With two pass interference penalties totaling 51 yards, you’d think Jalen Mills had a bad day against the Colts.
Not so fast, according to Pro Football Focus, which graded out Mills as the fourth best cornerback of week three.
Mills allowed three catches on six targets and conceded just eight total yards in completed passes. He played 42 snaps on the afternoon lined up primarily against the speedy T.Y. Hilton, who came into the game with 12 grabs for 129 yards and two touchdowns but finished this one with just 5 for 50 and didn’t find the end zone.
Say what you will about PFF, which sometimes offers up head-scratching grades, but the entire Eagles secondary was much improved from the debacle we saw in Tampa. The Eagles only allowed 164 passing yards and broke up nine of Andrew Luck’s 40 passing attempts.
Mills seems like he’s destined to be the whipping boy for Eagle fans that need something to complain about. He’s either too soft in coverage or too shallow. He irks the fan base by calling out “fake” supporters on Twitter. He should give up his job to Sidney Jones and people hate his green hair.
That’s a sampling of the stuff I read on Twitter.
Those things may or may not be valid, but sometimes we need to take a step back and remind ourselves that Jalen Mills was a 7th round draft pick who came to camp in mostly unheralded fashion, competing for a roster spot with Eric Rowe, Ron Brooks, Denzel Rice, and Aaron Grymes. He won the fourth CB job, then outlasted Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin to become a starting corner on a team that had a lot of questions in the secondary. Four of those guys I mentioned aren’t even in the NFL anymore.
So Mills took his opportunity and turned it into a starting gig on a Super Bowl winning team. How much of the Birds’ 2017 success can be attributed to the defensive line and a dynamic offense? I don’t know, but the entire defensive unit was one of the best in football last year, and Mills played a key role matching up against top opponent targets while Ronald Darby was injured and Rasul Douglas and others had to provide depth off the bench.
No, he wasn’t 1998 Charles Woodson out there, but he was steady and serviceable on the best Eagle team of all time.
Specific to this season, people were griping about the pass interference calls from Sunday’s win, and that is, of course, fair. I went back and looked at both of them, and in each instance Mills was stride for stride with T.Y. Hilton and got caught on under-thrown balls.
Doug Pederson was asked about Mills on Tuesday and gave an answer that I’ll use for the crux of this article:
Q. When you look at CB Jalen Mills, obviously a couple penalties. The big play down in Tampa on the first play. Then you see the tackling, the physical play, pass break ups. What’s your takeaway from his overall level of play these first few weeks? (Reuben Frank)
COACH PEDERSON: Jalen has actually been playing extremely well. The flags (Sunday), obviously he’s got to get his off-hand — he’s got a right or left hand that is going for the ball. The off-hand is in a position where he’s hooking.
He’s just got to be cognizant of that and aware of that and try and get it off. But he’s always in position. Seems like he’s right there to make the play. He’s physical, he’s tough, he can come up and make tackles. He’s been solid quite honestly at the corner position.
Gives you stability on both sides with he and ronald Darby. So, again, a young player that’s going to continue with more snaps just getting better and better and he’s going to understand the game a little bit more, and his technique.
Really provide a spark defensively from time to time with pass break ups.
Yep. It’s not necessarily about his coverage, it’s really about his off-hand and how he’s reaching or “hooking,” as Doug says, to give himself an advantage.
Exhibit A is the first pass interference call:
That’s really not bad coverage. He’s not cooked by Hilton.
He just gets caught on the short throw and ends up running into the receiver, using his right hand to hook Hilton by the shoulder pad in clear view of the sideline official:
It was a similar case on the second PI call, which took place in the fourth quarter on the Colts’ final drive.
Again it was an under-thrown ball, and again Mills kept pace with Hilton on the outside, he just got tangled up with the receiver and this time used his left hand to hook Hilton from behind while defending the ball with his right hand:
To me, that’s just a fixable technique thing. Jalen Mills isn’t getting burned like Izel Jenkins out there; he’s keeping stride, usually in good positions, and generally making plays. I know people will bring up the DeSean Jackson touchdown in week two, but Malcolm Jenkins took responsibility for that as a single-high safety who was responsible for the deep middle third of the field after the Eagles showed a corner blitz and rotated into a form of cover 3.
Here’s some of the good I identified from Mills on Sunday:
- Two very good open-field tackles on running backs in the flat areas. He held Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins to gains of 1 yard and -1 yard on those plays.
- Combined with Ronald Darby to limit Hilton to 5 catches for 50 yards on the afternoon. Hilton’s longest reception, 29 yards, came against Darby.
- A crucial third down pass break-up in the red zone, which you can see here:
He does have some left hand on Eric Ebron’s back there, but pulls it down, locates the football, and times his jump well for the PBU against the bigger player. That’s what Doug is talking about – trying to “get it off” the receiver and focus on the football.
If we’re being honest, Jalen Mills had a pretty good game the other day. He didn’t give much of anything to Hilton and the pass interference calls both look like things than can be fixed with a little bit of discipline in how he uses that off-hand against receivers and tight ends.
I do hear the Cary Williams comparisons, and they aren’t totally off-base. Mills is a serviceable, physical corner. He’s not the greatest athlete in the world but he’s often in the correct spots and makes his tackles. People should not expect a 7th rounder to look like a 1st rounder. If you’re expecting Jalen Mills to be Jalen Ramsey, you’re doing this wrong.
That said, I can understand why people would want to see Sidney Jones on the outside, and maybe Mills has the skill-set to play the slot while you convert Douglas into a safety moving forward. It’s not the worst idea in the world, but the fact of the matter is that the Eagles are 2-1 right now and the secondary isn’t exactly in need of total reconstruction.
I know Jalen Mills can be somewhat flamboyant and say some things on social media that might be misconstrued. Maybe a finger-wag after a rudimentary defensive play rubs some people the wrong way. But he put in a nice bounce-back performance on Sunday and he’s hardly the biggest concern on the Eagles’ roster right now.