During his four years as Eagles defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz has rarely traveled his cornerbacks, but to be fair, he hasn’t really had a top-tier corner during that time either.
He does now.
When the Eagles traded for Darius Slay last month they got a three-time Pro Bowl cornerback who doesn’t just travel with the NFL’s top receivers … he loves every second of it.
“Oh, I love the challenge,” Slay said on a conference call Thursday afternoon. “I kind of ask for it a lot because of the fact that I want the game on me and I want to help win the game. If the best route to go about it is me traveling with a guy, then I’ll do it.”
Slay, 29, said he’ll do whatever Schwartz wants. He’ll travel with receivers or he’ll stick to a side — whatever the coaching staff thinks is best.
But it would probably make sense if Schwartz used him in this way — at least in certain matchups against the best receivers in the NFL. In 2020, the Eagles will face Amari Cooper, DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr., Terry McLaurin, Davante Adams, A.J. Green and more.
I’ve been doing this for the past four or five years and obviously I’ve been very successful at it,” Slay said. “If they need me to continue to do it, that’s what I’ll do.
Slay has been a Pro Bowler in each of the last three seasons and during that time, the Lions lined him up all over the field. Check out the breakdown of his cornerback snaps, according to ProFootballFocus, over the last three seasons:
Left cornerback: 1,346 (51.5%)
Right cornerback: 980 (37.5%)
Nickel cornerback: 287 (11%)
Last season, he had the most balanced year in his seven year career. He actually played more on the right side than on the left in 2019 for the first time in his career and played his most nickel snaps ever.
Back during the 2018 season, Schwartz actually gave a surprisingly detailed answer when asked about his hesitance to travel corners. Schwartz that day said that it would be easier if they knew exactly where receivers were lining up but “the multitude of formations” offenses use make it more difficult.
One of the best points he brought up that day was that it’s not just the traveling corner who needs to know how to play other positions, it’s the other guys on the field too. If, for example, Slay follows a receiver into the slot, the Eagles would have to feel comfortable with their nickel corner playing outside or their right corner playing on the left side or left on the right.
Sometimes that can just set you off your game,” Schwartz said. “When we played well, we've played within us, we've played with good technique, and we've sort of been us better than the other team has been them.
“Sometimes I think you can get away from your game by doing that.
Here’s where it’s worth pointing out that in the last four years the Eagles haven’t had a cornerback as good as Slay, so the advantages of traveling with a Jalen Mills or a Ronald Darby might not have been worth it. But if the Eagles can put Slay on Cooper or Hopkins and minimize the damage a great player causes … that’s worth it!
Two of the players Slay will have to deal with twice per season over the next few years are Cooper from Dallas and McLaurin from Washington. When Detroit hosted Washington in 2019, McLaurin had five catches for 72 yards.
“The rook kind of surprised me,” Slay said. “He’s a lot faster than what I thought on the film.”
But now there’s a full season of McLaurin on tape. And film study is why Slay thinks he’s had success against Cooper.
Cowboys WR Amari Cooper and Eagles CB Darius Slay have faced off twice in the NFL.— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) March 19, 2020
2015: Slay shadowed Cooper on 20 of his 27 routes. Cooper had 0 catches on 3 targets in the game.
2019: Slay shadowed on 26 of his 30 routes. Cooper posted an 8-3-38-0 receiving line.
“That was the difference between him and the rook,” Slay said. “I didn’t have too much on the rook. Rook was playing a little bit and then he finally build himself up. Coop, shoot, I watch every little route he had from when he was in Oakland and I was in training camp with him in Oakland because we did a joint practice with them.
“I just watched it over and over and over and over and over and over and over and kind of got a handle on what he like to do. Tried to just erase away what he did best and compete every play.”
That sounds pretty good. Maybe the Eagles should let him try that next season.
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