It’s been a long time since the Eagles had a true lock down cornerback. Seeing guys like Bradley Fletcher, Nnamdi Asomugha and Cary Williams come, disappoint and go, fans might finally have a player they can have faith in and not cover their eyes anytime a quarterback throws a deep ball his way. Yes, Byron Maxwell, the new starting cornerback for the Eagles.
Some out there think Maxwell may not be as talented as his contract may suggest. In free agency the Eagles paid the highly coveted cornerback $63 million for 5 years. Coming from the Legion of Boom in Seattle and being the least talked about player in the secondary, to Philadelphia and being asked to be the number one corner for a team that ranked 31st in yards against the pass last season could be a big void to fill. While it’s a stretch to say confidently that Maxwell will play up to the contract that was given to him, fans should still be excited.
Let me clear the record, playing in the ‘Legion of Boom’ didn’t necessarily benefit Maxwell. Many out there think playing on the opposite side of Richard Sherman helped him.. When teams played the Seahawks, they knew Richard Sherman was the best or 2nd best cornerback in the entire NFL, and simply avoided him. Teams often put their number one wide receiver on Maxwell’s side and tried to create the best matchup that way. Meaning Maxwell faced plenty of good competition: in 2014, he faced Jordy Nelson, Demaryius Thomas, DeSean Jackson, and Dez Bryant to name just a few.
Others may make an argument that Maxwell had the league’s best safety in Earl Thomas behind him for help. I’m not disputing the fact that Earl Thomas is indeed the best safety in the NFL right now. However, where people are wrong is assuming Maxwell relied on safety help often. The Seahawks run a cover-3 scheme in which each outside CB is asked to cover a specific side of the field and the single-high safety is asked to cover the deep middle of the field. Byron Maxwell was more than often asked to play single coverage on his respected side of the field with little safety help.
With little safety help and being lined up against team’s number one wide receiver almost every game, Maxwell simply balled out. In 2014, he was targeted 85 times and only allowed 1 touchdown while recording 3 interceptions. To put those numbers in perspective, Patrick Peterson in 2014 was targeted 99 times and allowed 8 touchdowns while recording 3 interceptions.
Where Maxwell was benefited the most in Seattle was the dominate front-7 of the Seattle Seahawks who generated pressure consistently. The less time a QB has to throw, the less a corner has to cover. The one thing the Eagles can do on defense is generate pressure, in fact, they were 2nd in the league in sacks in 2014. Not saying the Eagles have as good of pass-rush as the Seahawks, but the point is they can generate pressure which Maxwell will benefit from.
And that leads me to my final point of Maxwell’s comfort in the scheme. When Nnamdi Asomugha was brought here in 2010, he went from playing press-man in Oakland to a lot of zone concepts in Philadelphia and he struggled. Maxwell is coming from a press-man, cover-3 scheme and that’s essentially what the Eagles defense is built on. In Seattle, Maxwell was asked to be in the receiver’s face and jam them off their routes, and he will be asked to do the same in Philadelphia.
In Maxwell, the Eagles are getting a true number one cornerback that can cover the left side, the right side, and the slot. That type of versatility can open up an entire playbook for a defensive coordinator. In an interview, Malcolm Jenkins mentioned the possibility of Byron Maxwell being asked to follow a team’s number one wide receiver and not just sticking to one side. That excites me. Byron Maxwell is easily the most talented cornerback Chip Kelly has had on his roster since he became coach of the Eagles and it’s really not close.