Schwartz is hard to corner, but Eagles' Robinson, Watkins likely to replace Darby

Eagles defensive back Jaylen Watkins stops Washington Redskins running back Samaje Perine on Sunday, September 10, 2017, Landover, MD. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz only speaks to reporters on Tuesdays.

Some weeks, we get voluble, storytelling Schwartz, a man with a colorful anecdote to match any question. Some weeks we get cautious, tight-lipped Schwartz, a coach who has a tough game coming up, who is wary of letting any scrap of useful information escape the NovaCare bunker.

Alas, this Tuesday’s Schwartz was the second guy.

So anyone who entered the auditorium hoping to mine solid insight into how the Eagles will proceed for several weeks without top corner Ronald Darby, in the wake of the right ankle dislocation Darby suffered Sunday at Washington, was out of luck. The Eagles visit Kansas City this week.


What is the Eagles’ biggest concern going into the Chiefs game?

“We have a lot of different ways that we can cover it, and different packages. I don’t want to announce any of those now, or divulge any of those now; no sense giving Kansas City a jump on just knowing what numbers will be out there, getting any kind of jump on the game plan,” Schwartz said. “We’ll hold those cards close to the vest this week.”

But from what the Eagles did against Washington after Darby went down, and from Schwartz’s comments Tuesday about how he felt his secondary coped, we can cobble together some credible assumptions.

Assumption No. 1 would be that in base defense, Patrick Robinson is now the starting corner opposite Jalen Mills. Schwartz praised Robinson’s flexibility, in sliding over from his nickel role.

“He played inside, he played outside. That’s what a veteran player can do … obviously our plans changed, and he was able to bounce out,” Schwartz said.

[Schwartz: No friction between me and Doug Pederson]

Schwartz also made a point of praising corner/safety Jaylen Watkins, who played outside in second-half packages, with Robinson back inside.

“There was a personnel package that, to replace Darby, [with Robinson inside] we would have had to move three different guys. Rather than doing that, we just plugged Jaylen in and for the whole second half, all he did was go out there and execute his job,” Schwartz said. “He made a big play, a big hit, limited a run after the catch. I thought he was up to the challenge. That was good to see.”

So we’re likely looking at Robinson replacing Darby in base, with Watkins getting snaps in place of Darby when there is an inside matchup the Eagles feel is better suited to Robinson than to bigger but slower Malcolm Jenkins. Third-round rookie Rasul Douglas probably comes off the Week 1 inactive list for special teams and emergency corner duty.

Schwartz called Douglas “an improving player.”

“He made a lot of strides from the beginning of training camp to the end of training camp … Early on, he was inundated with all the new things, and then at the end, it was able to go a little bit slower for him,” Schwartz said. “Very competitive; you saw that in preseason games. He’s long [6-foot-2, 209 pounds], he can get his hands on the football, and he’s tough, he’ll tackle. I thought he had a very good training camp after a slow start.”

Mills-Robinson is the corner combo the Eagles began training camp with, the combo most people watching thought wasn’t close to sufficient, which is why the team traded Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick to Buffalo for Darby, who figures to be sidelined four to six weeks, a source close to the situation has said.

Right after the trade, there was speculation about whether Robinson would even retain a roster spot. Robinson, 30, signed a one-year free agent deal this offseason after a disappointing, injury-marred interlude in Indianapolis.

But Robinson looked much smoother and more assertive inside, a role that had seemed tabbed for veteran Ron Brooks. Brooks, coming back from a 2016 quad tear, ended up not making the team, and Robinson nailed down the nickel.

Were his early struggles just a matter of learning a new defense and adjusting to new teammates in the secondary? Or is Robinson likely to get overmatched by size and speed outside?

Robinson certainly doesn’t have Darby’s one-on-one shutdown capability, which was one of the factors that has made Schwartz more comfortable blitzing , Schwartz said recently.

[Key to the Eagles defense is the 300-pound dancer]

Tuesday, as he prepared for a Kansas City offense that passed for 368 yards and four touchdowns in its opener against New England, Schwartz wasn’t going to give a detailed answer when asked if he could still blitz as much without Darby.

“Anybody that we put on the field, we’re gonna have confidence in, to execute anything that we call,” Schwartz said.

Which didn’t mean he’ll call blitzes.

A questioner noted that Washington’s Terrelle Pryor got behind the Eagles’ secondary a few times, but quarterback Kirk Cousins couldn’t connect with him. This week, the secondary faces Tyreek Hill, one of the fastest wideouts in football.

“I was generally pleased with our ability to play the ball in the air. We’ve worked really hard this offseason on that aspect.,” Schwartz said. “[There were] a couple there schemewise, techniquewise that we can play a little better … You have to [make] those plays, or a guy like Tyreek Hill can make you pay for them.”


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