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Eagles secondary may be real star of undefeated start

Eagles secondary may be real star of undefeated start
Darius Slay has led the top-ranked Philadelphia Eagles defense to an undefeated start in 2022. (Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com / USA TODAY NETWORK)

PHILADELPHIA (BVM) – Expectations were high for the Philadelphia Eagles entering the 2022 season, but it’s tough to say experts around the league expected the NFC East-leading squad to be the only remaining undefeated team through the first four weeks of the season. 

As Jalen Hurts continues to silence many of his doubters throughout the early on-set of the team’s schedule, the Philadelphia defense – specifically the secondary – might need to be the ones that the league starts paying attention to.

“One of the reasons I always think that our receivers are taking steps in the right direction, and getting better, is because of the work they have to do to go against [Darius] Slay, and James [Bradberry] in practice and Avonte [Maddox] and Zech McPhearson and all those guys,” Sirianni said in his postgame press conference against the Vikings. “Slay, that’s why he’s one of our captains. The way he plays, the way he studies, the way he leads.”

The Eagles’ 31-year-old cornerback has been the headliner of a much improved defensive unit currently ranking in the top 10 in both passing yards and interceptions. Philadelphia’s leagueleading completion percentage on defense highlights the play of a backend that has faced a gauntlet of receiving groups just weeks into its 2022 schedule. With matchups early on against Amon-Ra St. Brown and Justin Jefferson, the Eagles secondary has gone on to hold the duo to their lowest average yards per target so far this season, while Slay enjoyed maybe his most complete game so far in his highlydecorated career.

In the team’s Week 2 matchup against the Vikings, Jefferson was held to just six catches for 48 yards after burning the Green Bay Packers for 184 yards just a week prior. When matched up against Slay as the primary defender, the Eagles’ All-Pro cornerback allowed just one catch for six yards while intercepting two of Jefferson’s six targets.

Appearing on the “All Things Covered” podcast with Bryant McFadden and Patrick Peterson following the Vikings game, the Eagles star cornerback revealed some insight into a feat that has been rarely accomplished for defensive backs since Jefferson’s arrival to the league. 

“When you’re a young and talented guy, you think everything works,” Slay said. It wasn’t a talent issue… I’ve played this game so long, I know what you’re gonna do. I know your tendencies, I know what you like the most. He had a lot of tells for me to steal from on film that young guys don’t see. But, I see that because I like to watch film a lot. Every tell I did was truthful. 

“After the first pass breakup I had, it made me confirm that’s what he does. When I confirm something that early, it’s gonna be a long night for anybody. No matter what type of talent you have or how much better you feel like you are than me, that means I really got your tell on what you do. I just believed what I watched on film and what I watch how his release is … that’s why I made the plays I did.”

James Bradberry Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles cornerback James Bradberry (24) scores a touchdown after intercepting the pass from Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff during the first half at Ford Field. (Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK)

The early play from Slay has combined nicely with Bradberry who has picked up his end of the load. With two interceptions from both sides of the tandem, the Eagles have taken the ball away at an elite rate, with the second most forced fumbles and seventh most interceptions. So far, Bradberry, Maddox and safety Marcus Epps have mixed in well with a unit that has currently graded out solid through the first four weeks. 

The Eagles’ acquisition of safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson before the season, however, might be the lone spot for an improvement in the defensive back room after not quite garnering the same respect from the PFF rankings early on. Gardner-Johnson played in the slot for the majority of his time with the New Orleans Saints and with a move away from the nickel, there seems to be some early growing pains as he transitions to a more standard free safety role. 

Following injuries to both Slay and Maddox, Gardner-Johnson’s versatility now becomes even more handy as the team may have to look for a new nickel replacement as Maddox works to get back healthy. With both players aiming to return from injuries sustained in their Week 4 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars, getting back to full strength now becomes the unit’s newest obstacle. 

The Eagles’ secondary will get a chance to put their early success on full display against the pass-heavy Arizona Cardinals in Week 5 and with all the attention on Philadelphia’s new and improved offense, keep an eye out for one of the most underrated defensive units so far in 2022.