All-22: The Good (And Bad) Of Eric Rowe
After Nolan Carroll broke his right ankle on Thanksgiving, Eric Rowe stepped onto Ford Field and didn’t quite believe his eyes. Opposite of the rookie, on just his second snap, was Calvin Johnson.
“It was kind of surreal because I’m like, ‘This is Calvin Johnson, one of the greatest,'” Rowe said.
The safety-turned-corner played 52 snaps in the Eagles’ 45-14 loss, including 14 against Johnson in which he allowed four catches and two touchdown passes. In a game where the Eagles gave up 45 points and five touchdown passes for the second consecutive week, Billy Davis had to insert the second round pick at outside corner.
“You play them when they show you they’re ready to play or they have to play. Somebody’s got to grow the guys and you take lumps when you have the young guys playing,” Davis said. “It’s time for him to go out there and see what we have.”
Although Rowe gave up two touchdowns and had a rough start when he first replaced Carroll, his teammates and coaches were happy with his growth over the course of the game. Rowe explained that he’s continuing to learn about where he should place his hands and eyes and how he should sit in his stance before the snap.
“You’re going to have some mistakes made by him and you’re going to have some growing pains, but you’re also going to see him make some plays,” Davis said. “I’m excited about Eric and the plays he’s capable of making, and he showed us he can make, and hopefully that shows up Sunday.”
‘ERIC WAS WAY TOO SOFT’
When Rowe initially entered the game, he admitted, his mentality wasn’t where it needed to be.
“When I first got in, I was kind of hesitant like, ‘I don’t want to get run by,'” Rowe said. “But then as the game wore on, I got more into my game of being aggressive on receivers. After a while, I just started saying, ‘He’s just another guy, just like me.’ I started getting more comfortable playing aggressive.”
However, before Rowe reached that point, he was beaten several times. On Rowe’s first snap, Golden Tate faked to the outside before catching a 10-yard slant for the first down.
“Eric was way too soft and far off, and we talked about it. He’s got to get up there and believe in himself and challenge them,” Davis said. “Eric is usually great at putting his hands on people and holding his inside leverage. He lost his inside leverage and he didn’t get his hands on. Again, [Tate is] a small, quick guy and [Rowe] has to make sure he’s in control of his leverage. He lost his leverage and then it ran away from him.”
On another play, Rowe was about six yards away from Johnson when Matthew Stafford threw the ball. Johnson picked up nine yards on a short hitch route.
“Where I thought he could get better is in the field when he played off a lot,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “He was loose in his coverage and he had really bad eyes. If you’re playing off and you still don’t get a good break, there’s just a lot of space in between you and the receiver. And that’s something that we work on a lot and we’re trying to get him to adjust to.”
Perhaps Rowe’s most costly mistake was on Johnson’s 25-yard touchdown catch, which Davis called a “rough one” and a “bad down all the way around.”
The Eagles trailed by just 10 points with 17 seconds left in the second quarter, and the Lions seemed poised to settle for three points as they faced third-and-17. However, Johnson beat Rowe and Walter Thurmond didn’t get over the top quick enough.
“On his outside release, I didn’t get a hand on him so that’s why I was behind him,” Rowe said. “If I would’ve gotten a hand on him, it would’ve slowed him down at least half a second and I could’ve been even with him. I made a mistake and looked back at the ball when I was out of phase; I should’ve played his hands. I shouldn’t have looked at that point; I was kind of beat.”
‘HE WANTED TO COVER CALVIN’
Despite his initial struggles, Rowe’s teammates and coaches said his performance included just as much good as bad.
“What I really liked – he’s not an emotional player. He doesn’t play with a whole lot of emotion, but he was fired up and he had that warrior mentality where he wanted to cover Calvin Johnson,” Jenkins said. “He wanted to go up against the best, and I thought he was in good position most of the time. When he got up there and tried to challenge him at the line of scrimmage, he did a decent job.”
According to Jenkins, even on plays where Johnson beat Rowe, the rookie defensive back flashed potential. Jenkins, as well as other players and coaches, actually praised Rowe on Johnson’s second score.
“[That] was probably as good a throw and as good a catch as I’ve seen,” Chip Kelly said. “I’m not sure there is another receiver in the NFL that could have made the catch because of Calvin’s length and his ability to turn his body and go get that. I thought the coverage actually was as tight as it probably could be; I thought he did it for an extended playing time.”
Davis echoed that sentiment, and added that Rowe actually excels near the goal line.
“I think Eric is one of our best fade and fade-stop players in the low red zone,” the defensive coordinator said. “The one that he got caught on him, I think Eric played a great down and they made a great catch on it. He really is – he’s a long, tall, good leaper.”
Before Johnson’s first touchdown, Rowe was targeted twice in the previous four snaps in the end zone. Both of Stafford’s passes fell incomplete, and Rowe recorded a pass break up on the second.
“We’d like him to be a little bit more patient; he kind of hopped and got on his heels a little bit, but he did a really good job of closing down the space,” Jenkins said. “Once he got back in phase, he looked back for the ball and was in really good position to put his body on him, lean it out and make that a really hard throw and catch to make.
“For that to be complete, they’d have to throw it all the way up and over the outside shoulder, which is hard to do. He put himself in pretty much the best position he could, but he could’ve helped himself more at the line of scrimmage. But that’s a win.”
On the first incompletion, Stafford overthrew the pass. However, Rowe did a good job of staying in phase — or running along side the receiver — while giving the quarterback a small window to throw through.
“I was waiting for the comeback, but you have a timer running in your head saying, ‘Okay, now it’s going to be a fade,'” Rowe said. “I just tried to hook his arm down and lean it to him and squeeze. Then I looked for the ball in case it was thrown my way and so they couldn’t call pass interference.”
‘I CAN PLAY WITH THESE GUYS’
When Carroll left the game on Thanksgiving, some wondered whether Byron Maxwell would trail Johnson and cover the receiver on every play. However, Davis decided it wasn’t Johnson who was that bad of a matchup for Rowe, but Tate.
“I actually didn’t think Golden Tate and Eric was a great matchup because [Tate is] a smaller, quicker guy,” Davis said. “That goes in and out of what the matchup is and how big they are. Eric is a tall, long body that actually matches up well with the longer, taller receivers.
“When you have a monster like you have in Megatron, that isn’t a bad matchup. Now most of the time I had help for him. I can’t give him help on every snap because there are other scenarios. He had help a lot, and sometimes he didn’t. He actually did better without the help. He had better snaps when he didn’t have the help than when we actually had the help to him.”
When presented with Davis’ evaluation that the rookie played better with no bracketing, Rowe explained why that was.
“When you know you have help, it’s kind of on the back of your mind,” Rowe said. “I’m not saying you lax off, but when you know you don’t have help, then I feel like you’re more aware and a little more on point because you don’t have a double-team or someone to help you. It’s kind of a mental thing.”
Regardless, Rowe said he came away with important lessons learned because he was forced to cover a great receiver.
“I got to get more hands on receivers; I definitely can’t let them run. Obviously with Calvin being the best deep threat receiver, I sure did pay for that,” Rowe said. “A couple of the good things? I know I can cover. That’s the positive I took away from it: I can play with these guys.”