Panthers starting cornerback Daryl Worley grew up in southeast Philadelphia, so he knows the Eagles better than most on the Carolina roster.
When he was a kid, there were billboards plastered around town, jerseys in store windows, all that. And Worley ate it up – or at least he did for a little while.
“I was a massive Eagles fan until 2004 when they lost that Super Bowl,” Worley said Tuesday. “I couldn’t stand the Eagles after that. I didn’t watch anything.
“I was 9 years old, so that like, crushed my childhood.”
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The game he’s referring to is Super Bowl XXXIX, when the New England Patriots beat the Eagles 24-21, earning Tom Brady his third Super Bowl ring. Worley, who starred at West Virginia in college, said that was the last Philadelphia game he’s watched.
But on Thursday night, the Eagles come to Bank of America Stadium for a contest between two of the NFC’s best teams, which means Worley’s complicated relationship with his hometown team only figures to get more muddy. He and James Bradberry will have the unenviable task of trying to stop Philadelphia’s passing game, which has been one of the league’s best through the first five weeks of the season.
Part of that is because of all the offseason personnel changes the Eagles made. After trading up in last April’s NFL Draft to select quarterback Carson Wentz, the team acquired Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith this offseason to go with incumbent tight end Zach Ertz and receiver Nelson Agholor.
Jeffery, Ertz, Smith and Agholor each have at least 200 yards receiving and a touchdown this season, meaning Worley and the rest of the secondary won’t even have the benefit of honing in on one guy.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge this week,” Worley said. “They’re bigger-bodied guys. ... Torrey Smith especially has got some really good speed.”
How Worley specifically holds up against those outside threats might ultimately decide the game. The past two weeks, in victories over New England and Detroit, the Panthers defense has allowed the opposing offense to make comeback attempts late by virtue of stopping being aggressive. Worley has been a part of that, but he’s far from the only guilty player – even All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly admitted to letting up against Detroit.
That said, Worley did also struggle early in the Detroit game. He had two pass interference penalties called against him in the first half, one of which came in the end zone and led to a Lions touchdown. He was briefly replaced by backup Kevon Seymour before returning and injuring his ankle. He did come back in after that injury and played better, though.
It’s just that for all the success Carolina has had in limiting those explosive offenses for three quarters, Worley said defensive coordinator Steve Wilks agrees that the passivity late hasn’t worked recently.
“(Wilks) feels as though he could put us in better play calls for those fourth quarter situations,” Worley said. “Whatever the play call comes out, that’s what we’ve got to play.”
That likely means more aggressive play against Philadelphia, even with that stable of talented pass-catchers. Worley, at 6-1, 205 pounds, is one of the legue’s best tackling corners, so if there was anyone suited to bring down those big bodies (Jeffery is 6-3, Ertz 6-5, and both Agholor and Smith 6-0), it’s Worley.
And his intentions are clear.
“We just need to stop them,” he said.
And if he and the rest of the Panthers defense can do that, then they can knock off Worley’s hometown team – and you know he’d love nothing more than that.