One of the more interesting things to watch in the Eagles game' versus the Packers this weekend, besides Sam Bradford, is a new wrinkle in Philadelphia's defense. According to rookie cornerback Eric Rowe, it's fair to expect to see Nolan Carroll line up on the inside when the Eagles use their nickel defense this week. With Carroll moving to the inside on these play, Rowe is expected to replace him on the outside.
This wrinkle shouldn't come as a total surprise. During his press conference leading up to the Ravens game last week, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said the team was planning to test Carroll out at nickel. Previously, the team has been testing out Rowe in the nickel with Carroll on the outside.
While Carroll mostly played as the team's dime cornerback in 2014, he also played some nickel, according to Pro Football Focus. In the 73 snaps Carroll played as a nickel cornerback last season, the veteran cornerback was targeted 11 times. He allowed seven receptions for 42 yards (6.0 average). Opposing quarterbacks had a 71.0 passer rating when throwing in Carroll's direction. It's a small sample size, but the numbers look decent.
Carroll hardly played on the inside when he was with the Dolphins. In four years with Miami, he logged 33 snaps as the nickel cornerback. He was targeted seven times but only allowed one reception for five yards. Again, it's a small sample size.
The Eagles' nickel position has been unsettled since the team traded Brandon Boykin away to the Steelers. Making matters worse, JaCorey Shepherd got hurt early in training camp. The rookie was arguably the favorite to win the slot job. Now the Eagles are left testing out different options.
The good news for Philadelphia is that the preseason is a great time for the Eagles to experiment. The bad news for the Eagles is they might not be tested very well this weekend against the Packers. Aaron Rodgers isn't expected to play much, if at all.
The Eagles don't need to force one of Rowe or Carroll in the slot. Jaylen Watkins has received some first team nickel looks. Veteran defensive back E.J. Biggers has plenty of experience in the slot, and has stood out this summer. Starting safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Walter Thurmond can play at nickel cornerback if needed. Still, it seems like the Eagles would prefer to get Carroll and Rowe out on the field before having to rely on other defensive backs. It'll be interesting to see how both cornerbacks fare against the Packers.