Eagles’ surprising no-names cap weekend of star-studded playoff action
PHILADELPHIA | When injuries ravaged the secondary, the Philadelphia Eagles turned to inexperienced guys and castoffs.
The no-names are making themselves known. Cre’von LeBlanc, Tre Sullivan, Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox have stepped up in a big way down the stretch, helping the Eagles (10-7) win four straight games and advance to an NFC divisional playoff at New Orleans (13-3) on Sunday.
The Eagles and Saints will cap a quartet of weekend games loaded with drama, subplots and marquee matchups — including a clash between the league’s top ball-carriers, with the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliot taking on the Rams’ Todd Gurley in the other NFC game, and quarterback showcases in the AFC, with Tom Brady and the Patriots hosting Philip Rivers and the Chargers, and Andrew Luck taking the Colts on the road against Patrick Mahome and the Chiefs.
In New Orleans, the Saints are heavily favored to steamroll the Eagles again. But the reigning Super Bowl champs say things will be different this time.
LeBlanc had only joined the team 13 days earlier when the Eagles were destroyed by the Saints, 48-7, on Nov. 18. The third-year pro saw his first action with his new team at cornerback in that game and was part of a defense that Drew Brees tore apart.
“Back then I was just coming in trying to figure things out,” said LeBlanc, who began the season in Detroit. “Now I’m more comfortable, I’m more at ease and I know the game plan.”
LeBlanc, who was released by the Patriots, Bears and Lions in his first three seasons, has become a key player, filling in for Sidney Jones at nickel cornerback. He shut down Chicago’s leading receiver, running back Tarik Cohen, in Philadelphia’s 16-15 win in the wild-card round. Cohen had only three catches for 27 yards.
“I don’t know where we’d be without Cre’Von,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said.
The Eagles already were missing starting cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills and starting safety Rodney McLeod going into the first meeting against New Orleans. Maddox and Jones were injured in the game and things got ugly. Brees threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns and the offense racked up 546 yards.
“Night and day,” LeBlanc said about the difference between then and now.
Douglas, a third-round pick in 2017, was buried on the depth chart before all the injuries forced him into the starting lineup. He led the team with eight tackles against the Bears and coaches have praised his physical style.
Sullivan has been solid at safety, while Maddox, a rookie fourth-round pick, has been one of the biggest surprises this season. He’s played safety, nickel cornerback and outside cornerback.
The anchor in the secondary is twotime Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins. While everyone around him got hurt, Jenkins has played every snap. Jenkins was a rookie on the Saints when they won the Super Bowl nine years ago. He left in free agency after five seasons.
“He was probably one of the most important parts to our Super Bowl run,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Letting him out of the building certainly wasn’t a smart decision.”
Philadelphia cornerback Cre’von LeBlanc saw his first action with his new team when the Eagles lost at New Orleans on Nov. 18. Now, LeBlanc is a key player on defense.