getting a huge overtime win. So which team shows up on Sunday? The team that fell behind 17-3 to the Giants or the team that rallied to a win? 

It’ll be key for the Eagles to find what works for Carson Wentz in this game a little earlier. They got him into rhythm last week, but that didn’t happen until the third drive of the third quarter. 

No receivers left 

The Eagles began the season with DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor. That was nice for that one game. Going into Week 15, with Agholor’s status uncertain, the Eagles’ top three receivers might be J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward and Rob Davis. Not exactly what the Eagles had in mind this offseason. 

A rookie QB 

The last time the Eagles faced Washington, in the opener, Case Keenum was the starter. So this will be their first time facing rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins. While the Redskins have won two of three, they’re still a mess of an organization, so who knows what the future holds for Haskins. They have an interim coach and it’s possible the next head coach will want to pick his quarterback, which could leave Haskins in limbo. But there’s also a possibly Haskins is still their long-term QB. It’ll be interesting to see what happens down there.  

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