Watkins Wary Of DeSean Jackson’s Dangers

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Jaylen Watkins. (Jeff Fusco)

Jaylen Watkins made his debut in Billy Davis’ defense in the Eagles’ Week 17 matchup with the Giants last season, when the team finished its campaign with the same one-two divisional punch it faces this year.

Watkins stepped in for benched cornerback Bradley Fletcher and performed adequately, if inefficiently. He recorded three tackles and a pass defensed, but Odell Beckham Jr. and Reuben Randle racked up a combined 18 catches and 243 yards, including Beckham’s 63-yard touchdown catch.

But Watkins, who spent the entirety of 2014 on the Eagles’ active roster, said Tuesday his time with the team last season, however limited and unproductive, played a big role in his ability to step into the lineup and contribute against the Cardinals.

“I was excited to come back here because I had a lot of recall, as far as the defense,” said Watkins, who was signed from the Bills’ practice squad by the Eagles on November 27. “That’s really the struggle for a guy getting signed off the practice squad, learning the defense. Here, I was able to hit the ground running and just work on my technique and get better.

“I got [my shot] Saturday, and I think I did pretty well.”

When Watkins took the field after injuries to Eric Rowe and Byron Maxwell, both of whom are uncertain for this Saturday night’s game against Washington, he expected the high-flying Cardinals passing game to come for him. He was right.

“I noticed the moment I got in — I think, the third play I was in — they moved [John Brown] over to the boundary, and he’s never on the boundary,” Watkins said. “They threw a deep ball, and I was stride for stride with him. Then maybe three plays later, they come back with the post. That’s just the Cardinals; that’s how they play. I’m pretty sure Washington’s going to come out with the same game plan, with a heat check, making sure I’m on my Ps and Qs.”

Watkins said his time in the Giants game, and his time around Eagles secondary coach Cory Undlin, prepared him for the action, which is why he played as well as he did in relief.

“Before I left here, [Undlin]’s big thing was no X-plays and no touchdowns,” Watkins said. “So if I want to come back and make an impression on them, I thought, for me, the best thing to do is not give up any touchdowns or X-plays.

“Sunday, I did a really good job of that. Michael Floyd made one hell of a catch, and [the coaches] are okay with that. I made him be great, and on that play, he had the opportunity to be great and he was great.”

With Rowe still mired in the league’s concussion protocol, and Maxwell not feeling great about his chances to play Saturday, Watkins could see more action this weekend against a Washington offense clicking as well as it has all season long.

Kirk [Cousins] is doing a really good job with his accuracy, giving those guys shots with the deep ball, just like Carson [Palmer],” Watkins said. “It doesn’t matter whether the guy’s covered, still throw it up there and see if they can make a play, and DeSean Jackson‘s making plays on the ball. That’s what they’re doing, just capitalizing on those opportunities, those 50-50 balls that they’re throwing up.”

In last season’s Week 16 matchup with Washington, the loss that eliminated the Eagles from playoff contention just as it could this year, Jackson caught four passes for 126 yards.

Watkins, who said he’s been watching Jackson beat the best corners in the league since the second-year corner was in high school, understands the dangers of DeSean.

It’s hard to contain Jackson, but Watkins has an idea of how he’ll try to fight back.

“You’ve got to be conscious of [Jackson]’s speed, and it’s the same with [Arizona] last week,” Watkins said. I’ve got [John Brown] in front of me. Okay, what are you going to give up? Are you going to play that curl route, or are you going to give up a touchdown? When DeSean gets in front of you, you pick your poison.

“The more you understand the route and the formation, you can get a jump on it. You’re not probaly going to be able to play him just based off your speed. There are a few guys that can do that, [Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie], people like that. The big thing for us is just knowing when he’s going to take the top off, so you can get a jump on him and cut him off. If you’re a second late on that, you might have to pay.

“He’s going to be the guy that’s going to be on ESPN if you don’t know where he’s at.”