Eagles react to Darius Slay’s lockdown performance vs. Vikings’ Justin Jefferson

Eagles coaches and trainers insisted that Darius Slay take a breather.

The Eagles were holding a large lead in the fourth quarter over the Vikings on Monday, and Slay had gotten dinged on the previous possession as the 31-year-old cornerback came off the field a bit wobbly. A few moments later, following a turnover from quarterback Jalen Hurts, the defense was quickly forced back onto the field.

Second-year defensive back Zech McPhearson appeared to be motioned in as a substitute, but Slay noticed and politely waved him off. In Slay’s mind, nothing was taking him out of this game. Not with him having an opportunity to lock up one of the best receivers in the league in All-Pro Justin Jefferson.

Three plays later, with Slay shadowing Jefferson in the end zone, the cornerback picked off Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins ​​for his second interception.

“He put one of the best receivers in the league in a car seat,” McPhearson said of Slay. “That’s the truth. We feed off of him for real. Seeing him make so many plays, lead the defense, and back his talk up on the field, too — you have no choice but to get behind your brother.

“He should’ve had four picks today. That’s a crazy stat.”

Following a rough outing in the season opener, in which the Eagles gave up 35 points to the Lions, Slay and the defense balled out against the Vikings under the bright lights in South Philly. Time and time again, a multitude of playmakers caused havoc in the backfield and across the secondary. Assisted by a near-perfect performance from Hurts, the defense shut out the Vikings in the second half as the Eagles claimed the decisive 24-7 victory.

Slay set the tone with his two interceptions; Monday marked the fourth multi-pick game of his 10-year career. But it was perhaps Slay’s clamps on Jefferson that earned him the highest praise. With Slay as the primary defender, Jefferson garnered six targets; Slay gave up just one catch with two interceptions and a 0.0 passer rating allowed, according to Pro Football Focus.

“I don’t take any matchup lightly,” Slay said. “An idol [Jefferson] is one of the best in the world. I’m one of the best in the world, too. I was looking forward to the matchup.

» READ MORE: Eagles’ Jalen Hurts claims the title of No. 1 quarterback in the NFC East … with a bullet

Jefferson earned All-Pro status after he finished second in the league last year with 1,616 receiving yards. Entering this season, Jefferson made it known he had his eyes set on breaking the 2,000-yard mark. Last week, he put himself on track with 186 receiving yards vs. the Packers.

But against the Eagles, Jefferson managed just 48 yards across six catches on 12 targets. His longest reception was 11 yards.

To their credit, the Eagles understood the assignment.

“We were in our exact same calls we practiced all week because we knew what they were going to do in the red zone,” said cornerback Avonte Maddox, who also picked off Cousins. “We knew we would have opportunities. That’s what it’s all about, getting the ball back to our offense and creating turnovers.”

Cousins ​​completed 58.6% of his passes (27-for-46) for 221 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. All three picks occurred from inside the Eagles’ 30-yard line. Elsewhere, the Vikings struggled mightily. Running back Dalvin Cook finished with just 17 rushing yards.

Head coach Nick Sirianni and Slay credited defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon for dialing up the perfect calls. Gannon appeared to mix in more blitz calls, especially during known passing downs. The Eagles combined for seven quarterback hits and two sacks (Josh Sweat and Fletcher Cox).

“You can’t just go in with one plan,” Sirianni said. “The defensive staff did an unbelievable job with the plan. There were different disguises and coverages. But make no mistake about it, a lot of it was to stop. 18 [Jefferson]. He’s a heck of a football player. When Slay had to cover him one-on-one, he did an unbelievable job. There’s no help in Cover 0. Slay got sticky in the coverage. That’s what we see Slay do over and over again.

“That’s why he’s one of our captains, the way he studies, plays, and leads.”

» READ MORE: Shane Steichen helped dial up Jalen Hurts and the Eagles’ stunning offensive performance against the Vikings

Slay, who finished with a whopping five passes defensed, acknowledged that he and his teammates heard some of the frustration stemming from fans following Gannon’s lackluster game plan in Week 1.

“I understand [the frustration]Slay said. “But like what we were talking about as a group, our first game, that was us. We didn’t tackle well. We didn’t execute well. It’s not Gannon that’s out there playing. Gannon is just giving us the calls. So we’ve got to just execute it. Tonight, we had that mindset to dominate and play this game with a lot of effort and talent. Coach put us in a great position to win.”

Only a few players lingered inside the Eagles locker room by the end of the night. Following his big performance, Slay took his time exiting the building. He celebrated with 76ers guard James Harden, whom he gifted one of his interception balls, then Slay handled his media responsibilities from the podium, a designation saved for the game’s best players.

Across the room, rookie Jordan Davis also remained at his stall, even with the time approaching the early morning hours.

When asked about Slay, Davis immediately dropped his belongings and smiled.

“Slay is real loose,” Davis said. “He loves what he does. When Slay has fun, we have fun. That’s what he brings to our team. The energy he brings is unmatched. He’s one of the best in the game.”


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