Secondary taking next-man-up mentality after losing Ronald Darby

Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby gets carted off the field after injuring his leg.

LANDOVER, Md. – Players get hurt. It happens a lot in football.

Much like war, you mourn for a moment and then you move on. There is no other recourse.

“When something like that happens, [it’s] next man up,” Patrick Robinson said Sunday after the Eagles won a game but lost their best cornerback, Ronald Darby, possibly for the season.

“Everybody in our secondary has been so versatile. Something happens to somebody, [it’s] next man up. There’s no drop-off at all.

“That’s what you have to do as a defense. When something happens, you have to readjust and keep playing the game.”

Darby, who was acquired by the Eagles last month for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round pick, dislocated his right ankle early in the second quarter of the Eagles’ 30-17 win over the Redskins.

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He’ll have an MRI on Monday that will determine the severity of the injury. Best-case scenario: He makes it back sometime around midseason. Worst-case scenario: He misses the entire year.

The steep price the Eagles paid for him tells you both how good Darby is and how much the Eagles thought they needed his services.

Losing him is a big blow, but life goes on. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is hoping the versatility of the players in his secondary will help make up for the loss of a guy with Darby’s special cover skills. That and a tenacious pass rush like the one the Eagles got Sunday when they sacked Kirk Cousins four times and forced him into three turnovers and hurried throws much of the day.

“Those are things we prepare for,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We talk about it all the time. The versatility of the guys we have in our DB room. Everybody being able to play different packages.

“We didn’t have to get rid of any of our game plan today, even with our top corner going out. We just slide Jaylen Watkins in at corner. Patrick Robinson going back and forth between corner and nickel. I’m going back and forth between safety and nickel. And we were good to go.

“That’s a testament to the way these guys prepare. That’s a testament to the way we built our team, knowing that we need that versatility.”

Even without Darby, the Eagles did a very good job of defusing the Redskins’ passing game. Cousins likes to use short drops and get the ball out quickly. But the Eagles did a good job of taking away his first reads and forcing him to hold on to the ball longer than he likes.

“When you can take away a quarterback’s first read, that gives the d-line a little bit longer to hunt,’’ cornerback Jalen Mills said. “Maybe that split second helps the d-line beat the tackle and get a strip sack, or whatever.”

The Eagles forced three Cousins turnovers – a huge red-zone interception by Mills early in the fourth quarter when the Eagles were clinging to a two-point lead and a pair of fumbles forced by defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and defensive end Brandon Graham. Graham’s sack and forced fumble resulted in a game-clinching 20-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Cox.

Cousins completed only 23 of 40 passes and averaged only 6.0 yards per attempt. Tight end Jordan Reed and slot receiver Jamison Crowder were non-factors, combining for eight catches for just 50 yards. The Eagles also did a good job of neutralizing 6-foot-5 wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, holding him to six catches for 66 yards.

“[Losing Darby] is no excuse for us,” Jenkins said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that have a chip on their shoulder. Jaylen Watkins is a guy who’s just been waiting on the right opportunity to make his name known in this league. He’s more than qualified to play.

“We’re a confident bunch. When he went down, we didn’t panic and say we were only going to play lefthanded. We still did everything we had planned to do. We just moved a couple guys around.

We talk about our versatility all the time. The ability for the guys who aren’t starters to be ready to play any position. Between Corey Graham, Jaylen Watkins, and Patrick Robinson, the ability to prepare for multiple roles in this game was one of those stories you won’t see in a headline. But it was super important for us on defense.”

Yes, it was. Watkins was a safety until two weeks ago, but was playing one of the outside corner spots Sunday. Graham can play both corner and safety. Robinson, a corner who can play inside or outside, played both against the Redskins and turned in a solid performance.

Mills, in just his second year, had an excellent game. Schwartz loves his fearlessness, but wants him to be more consistent this season. Against the Redskins, he was.

The Redskins went after him on the first play of the game, throwing a deep post to Pryor. He defended it perfectly and forced an incompletion. Mills spent a good portion of the game covering Pryor and did a good job on him.

“We’ve got guys in that secondary who can step up,” Mills said. “Patrick Robinson went out there and started ballin’. J-Wat [Watkins] went out there. He started balling.

“Even after I caught the pick, I pointed to all the guys and said, ‘Man, that one was for Darby. He’s been grinding since he got here. I don’t know how serious the injury is. But I hope he has a speed recovery. Because we’re going to need him at the end of the season.”

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