When talking about the best cover units in the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles are not often mentioned. They have played like an elite level secondary to get to this point and will face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52.
The Eagles have made it difficult to throw against them in the playoffs. Against the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings, they have allowed a completion percentage of only 59.5 percent, would be tied for tenth in the regular season.
“In my opinion, they have been playing at a high level all year,” said Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks on the Eagles secondary.
This secondary has been built from the ground up. To go along with two-time Pro Bowler Malcolm Jenkins, the Eagles signed safety Rodney McLeod and drafted cornerback Jalen Mills in the seventh round in 2016. In 2017, they brought in cornerback Ronald Darby via trade from the Buffalo Bills. The additions paid off as the Eagles went from allowing 241 yards in 2016 to 227 yards per game and improved their interception total from 16 to 19.
The Eagles have also done a great job of holding teams to limited yards per catch, ranking third in the league with 6.5 yards allowed per catch. But the Patriots rank third with 7.9 yards per pass attempt and with deep threats like Cooks and Chris Hogan at receiver, the Eagles secondary understands the importance in not giving up the big play.
“You can’t be worrying that,” said Mills on not giving up the deep ball. “You worried about getting beat deep, that’s when guys are catching six, seven, eight yard routes and the next thing you know they are in scoring range. You just have to know when they trying to attack you deep.”
Aside from Jenkins, the Eagles starting secondary have not played in a Super Bowl. The quarterback they are facing, Tom Brady, will be making his eighth Super Bowl appearance. Brady definitely has the Super Bowl experience over them, but Darby sees it still as another game.
“You have to treat it like a game, that’s all it is,” said Darby, who faced Brady three times when he played for the Bills. “It’s a game on the biggest stage, that’s all it is.”
A secondary’s best friend is a good pass rush. The Eagles have totaled 19 quarterback hits in their two playoff games. Both interceptions the Eagles caused in the NFC Championship game against the Vikings came from getting pressure on the quarterback. They realized getting pressure on Brady and not letting him get comfortable is the best way to be successful against him.
“You can’t make him comfortable in the pocket,” said McLeod. “That’s the biggest thing with Tom Brady. You have to make him uncomfortable when he’s back there. When he’s comfortable, that’s when he’s at his best. Our goal is to get after him up front and do our best on the back end to cover those skill players up.”
In 2015, the Eagles intercepted Brady twice in a 35-28 win. Jenkins was on the receiving end on one of the interceptions, taking it back 99-yards for a touchdown. They will look to have similar success in a much bigger game.
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