Eagles’ Mills Keeps Fighting
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — In a city defined by cinema's most famous underdog, Jalen Mills should be embraced.
In his 19th career NFL game, the Eagles' second-year cornerback finished a very unlikely career trajectory in last Sunday's 27-24 win over the New York Giants.
Mills went from seventh-round pick to the guy shadowing perhaps the most explosive receiver in the game, the Giants' Odell Beckham Jr., all over the field.
There were mitigating circumstances, of course, most notably the dislocated ankle suffered by the Eagles' top cornerback, Ronald Darby, in the season opener but don't kid yourself, Jim Schwartz trusts Mills.
And the reason has a lot to do with Rocky Balboa, the fictional Philly fighter brought to life by Sylvester Stallone. Like Rocky, Mills never stops competing.
This past Sunday the Giants correctly assumed they would have the advantage on the Eagles' banged-up secondary, particularly with OBJ, and they went to that well time and time again.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Mills was targeted 21 times in the game, the most traffic a cornerback has seen in the PFF era which spans back over a decade (2006-2017). At times, Mills won and at others, he lost but he never stopped competing and thanks to a 61-yard Jake Elliott field goal, he and the defense managed to cross the finish line even though they were leaking oil after Fletcher Cox and Jordan Hicks were added to the list of the walking wounded in-game.
“I was proud of Jalen," Schwartz said earlier this week. "He did a very good job of limiting big plays. Most of [the pass completions against him] were short. He was targeted 20-something times. I think the average was five yards per attempt. The biggest part of it is he shadowed one of the best receivers in the NFL.”
Beckham, like Mills, a former LSU star, did get into the end zone twice but Mills consistently showed perhaps his best trait as a player, a short memory, which was exemplified by his two PBUs in the game, both coming on third downs.
“He gave up two touchdowns, but they were short passes. He never once came to the sideline asking for help,” Schwartz said. “When we needed a big stop, he came down with that play. The short memory is a good thing for a corner. I love his competitiveness. That took every bit of his competitiveness to be able to survive that game.”
Beckham ended the game with a lot of volume with nine catches and some solid fantasy football numbers after the two TDs but the damage -- 79 yards -- was awfully pedestrian.
As expected the game plan called for Mills to play little press coverage and limit the Beckham's explosiveness, something he handled beautifully.
"Last year he played almost exclusively press coverage because his technique wasn't good enough," Schwartz explained. "A lot of times people think that being off is less technique. You have to be very, very sound to be off because one misstep you can't make up, and he's worked really hard at doing that. I think it's added something to his game. He can still press, but now the ability to play off and stay square has been a big advantage for him."
And those LSU bragging rights between Mills and Beckham?
In the biggest upset since Rocky beat Apollo Creed, they belong to Mills.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen