Darius Slay better pack his bags. It sounds like he’ll be doing a lot of traveling this season.
At least that seems to be the plan.
On a Zoom call with reporters Friday morning, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz confirmed that the Eagles will use their new top corner to match up against top receivers all over the field (travel) this season. He just didn’t say how much.
So, I don’t know that it’s going to be a 100 percent, all-the-time thing,” Schwartz said. “Maybe it’s a particular game. Maybe it’s 50 percent of the games. Maybe it’s 75 percent of the games that Slay is matching a particular receiver, but you will see that from our defense.
“And in order to do that, it’s not just on Slay to know inside and outside, which we have a very good comfort level with and feel like he can do that. But now it’s going to put all of your corners, your safeties and your nickels have to be just a little bit more into, they have to be more multi-dimensional. If Slay lines up at the nickel, the nickel needs to be able to line up at the outside corner and you need to be able to play man, and zone, and blitz from that same look.
That second part is a really good point from the defensive coordinator and it’s one of the reasons the Eagles have kept their corners lining up at the same positions the last four years. The Eagles under Schwartz have kept their left corner on the left side, their right on the right and their nickel in the slot. It simplified things and also helped them mask coverage.
But the other – and more obvious – reason they haven’t used a cornerback to travel is because they didn’t have a cornerback worthy of that responsibility. They do now after trading for Slay this offseason.
“He has done a lot of that in the past, and that won’t be anything new for him, and I’m really excited to have him,” Schwartz said. “I think it’s going to add a different dimension to our secondary.”
And the idea of keeping Slay on Amari Cooper or DeAndre Hopkins for an entire game is worth the extra stress it might put on a defense, forcing other guys to play out of position or working harder to disguise coverages.
Take a look at where Slay lined up the last three seasons with the Lions, his three Pro Bowl years:
Left cornerback: 1,346 (51.5%)
Right cornerback: 980 (37.5%)
Nickel cornerback: 287 (11%)
And now take a look at his success against the top receivers in the league in 2019, per ProFootballFocus:
Larry Fitzgerald: 1 target, 0 catches
Keenan Allen: 11 targets, 6 catches, 81 yards, 1 INT, 1 PBU
Stefon Diggs (2 games): 8 target, 6 catch, 114 yards, 1 PBU
Adam Thielen: 2 targets, 1 catch, 25 yards, 1 TD
Allen Robinson (2 games): 9 targets, 5 catch, 74 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Amari Cooper: 6 targets, 3 catches, 38 yards, 2 PBU
Terry McLaurin: 10 targets, 3 catches, 42 yards, 1 PBU
Chris Godwin: 2 targets, 1 catch, 6 yards
Davante Adams: 5 targets, 4 catches, 63 yards
“Oh, I love the challenge,” Slay said on a conference call earlier this offseason. “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.”
The Eagles will prepare for Slay to travel during their upcoming training camp practices. Schwartz said they’ll probably just let him pick a receiver from the offensive huddle and follow him around the field for that series. With how Doug Pederson uses his receivers all over the field that will also allow Slay to move and for the corresponding moves from the other corners too.
Eventually, when the season starts, it’ll be a week-by-week decision whether or not Slay matches up against the opponent’s top receiver.
Something tells me Schwartz won’t be as open to talking about it then.
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