Philadelphia Eagles: Avonte Maddox has to show up big versus Dallas

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

In 2020, Avonte Maddox was a borderline disaster for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Playing on the outside full-time for the first time since his four-year tenure at Pitt, Maddox finished out the season with the fourth-worst coverage grade according to PFF while allowing 33 catches on 49 targets for 429 yards and two receiving touchdowns. Opposing quarterbacks had a pass rating of 108.3 when targeting Maddox, the worst mark on the team, as was his 13.0 average yards per completion and his 67.3 completion percentage (among qualifying defenders).

And yet, seemingly overnight, Maddox’s game has transformed from one of the worst outside options in the league into one of the best slot cornerbacks in the biz, allowing only 27 yards on seven targets over the first two weeks of the regular season while recording career lows in average yards per completion and yards per target.

What? You’re telling me playing a player at his natural position yields better results than playing a 5-foot-9, 184-pound cornerback on the outside? Hmm, you don’t say.

Should the Philadelphia Eagles, their fans, and the man himself be over the moon with Avonte Maddox finally finding a position he excels at in the NFL? Most definitely, but that honeymoon may be shortlived, as in Week 3, he – and the rest of the Birds’ secondary – will be facing off against one heck of a star-studded Dallas Cowboys receiving corps, who will surely look to make a statement as to which city the NFC East runs through this season.

Maddox needs to make a statement for the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3.

In Green Bay, Mike McCarthy had a tone of success with slot wide receivers.

From Geronimo Allison, to Greg Jennings, and even once and former contributor Randall Cobb, the Green Bay Packers consistently provided Aaron Rodgers with reliable interior options to throw to, even if the rest of his offensive weapons waxed and waned, depending on the season.

Did it always lead to offensive potency? Not necessarily, but in a league where attacking the middle of the field with dynamic playmakers has become an increasingly valued commodity, having an ability to make plays with a guy like Cobb as both a safety valve and a designed playmaker undoubtedly kept the Packers among the best offensive teams in the NFL.

As crazy as it may sound considering the respective number of Super Bowl rings in their post-2000 trophy case, the 2021 Dallas Cowboys have a better receiving corps than anyone the Packers trotted out at any point in McCarthy’s tenure with the team.

With three different wide receiving having at least 40 snaps in the slot through the first two weeks of the season in Amari Cooper, Cedrick Wilson, and current high-man on the team, CeeDee Lamb, the Cowboys offense has consistently found ways to capitalize on defensive mismatches.

Even if Avonte Maddox has been a top-5 slot cornerback in terms of efficiency so far this season, his lack of size and history of being brutalized by bigger receivers will surely channel plenty of balls his way early and often in the Philadelphia Eagles’ first taste of Monday Night Football in 2021.

Measuring in at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Wilson has been the Cowboys’ primary slot receiver due to his ability to contribute in the run game and pick up easy yardage as a reliable, dare I say Jordan Matthews-esque, option across the middle of the field. While Maddox has a clear advantage in terms of speed, as Wilson ran a 4.55 40 coming out of Boise State, he’s got a good five inches on the pride of Pitt and could take advantage by breaking inside on crossing routes.

Remember, Maddox’s arm length and wingspan ranked in the bottom-5th percentile at the 2018 NFL Combine, so it’s not like he can make up for his height with length a la a (basketball) player like Matisse Thybulle.

While Lamb is a bit lighter than Wilson, he too is five inches taller than Maddox and presents an even more tantalizing set of skills from which to get open when deployed out of the slot. Now in his second season after falling to 17 in the 2020 NFL Draft, Lamb can run any route, pick apart any coverage, and, most importantly of all for the Cowboys’ success, go vertical.

Heck, even Cooper, who many consider a prototypical outside receiver, could get shifted into the slot if Darius Slay and Steven Nelson prove reliable on the perimeter. If that happens, the former Alabama receiver’s body control and sure hands could present Dak Prescott with a premier target from which to target over and over and over again.

Considering Cooper and Lamb alone have been targeted a combined 46 times in two games, I’d assume that duo will be the most heavily moved around on the lookout for viable matchups.

So what, you may ask, can Maddox and the Eagles’ defense as a whole do to keep the Cowboys’ offense from getting out to an insurmountable lead?

That, my friends, is easier said than done.

For one, the Eagles could focus on controlling the clock early on when they are in possession of the ball (more on that here). This could help to prevent the momentum from falling in the Cowboys’ court and keep the defense fresh. The team could also look to mix up their coverages and potentially even slide Slay into the slot if Cooper makes his interior assignment into a permanent home.

There’s also this thing called blitzing, which could limit the amount of time each cornerback is dropped into coverage and could change up how comfortable Prescott feels letting a play develop down the field. After playing things relatively straight through the first two weeks of the season, Week 3 would be a perfect time for Jonathan Gannon to start working in some exotic blitzes from linebackers, safeties, and even Maddox in addition to the push consistently generated by Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, and company.

Next. The Philadelphia Eagles have a time of possession problem. dark

There’s no doubt about it; it’s going to be hard for the Philadelphia Eagles to completely shut out the Dallas Cowboys’ receiving corps. They just have too much talent, too many options, and a strong enough run game to prevent the team’s from dropping too many bodies into coverage. If Avonte Maddox can survive the night without completely blowing up his much-improved stat line, it could spell great things for his ability to finally replace Patrick Robinson as the team’s long-term slot cornerback moving forward.