PHILADELPHIA – In all of eight days, Jonathan Gannon went from worst defensive coordinator in human history to the savvy architect who shut down Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson.
Such is the yin and yang of a football-crazed city like Philadelphia where weekly moods hinge on the Eagles’ ability to get in the left-hand column of the ledger.
You heard the narrative all week. If Jared Goff, D’Andre Swift, and Amon-Ra St. Brown put up 35 points against Gannon’s defense what were Minnesota’s proven Pro Bowl playmakers going to destroy the Eagles with?
The answer was nothing.
Cook was bottled up from the get-go, Jefferson was smothered by Darius Slay and the Eagles pass rush had Cousins playing the role of Sam Darnold by throwing the football up for grabs in what turned into an easy 24-7 win for the Eagles.
Slay was the straw stirring the drink defensively, intercepting Cousins twice, including once in the end zone on a third-and-goal desperation throw toward Jefferson. The purportedly powerful Vikings offense managed a scant 264 total yards, most of those in glorified garbage time when no scoring was done in the second half.
Minnesota had only 93 total yards in the first half while falling behind 24-7.
“It wasn’t up to our standard last week [against the Lions],” head coach Nick Sirianni said about his defense. “…that was an important bounce-back game for us, defensively… It was a full-team defensive game.”
Slay, a four-time Pro Bowl selection who likely cemented No. 5 with a heavyweight performance against the best competition possible, finished with five pass breakups and was close to at least two more INTs against a QB who threw only six all of last season.
It got to the point you started to wonder why a signal-caller of Cousins’ experience would keep going to the Slay well, which was basically Dikembe Mutombo waving his finger all night.
“I have a lot of respect, but you know how it always goes, the older you get, they think you are falling off, but I am not one of those guys,” Slay said. “I am still at an elite level. I deserve a lot of respect. I think the league respects me enough.”
Jefferson, regarded by most as one of the very best receivers in football, certainly has that respect after being held to six receptions for 48 yards.
“He’s a competitor for sure. I knew that I was going to get that from him,” Jefferson said. “I mean, he’s a great cornerback. He’s a great player. A great guy, too.”
While Slay downplayed it, the presence of Jefferson was clearly a personal litmus test for the veteran CB.
“I take no match-up lightly, but he is one of the best in the world. I am one of the best in the world, too,” Slay explained. “I was looking forward to the match-up.”
Slay didn’t technically travel with Jefferson but when the third-year wideout was on the outside, it was mainly Slay’s domain, perhaps a bit of a surprise for Minnesota rookie coach Kevin O’Connell, who didn’t seem ready for press coverage on his best player to open up the blitz against Cousins.
“When Slay had to cover him one-on-one, obviously did an unbelievable job,” Sirianni said. “When you bring all the guys on Slay’s second interception — really on the one before that, too, right, that could have been an interception — you can’t help and there is no help when you bring all those guys.
“You’re in cover zero and Slay got sticky in the coverage and made an interception. So that’s what we see Slay do over and over again.”
Adjustments from the Vikings never came.
“He’s a really good player, had a good night,” O’Connell said when asked about Slay. “Ultimately we got to find ways to make it easier on our guys and try to give them an advantage when they can and getting around the football enough. They kind of had things schematically that got us into some different phases of our offense by just trying to get good plays off vs. some good looks.”
To those who know him, Slay possesses perhaps the biggest personality on the team and can come across as loud and braggadocious but the Georgia native also has a serious side that respects the game, his peers, and teammates.
Back in the spring, it was Slay, who got a bunch of Eagles together to go watch practice squad receiver Devon Allen in the Penn Relays, the type of proactive team building that ultimately got Slay voted as a team captain, something that moved the veteran.
Slay also wasn’t taking any liberties when it came to getting the better of Jefferson.
“I really honestly believe he’s a second [best] receiver in the league,” said Slay. “…What he’s done in the past three years is unmatched. All he did was make me a better player, made me a smarter player.
“Salute to him.”
John McMullen is a contributor to PhillyVoice.com and covers the Eagles and the NFL for Sports Illustrated and JAKIB Sports. He’s also the co-host of “Birds 365,” a daily streaming show covering the Eagles and the NFL, and the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at [email protected] Follow John on Twitter here.