PARTY CRASHERS

Ea­gles’ sur­pris­ing no-names cap week­end of star-stud­ded play­off ac­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY ROB MAADDI

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.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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