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Eagles Position Review 2014: Cornerback was a disaster

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The horror. The horror.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Taking a look, in this case with one hand covering the face, at the Philadelphia Eagles defense on a position by position basis.

The Players

CARY WILLIAMS

Numbers: 2 interceptions, 10 passes defensed

BRADLEY FLETCHER

Numbers: 1 interception, 22 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovery

Normally, we would review each player individually. But with Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, they're both pretty much the same player: inconsistent and in need of being replaced. The problems with the Eagles' secondary are both systemic and personnel problems, and they are linked. In a perfect world, the Eagles want tall, long armed CBs and play them in press, throwing off timing routes and creating coverage sacks. When it works, it works very well. Replacing only one starter, the defense improved it's sack rate from t-31st in 2013 to t-4th, and it's completion percentage against from 19th to 3rd. But when it doesn't, it was ugly. Because Fletcher and Williams are inconsistent players, the ugly was also inconsistent. Against Chad Henne and rookie WRs, they struggled in the opening quarter of the season. But the next week, against Andrew Luck, they played brilliantly, limiting Luck to an awful 5.06 yards per attempt. Against Kirk Cousins, they gave up 427 yards and an extremely good 8.9 yards per attempt, against Colin Kaepernick they played well. Other than this early season alternation of bad and good games, there was little consistency to their inconsistency.

(To not overload your browser with GIFs, we'll only do a few within the post, the rest will be links)

Such as how Williams could play a strong physical game, or be made to look silly. He could defend a route perfectly... or the same route poorly. But William's biggest mistakes were mental ones.

There's a few problems on this play, but Williams' rolling to the center of the field for no reason is particularly egregious. Had Ryan Fitzpatrick seen Damaris Johnson, this would have been a touchdown.

Again, another big play that could have been even worse if Fitzpatrick had seen the receiver open because Williams blew his assignment.

Fletcher was no better. He could either actually play quite well, or be so bad he deserved to be benched. He also had his share of mental mistakes.

Perhaps the biggest peeve about Fletcher is his inability to get his head around on passes. But this too was an area where he was inconsistent: when he got his head around, he could make a play, even a touchdown saving one. But far too often he did not, and sometimes even when he did he still got beat.

BRANDON BOYKIN

Numbers: 1 Interception, 1 forced fumble, 9 passes defensed

Review: After a breakout season, Brandon Boykin had a disappointingly quiet one. Disappointing in that after finishing second in the league in interceptions in 2013, he had just one in 2014. And disappointing in that his playing time dropped from 51% of snaps in 2013 to 42.7% in 2014. One reason for this is the Eagles don't want to match Boykin up against WRs that he gives up six inches to on the outside. This makes a certain amount of sense, as Boykin has struggled against taller WRs. But the coaches' systemic rigidity hurts them here too. They don't want Boykin against tall WRs, but then their refusal to man match, even on occasion, means that they will put Boykin against Larry Fitzgerald in the slot, as good as any WR in the league in using his body as a sheild instead of say, John Brown. Would Williams or Fletcher managed any better? Maybe, maybe not. Okay, most likely not. But we'll never know because the coaches refuse to even try. He still made plays in the open field though.

The Eagles are also reluctant to play Boykin because of their preference to keep in base personnel to better defend against the run. As we've discussed before, those reasons make sense on a chalkboard, but in actuality they make little sense because the DBs they play instead of Boykin aren't particularly good at stopping the run.

NOLAN CARROLL

Numbers: 4 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovery

Review: Signed in part to improve special teams, the addition of Nolan Carroll allowed the Eagles coaches to install a dime defense, something they were missing last year. Carroll pretty much performed as expected: he could hold his own when given playing time, but wasn't so good that he looks to be any kind of answer on the outside.

JAYLEN WATKINS

Numbers: 1 pass defensed. It was pretty good.

Review: Is he a corner? Or is he a safety? Is he even NFL caliber? No one really knows. Spending most of the season inactive, Jaylen Watkins made a somewhat surprise start in Week 17 and save for one nice acrobatic play, didn't show much. But one game is hardly enough to evaluate a player. Watkins will enter camp as the 5th CB with a chance to earn real playing time, but likely won't be more than the 5th corner or safety.

Who could leave

Bradley Fletcher is a free agent. Cary Williams is due an $8.2M cap hit, releasing him saves $6.5M. Brandon Boykin is unlikely to want to sign a contract extension and will be a free agent after 2015. It wouldn’t be a shock if the team decides to get something for him now rather than see him walk in a year.

Who could sign

With one starter a free agent and the other a looming cap casualty, the Eagles will have to sign someone. But don’t get too excited. The Eagles philosophy at cornerback limits the pool of players available for them. Their height requirement immediately rules out a number of players, such as Buster Skrine and Brandon Flowers. But there are only a handful of free agent CBs over 6'0", so supplies are limited and the Eagles will most likely have to bend their own rules. Byron Maxwell is the popular pick here, but Kareem Jackson might be their top target instead. Do not be surprised if Fletcher is re-signed, likely after testing the market similar to Nate Allen last year. Or they could opt for a cheap stop gap in Patrick Robinson and take a flier on Antoine Cason.

Draft options

Many. This may not be a position that will be addressed early in the draft. Marcus Peters (Washington) and possibly PJ Williams (FSU) aren't attractive options to the Eagles due to character concerns. Projected day two corners such as Jalen Collins (LSU) and Alex Carter (Stanford) have the size the Eagles prefer. Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu does not. Nick Marshall, who played corner at Georgia before playing QB at Auburn, and worked out at the Senior Bowl as a CB, could be a jack-of-all-trades late round pick or UDFA.