Eagles' short-handed secondary looks to rebound vs. Saints originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
It was the kind of disastrous performance the Eagles’ secondary had avoided all year.
We all saw Dak Prescott shred the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL for 347 yards and three touchdowns last weekend, and the challenge now for the Eagles' defensive backfield is not only to bounce back but to do it without two of their best players.
The Eagles go into a crucial game against the Saints without NFL interception leader Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, out indefinitely with a lacerated kidney, and without Avonte Maddox, one of the league’s top slot corners.
“We hate seeing those guys go down, they’re a big part of our defense,” rookie safety Reed Blankenship said. “But everybody in that DB room has all the faith in the world in everybody else in that room. We have this mentality that we don’t fall off, and we take pride in that.
“That’s what’s so good about our room. You know you’re going to have downfalls throughout the season, but make you tighter as a team. That’s what I love about this team – we face adversity but it brings us closer. That’s a big thing for this team right now.”
It’s a huge thing because the Eagles need to win one of these two remaining games to lock up a 1st-round bye in the NFC playoff bracket. They face the Saints Sunday at the Linc and then the Giants a week later, also at home.
And for at least one more week, Blankenship will start in place of Gardner-Johnson, Josiah Scott will man the slot and the Eagles will try to bounce back from their worst defensive performance of the year.
“The motto I’ve always been taught since I’ve been in the league is next man up because injuries are 100 percent,” James Bradberry said.
“They’re going to happen. It’s not if they’re going to happen. They are going to happen. You just never know when and you never know what position they’re going to hit. But they are going to happen for sure so everybody has to be ready all the time to do their part and take on more of a role.”
Despite that disastrous performance in Dallas – Prescott was 27-for-35 for 347 yards with three TDs and one INT – the Eagles still have the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL, allowing just 181 yards per game. The Saints are No. 2, allowing 190.
Sunday will be the fourth straight start for Blankenship, an undrafted rookie out of Middle Tennessee State. He’ll be the first Eagles defensive back to start four games as an undrafted rookie since Brenard Wilson in 1979.
And Scott, who took responsibility for the Cowboys’ 3rd-and-30 conversion, will be the Eagles’ slot corner for the eighth time this year.
“We don’t flinch,” said K’Von Wallace, who’s played 157 snaps this year as a backup safety. “No matter who goes down, no matter what happens, we don’t flinch.
“We all hold each other accountable, we all have a responsibility to know our assignment and do our assignment at a very, very high level. We put our hard hats on and we go to work.
"I feel like everybody in that DB room is hungry. Everybody has a chip on their shoulder, whether it’s Slay, whether it’s me, whether it’s Anthony Harris … everybody has a chip on their shoulder in that room and that’s how we play. We play as a brotherhood and it shows every Sunday.”
This is a very close DB room, and when one guy messes up, everybody else is there to support him. Everyone is accountable for their mistakes, and they all work as a group to make sure they don’t happen again.
“It’s a testament to the connection and brotherhood we have in the locker room,” first-year starter Marcus Epps said. “We all believe in each other. We understand there’s going to be good and bad plays, but we all have each others’ back. Through thick and thin, we’ve got each others’ back.”
Although the Eagles haven’t opened Gardner-Johnson’s practice window, the expectation is that he will likely be available for the postseason. Maddox, we’re not sure, but it is a serious injury.
All we know is that for the Eagles to make a deep run in the playoffs, the secondary is going to have to play at a high level.
And when they mess up? They have to find a way to forget about it and move on.
“As a DB you have to embrace that,” Wallace said. “As a defensive back you have to have that mentality or it will show and it will expose you and it will make a coward out of you if you don’t put that play behind you.
“There’s so many plays that guys leave out there due to something that happened earlier in the game. You have to make your next play the best play because you never know when it’ll be your last play.”