Birds DBs: Mistakes Were 'Little Stuff'
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Eagles safety Justin Evans acknowledged that he found out he would be starting Sunday the same day as everyone else did.
“Today … for real. Today.” Evans said after the game, a sloppy Eagles 25-20 win over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in the opener.
It’s been a long road for the seventh-year safety, who missed three consecutive seasons (2019-2021) due to injuries before ultimately returning to action in 2022 with the New Orleans Saints.
Signed to minimal fanfare at the dawn of free agency, the 2017 second-round pick of New Orleans was widely viewed as a low-risk, potential upside signing at a position that had just lost starters C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps.
In the early stages of training camp, the 28-year-old had largely become an afterthought, overshadowed by the progress of second-year pro Reed Blankenship and the tantalizing traits of rookie Sydney Brown.
Comparatively, Terrell Edmunds — the team’s other cost-effective veteran free-agent safety signing — was also seemingly ahead of Evans in the pecking order.
While all five of the team’s top safeties — including since-departed K’Von Wallace — rotated in and out, Evans initially appeared like the victim of a numbers crunch, especially when he played deep into the team’s first two exhibition games.
“From the coaches’ standpoint, I wasn’t too much looking into it,” Evans said. “If I get all my reps with the threes or the twos or the ones, regardless, they’re the same reps. You’re learning the same defense, you’re learning the same scheme.
“You’re playing football with the Eagles, so it’s all the same to me. In a sense, it’s not. But you have to look at it like that because, if not, then you’ll start thinking about stuff that you can’t control.”
But the pregame backend alignment inside an hour of kickoff at Gillette Stadium definitively revealed Evans as the starter opposite Blankenship.
And while the secondary had its share of gaffes against New England, it’s important to note that imperfections are expected with newly implemented personnel, specifically early.
The second and third level of the Eagles defense proved vulnerable against quarterback Mac Jones and New England’s aerial attack, especially when coordinator Bill O’Brien’s group found its stride, with wide receivers Kendrick Bourne and Demario Douglas, tight end Hunter Henry, and running back Rhamondre Stevenson all racking up catches in bunches after facing some initial resistance.
“It just was finding holes in our defense, for real,” Evans said. “If you really think about it, it’s hard for everybody to be perfect. So, when someone wasn’t perfect, I think [the Patriots] were finding those little things.
“And when somebody was outside leverage and should have been inside leverage – or whenever I was supposed to be in the post and wasn’t too far in the post – they were just taking advantage of little stuff. Nobody was really doing anything wrong. It was just details.”
In addition to Evans, the Sean Desai-architected defense – still very much under evaluation – experimented with various personnel looks in attempt to slow an upstart Patriots passing game.
With linebackers Nakobe Dean and Zach Cunningham laboring in pass coverage, third-year linebacker Christian Elliss subbed in for an extended look, while Cunningham watched from the sideline.
When Dean exited the game with a foot injury late in the game’s final frame — he was later seen sporting a walking boot on his right foot — Edmunds, a safety by trade, saw some looks as a dime linebacker.
Ugly, sloppy, and turbulent as the defense’s back end might have performed, however, Desai’s overall group surrendered just 20 points in victory.
Sure, personnel tinkering is to be expected – especially on a short week against a Vikings team that just rolled up 369 scrimmage yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – but the resounding message amid the turmoil was that of a unified front.
“We need to go out there and fix our mistakes,” said cornerback Darius Slay, who returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown, one of two early takeaways from the Eagles’ defense.
“Overall, we got the win and that’s what it’s all about. But as a leader on this defense I know we need to go out and execute better cause we’re better than that. I have to give props to that team, they came out and made adjustments. We’re better than that and we got to go and make a better tape.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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