Talking about Eric Rowe’s rookie season isn’t easy. Whereas everyone would agree that Nelson Agholor had a disappointing rookie season (I wrote a film room piece about Agholor too here) a lot of Eagles fans would say Rowe had a good rookie season.
Yet when you step back and look at it, Rowe couldn’t really get on the field early on as Nolan Carroll beat him out and the Eagles didn’t want him to play in the slot. He came in against the Lions when Carroll got hurt and tried his hardest but struggled to cover Calvin Johnson (no surprise).
However, Rowe started the remainder of the season and it looked like he played really well. Stats wise, he was really impressive as this tweet shows.
I wanted to go back and watch Rowe because his stats were almost too good to be true. Also, Rowe is arguably the number 1 cornerback on the Eagles right now which is really interesting because he was only a second round pick last year. Unless Carroll got hurt last year he may not have played all season long and now he may be expected to cover number 1 receivers week in and week out.
In Schwartz’ defense, Rowe will play a good mix of man and zone coverage but I wanted to focus on Rowe’s man coverage for this article. In 2014, Schwartz had his cornerbacks play off coverage quite a lot. I would be surprised if he does that with Rowe a lot though as Rowe is better in press coverage than he is in off coverage.
I watched pretty much every snap Rowe played last year but will mainly post clips from the Bills and Redskins game as he had some really good individual battles that game. Just like the Agholor post, I can’t post clips of every play, so I’ll post examples of something that I see routinely and summarize my feelings on Rowe at the end. The majority of the post will be clips of Rowe in press coverage but I’ll put some clips of him in off coverage at the end too. Also, Rowe is playing the right cornerback position for every clip below.
The Bills game was fascinating because Rowe had to deal with Sammy Watkins 1 on 1 quite a few times and Rowe was not afraid to get up and his face and press him. Here’s the first example, Rowe wins this time without a doubt. When you’re jamming a receiver at the line of scrimmage, you’re attempting to throw the timing off the route. If you just watch Watkins and ignore Rowe, look how wide Watkins has to come inside just to get off Rowe’s press. You can see Tyrod Taylor get to the top of his drop and look at Watkins and there’s simply no way he can throw that ball as Rowe is all over him. Rowe’s technique here is very sound too, he gives Watkins a firm shove whilst staying square and he doesn’t lean in which a lot of rookie cornerbacks do. Rowe had quite a few plays like this against Watkins.
I posted this clip because I found it interesting. When you’re looking at cornerbacks, you have to consider the coverage that the defense is in. Although you could argue Rowe gets beat at the LOS here, Rowe knows that the Eagles are in cover-2 man coverage and he cannot let Watkins have an outside release. Rowe makes sure Watkins goes inside where he has safety help and there is no way Tyrod can make that throw. A corner has to play smart and know what coverage they are in and Rowe does have a good job of that here.
Covering Pierre Garcon is not an easy task for a rookie cornerback, Garcon is a savvy route runner and he can be tough to cover. Rowe had a pretty nice game against him though and this is nice coverage here. Again Rowe gets a decent jam at the line of scrimmage and when you get a jam like this it’s really difficult for the wide receiver to be able to shake you. Rowe’s technique is sound again as he keeps his balance whilst pressing and doesn’t lunge forward.
Apologies for the Fraps sign being in the way but I had to post this clip nonetheless. This is such a good example of the value of a press cornerback. It’s easy to forget sometimes how timing based NFL offenses are. When you have a cornerback who can press at the LOS and disrupt the timing it is so helpful. Rowe gets another great jam on Garcon here and he forces him really wide. Cousins releases the ball at the top of his drop but he has a very small window to fit it in as Garcon has been forced so wide. The ball is actually thrown pretty well but as you can see the timing is off and by the time Garcon has turned around the ball has just about passed him. This is down to Rowe’s great jam at the start of the route. If you look at the other side of the screen, you see Jaylen Watkins giving you a lesson in how not to press a receiver…
This is another great jam by Rowe at the LOS but it also highlights a weakness he showed on film. Rowe gets a decent jam that it could be argued he won the battle as he disrupted the timing and it took Garcon a long time to make his break. However, when Garcon does make his break, Rowe’s hips seem to be locked up and he’s pretty slow to change direction. He gets away with it this time though because his jam is very effective but I’d like him to move his feet quicker and stay on his toes after he’s jammed the receiver, he’s very flat footed here.
I’ll be honest, this clip doesn’t really show Rowe pressing. I just enjoy it because it shows how athletic he is. He looks very quick running across the middle and it’s a great tackle which pretty much stops Garcon from scoring.
Right, last clip I’ll slow of Garcon and this one is a negative one as Rowe gets beat. Rowe’s punch at the line of scrimmage is pretty weak here and Garcon doesn’t really do anything clever at the LOS but he manages to avoid Rowe’s jam. Similar to the earlier clip, Rowe’s change of direction isn’t the quickest and Garcon ends up getting quite a bit of separation and makes a nice catch. To be fair to Rowe, once you lose like that at the LOS you are going to have a hard time recovering as the receiver is in the driving seat. One issue Rowe has in press coverage that has come up a few times, sometimes he tries to jam with his wrong hand. You can see it here, when Garcon takes an inside release Rowe should be trying to get his outside hand on him. By going with his inside hand Garcon is able to swat it away and then Rowe’s in big trouble.
Rowe got beat in a similar fashion against the Giants a couple of times. You can see here Rowe doesn’t move his feet quick enough and he gives up the inside release to Hakeem Nicks. Rowe also makes the mistake here of trying to undercut the route despite being beat and he ends up almost directly behind Nicks and can’t make the tackle. I think Rowe is deliberately giving Nicks an inside release here though as he has a deep safety in the middle of the field and Kiko Alonso in a short zone too. He gets zero help here from the great Kiko Alonso though who moves like he’s made out of stone.
He gets beat here in almost the exact way he does against Garcon a couple of clips earlier. Once again he fails to jam the receiver with his outside hand which he should be doing when the receiver takes an inside release. He’s really flat footed at the start of the route too, he needs to be on the balls of his feet and not static. Once he’s been beat at the LOS, he could maybe be a little more savvy and try to grab hold of the receiver under the armpit to avoid him getting any real separation but I’m not sure he’s close enough to the receiver to do that without it being an obvious penalty.
There wasn’t many clips worth showing of Rowe in off coverage but I’ll leave you with a couple. I think you can tell Rowe is much more comfortable in press coverage and he often gives the receiver a lot of room when playing off coverage as I think he fears getting beat deep. He gives Watkins a good cushion and he’s not quick enough to accelerate forward and break the pass up. His feet seem to get stuck in the ground a little bit as he’s not on the balls of his feet. However, it’s important to give context, this was on a 2nd and 20 type play and Watkins ended up 3 yards short of the first down, whilst that’s not ideal, it’s better than being over aggressive and getting beat deep.
Here you can see him accelerate towards the ball much better and I love the way he punches the ball out of Watkins’ hand. His closing speed is much better here than it is in the previous clip which is good to see. His technique is better here than it is in the previous clip and that’s why he can explode forward, he’s leaning slightly further forward and is light on his feet.
Final clip I’m going to show. Although he isn’t in man coverage here, I found this clip slightly worrying as at times on tape he didn’t really look like he had a great deal of recovery speed. Rowe ran a 4.45 40 so he definitely has speed but here you can see John Brown pretty much run away from Rowe. However, the Eagles are playing quarters coverage and the Cardinals have called the ‘Mills’ concept which is designed to beat this type of coverage. Although it’s a very difficult route for Rowe to cover, I would have liked to have seen a little bit more speed shown. I don’t think this is down to just not being fast though, Rowe certainly is. It’s more technique based, again he’s caught flat footed like he is in a few of these clips and it makes it hard for him to really accelerate forward.
I like Eric Rowe a lot. However, he’ll probably struggle quite a bit at times next year if he’s asked to line up as the Eagles number 1 cornerback. That’s not a knock on Rowe, he’s a second round pick who started 5 games last year and only played one year as a cornerback in college. I do worry that some Eagles fans may have too high expectations for him next year and may be disappointed if he struggles at times.
I think Rowe can be a high level number 2 cornerback and maybe in the future a decent number 1 cornerback but he’ll have to improve on certain areas of his game a lot for that to happen. He’s much more comfortable in press coverage than he is in off coverage right now and I’m hoping Schwartz lets him press opposing receivers. Although I didn’t show any clips of Rowe in zone coverage, he’s pretty instinctive in zone coverage too and has decent ball skills and I think Schwartz will play a fair bit of zone next year so.
Rowe will have success against taller more physical receivers and may have some trouble covering the quicker smaller receivers who can get in and out of their breaks sharper. Rowe didn’t show great deep speed on tape but his jam was often so good that he was able to halt the receivers momentum on go routes so he rarely let the receiver get behind him and his 40 time shows he does have speed. He definitely seemed to have some issues changing direction quickly which he will have to work on a lot in the offseason.
Rowe is still relatively new to the cornerback position and his measurables show that he is a fantastic athlete and he therefore has the ability to improve on his weaknesses. His upside is sky high and although he’ll probably get beat more than he did at the end of last year, he should continue to develop into a really good cornerback. If he’s asked to cover the top guys next year, he will struggle I imagine but hey, most cornerbacks do.