- Phil Sheridan, ESPN Staff Writer
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As the Eagles’ nickel cornerback, Boykin has played about half the team’s defensive snaps. Somehow, he intercepted six passes, which tied him for second in the NFL. That created a conundrum. If Boykin makes big plays at that rate, shouldn’t he play more? Or does he make those plays because of the role he is in?
“I really think, and I believe this, that one of the reasons that he's grown like he's grown and made the plays that he's making is because we've allowed him to specialize and really focus on the nickel position and how to play there,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “He's a young player that's still growing and I think that is one of the things that we've done that I'm most happy with.”
In time, Boykin could be an every-down cornerback. That’s his goal. The Eagles had the luxury of leaving him in the slot because Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher have evolved into a more-than-solid starting duo.
“I’m on the field a lot,” Boykin said. “In the time that I’m getting, I’m making the plays. I don’t really worry about that at all. It’s gotten us to where we’ve gotten. I know what my role is. Everybody’s jelling, so it doesn’t matter to me.”
Boykin’s playing time is based on the opponent’s personnel, and that’s where the Saints come in. Coach Sean Payton likes to throw the ball, and he’ll have five players running routes on many plays.
“All five eligible receivers are always available,” Davis said. “They don't overload protection because the ball is out so quick.”
So the Saints’ style may dictate that the Eagles’ nickel personnel are on the field a lot, and that could translate into more playing time for Boykin.
“This game, I’ll probably be in a lot more than I have in the past this season,” Boykin said. “I’m focusing on that.”
Of course, more playing time means more responsibility. And it also means Boykin could be matched up quite a bit with tight end Jimmy Graham, who has a nine-inch height advantage.
“That’s a possibility, if he lines up in the slot,” Boykin said. “I’m sure they’re going to do their fair share of that. They put him in a lot of different places to make mismatches for linebackers and whoever’s on him. He’ll be their main target most of the time.”
In a way, the 5-foot-10 Boykin is better equipped to deal with the 6-foot-7 Graham than some of the Eagles’ other defenders. He is used to being shorter than the guy he is covering. He has learned to focus on the receiver’s hands rather than trying to play the ball on its way down. And he is good at tackling bigger players, because most players are bigger.
Boykin was covering the 6-foot-2 Miles Austin when he made the interception that secured the Eagles’ 24-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night. It was the second game-ending interception of the season for Boykin.
“I think it has to be first” among his big plays, Boykin said. “It meant more than any of the other plays, just as far as what was on the line. You have to rank it up there.”