Cue Skee-Lo. The Eagles cornerbacks wish they were a little bit taller.
Starters Jalen Mills (6-foot) and Ronald Darby (5-foot-11) were in the right position to make interceptions most of the afternoon versus Miami. The problem was they were overmatched and undersized.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz wouldn’t use the “height card” as an excuse, but it’s clear it was a major hindrance to winning those 50-50 balls. And the Dolphins kept going to the jump-ball well and it was never empty.
“There is no excuse. There are tall receivers in the league. Our corners can jump,” Schwartz told reporters. “Sometimes you get a ball caught over you and you come back and you play the next one. You’re not going to win 100% of those all the time.”
Winning jump-balls, especially down in the red zone, can make or break a team. It’s a big reason why the Eagles signed Alshon Jeffery and drafted J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Last week, they had no answers for DeVante Parker (6-foot-3) or Mike Gesicki (6-foot-6).
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw up 13 “50-50 balls” and the Eagles only won four of them. That computes to about 30-percent, or not good enough, according to Schwartz. The Eagles eventually lost the game, 37-31.
“When I say 50-50 ball, I mean a guy that’s covered but the quarterback still throws it,” Schwartz said. “A 50-50 ball might be just lobbing the ball deep. It might be throwing a slant when the guy is covered. I counted 13 50/50 balls and we only won four of them. So we were backward.”
The Fabled ‘Wildcat’ Formation Doomed Eagles
There was one play that set the tone early in the game. It came with 5 minutes, 10 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Dolphins were trailing 10-0 when the Dolphins lined up in the Wildcat formation with running back Kalen Ballage taking the direct snap and handing it off to receiver Albert Wilson who rumbled 28 yards. The run was the longest of the season for Miami.
Four plays later, DeVante Parker caught his first of two touchdowns, this one coming on a 43-yard “50-50 ball” over an outmatched Ronald Darby on 4th-and-4. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz called the Wildcat play the turning point in the game.
“I really think that was such a critical point of that game,” Schwartz told reporters. “That [run] just gave them life. They were able to make that play. The quarterback threw a 50/50 ball up there. They made it; we didn’t.”
Did Eagles Ever Consider Inserting Rasul Douglas?
Backup cornerback Rasul Douglas has starter’s experience and measures 6-foot-2. His height could have been a good way to shadow DeVante Parker in the red zone and protect against those dreaded jump-balls, right? Maybe not.
According to Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, the red-zone wasn’t the issue. Parker’s 43-yard score came on fourth down from midfield. Plus, Schwartz had supreme faith in his starting cornerback tandem of Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills. They were never out of position, just didn’t time their jumps right.
“Again, Darby and Mills had made those plays. I think as a coach, you have to give those guys a chance to be able to get out of that and be able to make those,” Schwartz said. “We’re confident in our guys to be able to make those plays, and I think we will.”
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