On almost every snap, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are separated by about 50 yards, close to the width of an entire football field.
But it’s not uncommon for the Eagles’ two starting corners to be connected closely despite the distance between them. Although they didn’t know each other until after each signed with the Eagles in free agency this past offseason, the nature of the position has forced Williams and Bradley to become synchronized in just a few months.
And they’ve bridged that gap quicker than anyone could have imagined.
“It’s about talking and communication,” Williams said. “You need to have camaraderie. You need to have a good chemistry with two guys out there. Although we’re not necessarily together [on the field], we still work through each other.”
Despite being positioned on opposite sides of the field, Williams and Fletcher frequently match up against the same wideouts. On the sideline, they compare notes and share tendencies they pick up in the course of action to make in-game adjustments.
Fletcher noted how both corners picked up on Cowboys receivers running an unusual number of “7” routes, a pattern that ends with receivers heading for the outside corners, out of different formations in Sunday’s game and discussed their counter strategies on the sideline.
“We could pick up route combinations and things like that,” he said. “We’ll talk about that on the sideline. He’ll see what [he’s] seeing out there on his side and I’ll see what I’m seeing on my side and it definitely helps throughout the game. One route he got over there, I might get that later on.”
Anybody who watched the Eagles' secondary last year knows that communication breakdowns were responsible for the league’s worst pass defense. On-field finger pointing and grimaces of confusion were weekly lowlights as the Eagles allowed an NFL-high 33 passing touchdowns.
Opposing quarterbacks compiled a 99.6 passer rating against a defense first presided over by Juan Castillo and then by Todd Bowles. Only the Chiefs allowed a higher rating.
Williams and Fletcher were signed to replace bust acquisitions Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but they were widely viewed as even more of a downgrade than the two guys they replaced.
Now, they’re considered two of the most pivotal figures in the defense’s turnaround.
“We’ve been able to hold up on our end,” Fletcher said. “We have a great front seven and they’ve been doing a great job up front, and we’ve been able to make plays all season. We just want to be able to keep that going.”
After an embarrassing effort against Greg Jennings and Vikings wideouts in a 48-30 loss at the Metrodome three Sundays ago, Williams and Fletcher responded by bottling up Bears receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in a 54-11 blowout and then limiting the damage done by Pro Bowl WR Dez Bryant in Sunday’s 24-22 win over Dallas in an NFC East-clinching season finale.
Marshall, Jeffery and Bryant each went over 1,200 yards receiving this year and combined for 32 touchdown catches. Marshall and Bryant made the Pro Bowl and Jeffery had the most receiving yards (1,421) of the three.
Against the Eagles in the past two weeks, none went over 100 yards. Marshall caught a touchdown with the Bears down by 30, and Bryant’s 32-yard touchdown -- his longest catch of the game -- came from the slot against safety Patrick Chung.
“Mentally, we knew we couldn’t play like that,” Fletcher said of the Vikings game. “We definitely had to step our games up, cover routes, be more competitive, and we’ve been able to do that over the past few weeks.”
Now come the Saints, who have a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees along with Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, who led the NFL with 16 touchdowns and frequently lines up on the outsides. Wide receiver Marques Colston’s best days are behind him, but he’s still an outside threat.
As good as they were against the Bears and Cowboys, Williams and Fletcher may have to be better against New Orleans if the Eagles plan to win their first playoff game since the 2008 divisional round.
“I think they had some good plays in Minnesota, also,” defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. “They played great the other night (against Dallas) and they continue to play well and they challenge people and they make plays at the ball, so we are really excited about our corner play.”