PHILADELPHIA - Jim Schwartz is fond of saying he doesn't grade on a curve but the veteran defensive coordinator might want to consider an exception when he looks at the film of a 33-26 loss to Arizona.
Typically when Kyler Murray throws for a career-high 406 yards and DeAndre Hopkins gets you nine times for 169 yards, let's just say the secondary is the lead item on the autopsy report.
With three starters down and names like Michael Jacquet, Marcus Epps, and Kevon Seymour battling every step of the way and forcing the Cardinals' superstars to work for everything they got, however, in many ways the defensive backfield seemed like a checkmark in the positive column on Sunday.
Even big plays by the defenders, a season-long issue with the starters, was in play as Jacquet stripped Hopkins in the red zone for a turnover and Epps later intercepted Murray throwing to the end zone on another occasion.
Entering Sunday's game the Cards had not turned it over inside the red zone all season and the unproven Eagles DBs managed to get them twice.
“My hats off to those guys,” coach Doug Pederson said after the setback which dropped the Eagles to 4-9-1 and put them on life support when it comes to the postseason picture. “They were put in a tough situation against a really good football offense with great skill and ability. They battled their tails off.
"They were going up against guys that are solid NFL players. Guys like Hopkins and Murray and Christian Kirk. They all have really good skills. But I thought our guys battled and gave us some opportunities there. We created some turnovers, some takeaways.”
Absent both starting outside corners - Darius Slay (concussion) and Avonte Maddox (knee) and free safety Rodney McLeod (torn ACL) - the Eagles decided to keep Jalen Mills at safety with Epps filling in as the single-high option while allowing the lengthy Jacquet and Kevon Seymour to handle a lot of the outside work with veteran Nickell Robey-Coleman also helping out in the base defense outside and then moving inside to his usual slot position.
"You just keep on learning about your team and the depth of your team," said defensive end Brandon Graham. "There’s a lot of promise with these guys. These guys were ready for their opportunity. Obviously, people are going to make plays. They get paid to. But they were in a position to make those plays...we have a lot of good things to come."
Jacquet, an undrafted rookie out of Lousiana, had played just 51 defensive snaps before Sunday's game and Seymour was out of football working at a Charlotte car-detailing spot until the Eagles signed him to their practice squad at the beginning of this month.
Jacquet was especially impressive stripping the football from Hopkins at the nine-yard line after a short reception and then teaming with NRC on a second-quarter strip-sack of Murray.
Even when he was beaten by the superlative Hopkins, arguably the best WR in the NFL, Jacquet was typically in a position to make plays.
Seymour, peeling back in a cover-3 look on a deep shot, also almost intercepted Murray had not Hopkins bailed the Cardinals QB out.
Epps, meanwhile, later did intercept Murray in the third quarter stunting a potential scoring drive.
What turned out to be the game-winner for the Cards, a 20-yard circus catch by Hopkins, was not so much an indictment of Jacquet but more of a tip-your-cap, awe-inspiring reception by a future Hall of Famer.
“The young rookie, I thought he played really well,” Mills said when discussing Jacquet. “He competed. He wasn’t scared. Same thing with Kevon. And even Robey, who usually is our slot guy, but had to play some outside corner."
Grading on a curve or not, the young Eagles defenders held up as well as could have been expected.
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Tuesday and Thursday on "The Middle" with Eytan Shander, Harry Mayes, and Barrett Brooks on SportsMap Radio and PhillyVoice.com. He’s also the host of Extending the Play on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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