One Key Eagles-Cowboys Matchup (That May Not Even Happen)

Why you should keep a close eye on Malcolm Jenkins Sunday night.

Cole Beasley and Malcolm Jenkins. (USA Today Sports)

Cole Beasley and Malcolm Jenkins. (USA Today Sports)

Between Ezekiel Elliott’s early success, Dak Prescott’s efficiency and Dez Bryant’s return to the field this week, the Eagles’ defense will have plenty on their plate Sunday night when they travel to Dallas for their second division matchup of the season. But one Cowboy who gave the Birds trouble last season has flown under the radar amid all of the talk about Dallas’ run game.

“(Cole Beasley) has got a lot of respect from not just our team, but from teams around the NFL,” Jim Schwartz said. “He’s their leading receiver. He’s their leading third down-receiver. He finds a way to get open. He’s slippery in there. He’s very, very quick and they do a good job scheming to get him open. He’s a good run after the catch [guy] also. He’s a major part of their success and we’re going to have to do a great job, particularly on third downs, to keep the chains from moving.”

Beasley leads the Cowboys in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns as Bryant has missed three games, but the slot receiver also burned the Birds last season in their second matchup. The Eagles won that November game, 33-27, in overtime, but Beasley hauled in nine catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns.

With Ron Brooks out for the season, it’s unclear who Philadelphia who will use as their slot corner, although Malcolm Jenkins appears to be a likely candidate this week. According to Jenkins, Jalen Mills and Jaylen Watkins are other defensive backs who could slide to inside corner in nickel situations.

“Similar to last year, it all comes down to what the matchups are and how we want to match up that personnel. It’s a fluid package, really, at any point in time,” Jenkins said. “I feel like that’s probably the best position for me.

“I just get bored playing deep sometimes, to be honest. It keeps you engaged. Every snap you’re either covering somebody, blitzing or you’re close to the ball and fitting a run. It keeps me engaged, it keeps me around the football and the more you’re around the football, the more plays you get to make.”

Jenkins was the primary defender in coverage against Beasley last season in both of the Eagles’ games against the Cowboys. In the first matchup, Beasley caught four balls for 14 yards, although Tony Romo left the game early in the second half. In the second matchup, Jenkins suffered a concussion in the second quarter, but played through it for the rest of the game.

“He did a good job against me [in the first game last season],” Beasley told reporters this week. “He’s one of the better nickels I’ve played against. Even though he’s usually a safety, that doesn’t mean he can’t go down there and play, because he’s been a tougher matchup for me than anybody the past two years besides [Orlando] Scandrick [in practice].”

Jenkins noted that he gets practice repetitions at slot corner “here and there,” but he feels comfortable sliding down without much practice. He also noted how Beasley’s option routes make the receiver difficult to defend because Beasley can play off of the corner’s leverage and easily find open space somewhere on the field.

Beasley is also quick and crafty, which makes it hard for defensive backs to keep up with him.

“You don’t want to try to go step for step or mirror somebody that’s quicker than you. A lot of times you try to knock him off his route or pin him to make sure he can only run — if he has an option route, take away one [option] and know he’s going to run the other [option],” Jenkins said, “They do a good job of keeping him in motion; they keep him off the ball so you can’t get your hands on him early. And he’s savvy; he’s seen enough people try to press him. It’s not a new thing for him. He knows how to get open.”