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Philadelphia’s Achilles’ Heel: The Cornerback

Jalen Mills deflecting a pass against Minnesota

PHILADELPHIA- The beginning of the Philadelphia Eagles OTA’s this week officially marks the beginning of the team’s quest to return to the Super Bowl and capture another Lombardi Trophy. After a devastating loss to New Orleans in the NFC Divisional round last year that ultimately ended the teams attempt to defend their status as the defending champions, Philadelphia again has high expectations for the upcoming season. 

Philadelphia has certainly made major improvements this offseason. Offensively, the signing of Jordan Howard and the drafting of Penn State running back Miles Sanders upgrades a weak Eagles running game. The return of DeSean Jackson and the drafting of Stanford wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside bolsters an already powerful Eagles air attack.  

Defensively, the retaining of Brandon Graham and Tim Jernigan along with the free agent signings of Malik Jackson and Vinny Curry further cements Philadelphia’s status of having a top-tier defensive line. Ex-Redskin Zach Brown brings much-needed help to the Eagles linebacker group, a group which saw Jordan Hicks depart for Arizona in free agency.

With the major upgrades that Philadelphia has made, Philadelphia still has a significant role to fill before September rolls around. Aside from the acquisition of an arguably underrated veteran strong safety in Andrew Sendejo, who now forms a brawny trio with Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, Philadelphia’s defensive secondary is still weak, particularly at the cornerback position.

For instance, Ronald Darby and Sidney Jones are among the best cornerbacks that Philadelphia currently has. Since joining the team two years ago, neither player has played in more than ten games in a season due to injury.

Jalen Mills is not the most reliable corner either. His lousy job in coverage last year, coupled with his foot injury currently makes him a liability. In weeks one through seven, Mills participated on average in 96% of snaps. In those games, Mills surrendered more than 70 yards on five separate occasions, including three games where Mills surrendered more than 100 yards.

Rasul Douglas also displayed instances where his coverage skills were lacking. In the eight games where Douglas played in at least 50 percent of snaps, Douglas surrendered more than 80 yards in four separate games, three of which he allowed more than 100 yards. 

Although Avonte Maddox played quite well last year, his success can easily be downplayed.  In 13 games played in the regular season, Maddox only allowed 218 yards but on 33 targets faced. His postseason performance painted a different picture. In the two playoff games that the Eagles played in, Maddox allowed 264 yards on 13 targets. Although Maddox faced two high caliber receivers in Allen Robinson and Michael Thomas in those two playoff games, the fact that Maddox was targeted more in the postseason than the regular season and performed worse creates doubt about whether Maddox can perform at a high level. 

As an aggregate, the picture doesn’t get any prettier. Philadelphia gave up the third most passing yards last season, behind only Kansas City and Cincinnati. This is much different from the rushing defense, which gave up the seventh least rushing yards last season.

The Eagles did not address this problem in the 2019 NFL Draft. Aside from the signings of undrafted rookie Jay Liggins and practice squad corner Jeremiah McKinnon, the Eagles haven’t made any significant efforts to solve the problem at cornerback in free agency. Recent rumors suggest that the Eagles are interested in trading for Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. The elite cornerback has recently requested to be traded from Denver if the Broncos don’t sign him to a new contract. However, his hit on the cap space may prevent him from suiting up in an Eagles uniform. 

Whatever Philadelphia decides to do, they better have some sort of solution to this problem if they want to increase their chances of hosting another parade down Broad Street. 

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