Philadelphia Eagles: How Cre’von LeBlanc fixed Jim Schwartz’s secondary

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

After three months of mediocrity, the Philadelphia Eagles’ secondary has settled on a winning combination thanks to the emergence of slot CB Cre’Von LeBlanc.

After suffering countless injuries, and shuffling around their defensive backs, the Philadelphia Eagles have finally settled on a winning secondary combination.

With Avonte Maddox and Rasul Douglas on the outside, and the dynamic trio of Malcolm Jenkins, Tre Sullivan, and Corey Graham at safety, Eagles are riding high on a four-game win streak, including impressive Ws against the Los Angeles Rams, the Houston Texans, and the Chicago Bears.

This new look D,  which also featured the return of Timmy Jernigan, has only allowed 19 points a game since December 3rd, about a field goal less than the team’s 22.125 average for the regular season.

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And a lot of that newfound success has to be credited to surprising slot corner Cre’von LeBlanc.

Yes, really.

You see, LeBlanc may not be the most physically gifted player in Jim Schwartz‘s defense (Ronald Darby), the most versatile (Malcolm Jenkins), or have the highest upside (Sidney Jones), but his emergence as a viable candidate for a long-term contract has helped to solidify the secondary in a way that’s helped everyone make the most of their playing time.

LeBlanc is the glue that holds the secondary together.

Over the first three games of the season, Graham played fairly well in his traditional role, auxiliary safety in the big nickel package. According to Pro Football Focus, Graham maintained a 67.8 grade, solid numbers for a reserve, but when Rodney McLeod went down with a torn ACL, he was forced into action as a more full-time starter, with disastrous results.

In his first game filling McLeod’s role, Graham was absolutely tormented by the Tennessee Titans‘ typically lukewarm offense, giving up first down after first down down the stretch before allowing a horrendous overtime catch on fourth and 15 that all but put the team in field goal range.

Graham all but handed Matt LaFluer his current job as the Green Bay Packers based on that play alone (I kid, I kid).

This game inspired Schwartz to shuffle his defensive backfield around, and move career cornerback Avonte Maddox to a new role as a deep center-fielding safety, leading to a fairly unsuccessful stint where he averaged a very underwhelming 56.35 PFF defensive rating.

However, this all changed when Sidney Jones went down with a tweaked hamstring, and Cre’Von LeBlanc came to town.

A member of the team’s short-lived ‘band-aid secondary’ alongside preseason stud De’Vante Bausby and practice squad signee Chandon Sullivan, LeBlanc rose above the rest and retained his position even when players like Douglas returned to the field.

Of those three corners, LeBlanc is the only one still on an NFL roster.

Since LeBlanc’s emergence, Schwartz has settled on Douglas and Maddox as his outside corners, and while they obviously haven’t been perfect, clearly defining the duo’s roles has allowed them to settle into a routine that has vaulted their personal defensive PFFs up 8.78 and 9.2 points respectively since the Rams game in Week 15.

But this move has only worked because of LeBlanc’s emergence.

While playing Jones in the slot did allow the team to field their three best corners at the same time, the Washington product was clearly miscast on the interior, and struggled at times with the agility needed to keep up with interior receivers. However, when his playing time became much less consistent, Schwartz was forced to rely on a motley crew of defensive backs moonlighting in the slot on any given play.

Now this isn’t always a death knell, as Jenkins has been known to favor playing closer to the line of scrimmage since he joined the team back in 2013, but when he reverts from his typical role as a roaming safety to a defined slot corner, it takes away a dynamic that makes Schwartz’s non-blitzing wide 9 all the more effective.

Outside of Patrick Robinson, who’s miraculous transformation from a potential preseason cut to a Pro Bowl caliber nickel helped to lead the way to a Super Bowl, the Eagles haven’t had a slot corner with a higher PFF defensive rating than LeBlanc (69.3) since Brandon Boykin filled the role all the way back in 2014.

While he may be a bit of a footnote of the early 2010s at this point, before his hip failed him, Brandon Boykin was a seriously talented slot corner who always seemed to be around the football.

But as of right now, it’s hard to argue that LeBlanc doesn’t have a Boykin-esque ceiling, and who knows, at 5-foot-11, his may be a whole lot higher.

So, as the Philadelphia Eagles prepare for their greatest challenge of the season, attempting to slow down Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints’ prolificly high flying offense, the secondary’s reemergence as a strength is very much predicated on an undrafted free agent who wasn’t even a member of the team in October.

Next. 3 areas Philadelphia Eagles need to improve for second meeting with New Orleans Saints. dark

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