Terry McLaurin had five catches on seven targets in week one, logging 61 yards through the air. No touchdowns for Washington’s #1 receiver, who was held largely intact.
That’s a credit to Darius Slay, who allowed less than half of that yardage, limiting a guy who burned the Eagles for 10 catches, 255 yards, and two touchdowns last year.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz admitted that they put a lot of pressure on Slay in his Eagles debut, and praised him for handling a “tough duty” well. Schwartz doesn’t always go into a ton of detail during his Tuesday press conferences, but we got some specific nuggets from him that allow for a bit of a surface-level exploration into Slay’s game, and you can see a clear distinction between snaps where he was playing man-to-man coverage vs. sitting ten-yards deep.
I’ll split this quote into three parts, beginning with:
Q. Your first time seeing CB Darius Slay in your system. How do you think he did? (Zach Berman)
“Probably one play he’d like to have back, that slant, and missed tackle there. When he was in coverage on 17 (McLaurin), I think he allowed two completions for about 28 yards or 26 yards. We put a lot of pressure on him. We were probably about, of our 60 some plays in this game, about 50 plays man-to-man, which is not something we’ve done in the past. Most of those plays he was on him. Some of the other completions that McLaurin got were either zone or a different side or something like that.”
“We had that one turnover. Right away I blitzed because I didn’t want the offense to hold the ball long to try to take a shot at the end zone. The other side of that is you blitz and they throw quick, you got to be able to make the tackle. That’s probably the only one I thought (he’d want back). He did some really good things.”
The play he’s talking about was right after the first Carson Wentz interception.
In this clip, you’ve got two guys blitzing off the edge with a deep safety staying home and Slay playing off coverage at the bottom of the screen, to the point where he wasn’t even visible on the regular broadcast TV angle:
I don’t have the All-22 film yet, so sorry about that. It’s usually available by now, so I’m not sure what’s taking so long.
Theoretically, I get what Schwartz is doing here, because you give up a turnover, and the other team has momentum, so maybe they’re sniffing themselves and thinking about an end zone shot. Philly successfully prevents that from happening, but Dwayne Haskins sees the blitz and just throws the slant to McLaurin instead, since Slay isn’t anywhere close to him. He ends up missing the tackle and Washington rips off a big gain anyway.
Look where he is when McLaurin makes his break:
Still not in the picture.
The thing about Slay is that he’s the best man-to-man corner you’ve had in a long time, so even if you blitz on this play, you should feel comfortable putting him on the line and letting him take McLaurin 1v1, right? You still have Rodney McLeod over the top, so it’s not like you’re in some cover 0 scheme throwing an all-out blitz. One more half-second of coverage there, and Cre’Von LeBlanc has a sack, so maybe they look at this on film and say, ‘you know what? we might be able to let him play man and blitz at the same time.’
“He matched (McLaurin) most of the game. Got a little bit sort of slow to match on the red zone play he gave that one up on. Wanted to make sure the linebacker was clear underneath of him.”
This one is on the same drive, the short field following the turnover right before halftime:
They’re trying to keep Washington out of the end zone and playing a little soft, so Slay sits deeper against this Washington scheme, which is trips right and two guys stacked on the left after pre-snap motion. The Birds are in nickel, with two linebackers on the field, so Duke Riley has to slide over in coverage to take J.D. McKissic, which is what Schwartz is talking about when he mentions the linebacker being “clear underneath of him.”
“We put a lot of pressure on him. All our corners, playing that much man-to-man, put a lot of pressure on those guys. Didn’t give up a lot of big plays down the field, which I thought was encouraging. Doesn’t change the result. Like I said, binary game. You don’t get any bonus points for how one individual played or how one group played. But I was pleased with what he was able to do with some tough duty.”
And this is where Slay really shines, when he’s up on the line of scrimmage and sticking to guys and riding them all the way:
That’s the Slay you went out and got, the #1 corner who can match a #1 receiver. You didn’t go out and get him to play 10 yards off and keep things in front of him.
For the majority of snaps, that’s what they did, and as Schwartz mentions, they really played a ton of man in this game, close to 85%. We’ll see if they stick with that moving forward or revert to some of the stuff they were doing in years past, which, in this case, is when McLaurin had his only success against Slay.