November 20, 2017
Ronald Darby's initial debut Week 1 with the Philadelphia Eagles lasted for just about a quarter of football, when he dislocated his ankle, and the initial look at his dangling foot appeared to be a season-ending injury.
Instead, Darby was given a four-to-six week timetable to return, but did not make it back out onto the field until 10 weeks later.
When Darby initially went down, there wasn't exactly a ton of confidence in the cornerbacks on the Eagles' roster, hence the need to trade a third round pick along with Jordan Matthews for him in the first place. However, the Eagles surprisingly got solid corner play from quirky second year finger wagger Jalen Mills, rookie Rasul Douglas, and veteran Band Aid Patrick Robinson. Because of that trio's solid play, there was no need to rush Darby back, as the team racked up an 8-1 record without him.
When asked if he could have played sooner, Darby responded, "Probably."
"But I don’t think I’d have been able to drive and plant the way I am now," he explained. "My ankle still bothers me a little tiny bit, but I don’t think I would have been able to play at a competitive level."
The Eagles were smart not to rush him back, and they, along with Darby, knew that he would be tested right off the bat in Dallas.
"I thought I was going to at first get eased back in to everything, but Day 1 it was like regular," said Darby. "One thing I tried to focus on was getting my endurance up. I threw up (in practice) a few times. It was hard the first few days. I just made sure to try to run to the ball, and play fast.
"I was a little out of shape. I was on the scooter for like three weeks, so I had to get my feet back under me, especially being on the right side, when I’m used to playing on the left before I got hurt. So I just had to adjust fast."
It appeared that the Eagles' defensive game plan for Dez Bryant, once a huge thorn in the side of the Eagles' secondary, was to simply match up with him however the Cowboys wanted, whether that be on the right side, left side, or in the slot. If Bryant lined up opposite Darby, the Eagles were fine with that. If he lined up on the other side of the field against Mills, or in the slot against Robinson, then again, fine.
"I was out two months," Darby explained. "I came into the game knowing I was going to get tested. You either show up or get exposed."
And so, the Cowboys gladly got Bryant matched up on Darby, and Darby showed up. The Cowboys ran a number of quick screens to Bryant, which essentially serve as extended running plays, making Darby prove that he could tackle Bryant out on an island. That is something the Eagles as a team have struggled to do against Bryant in the past. Darby was up to the challenge, shown in three examples here:
"When we played the Redskins I only made like one tackle, so I ain’t tackled in a while," said Darby, who led the team with eight tackles, and by my count, did not have any missed tackles.
Darby was effective in coverage as well. On a crucial third down with Dallas in the red zone, the Cowboys tried a fade to Bryant, which Darby broke up:
And later, simply playing in a deep zone look on third and long, Darby stepped in front of a Dak Prescott pass for an interception.
When Darby was out, he said he was motivated by the play of the Eagles' other corners.
"That inspired me to work hard," he said. "We got dogs — J Mills, Rasul, Wat, P Rob, Sid when he comes back, and of course the safeties. Everybody flies to the ball, believes in each other, and we just play."
Cornerback was the unanimous biggest concern heading into the season for the Eagles. Now it may actually be a strength.
Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski.
Like Jimmy on Facebook.
Like the new PhillyVoice Sports page on Facebook.