Eagles

Gannon says traveling Slay with top WRs isn’t right move every week

Eagles

The Eagles used Darius Slay last week to travel with the Panthers’ top receiver D.J. Moore.

And it definitely worked.

Moore finished the game with five catches for 42 yards but against Slay had just two catches for 14 yards. Slay also had two picks. According to PFF, his coverage grade of 92.4 was the highest in the NFL in Week 5.

So if traveling with one receiver worked so well in Week 5, why don’t the Eagles just do that every week?

Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon tried to explain it:

“When we look at how we want to try to defend people, we always look what we, have in our bucket, so to speak, to present the best matchups for our guys and for our opponents,” Gannon said. “So, that's something that we've done a little bit the first couple of weeks and then this week you saw him almost exclusively travel with [Moore], but that's really game plan-specific.

“If we continue to do that or not continue to do that, it's really just when we sit down and say, ‘All right, who do we have to defend and what are our best matchups with what we're calling that week, does it make sense to do that?’

“I thought Slay did an excellent job. He rose to the challenge. And like all our players, he is a guy that, ‘Whatever I can do to help the team, that's what I'm going to do.’ So, it was a good response from him.”

Gannon didn’t get into the specifics of when Slay will and won’t travel. But last week seemed like a pretty obvious time to break it out. Because Moore is a great receiver and is considerably better than the others on the Panthers’ roster.

 

And when the Eagles traded for Slay prior to the 2020 season and then gave him a three-year, $50 million extension, a lot of the talk was about his ability to travel. But that was in Jim Schwartz’s man-heavy defense. Now, Slay is playing in a more zone-heavy scheme under Gannon.

Slay, 30, has never been shy about his desire to cover top receivers. He loves the challenge.

But Gannon says Slay is also willing to do whatever the team wants him to do.

“He is a premium corner,” Gannon said. So, most of the premium corners in the league like that challenge because that shows – it's their ability to show everyone that they are premium corners, when you can go shut out a top guy.

“But he also knows that if it's not the right thing for us that week, then he will do what we ask of him. So he has been really good with that as far as saying, ‘Okay, well, I want to go versus this guy.’ ‘Yeah, but it's not the best thing for everybody else, Slay.’ ‘Okay, I got it.’ ‘Hey, this week we want you to go with DJ.’ ‘OK, got it.’ So, he has been awesome to be around.”

So does it make sense for Slay to travel on Thursday night against the Buccaneers?

On it’s face, you might say no. The Bucs have three really talented receivers in Antonio Brown, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. But if there’s one receiver it might make sense to follow, it’s Brown. Just 19.6% of Brown’s snaps have come from the slot this season, compared to Evans (32.7%) and Godwin (58.5%).

Last weekend, Dolphins All-Pro Xavien Howard followed Brown and it didn’t go well. AB finished with 7 catches for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns. With Howard on him, he had 4/88/2.

So if the Eagles decide to go with this matchup in Week 6, it’ll certainly be one to watch. If Slay travels with Brown, that would leave Evans and Godwin for Steven Nelson and Avonte Maddox.

The Eagles might not travel Slay every week. Heck, not even Schwartz did that. But Gannon has emphasized utilizing his players’ skills to get the most out of them. In Slay, Gannon has a top corner with the ability to oftentimes slow down or lock down the opponent’s best receiver.

He should probably use that from time to time.

“What you see is what you get,” Fletcher Cox said. “I’ve been with Slay since college and he hasn’t changed one bit. He’s going to go out and play his game and make plays, fly around.”

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