Eagles news and notes for 12/27
Reticence is not in his repertoire. He was named after Jalen Rose while Rose starred for Michigan's "Fab Five" - the brashest player on college basketball's brashest team. Mills can even identify the last time he felt any insecurity. He considers the question, and remembers a time in grade school.
Confidence is not the problem for the green-hair-wearing, finger-wagging, fast-talking Eagles cornerback. It's the most marked characteristic for a player who arrived in the offseason needing to earn a roster spot and will leave at the end of this week as a part of the Eagles' future - perhaps the only cornerback on the roster who can be penciled onto the depth chart in 2017.
"I love the hell out of that kid," Schwartz said. "I really do. He is a competitor. People talk about speed, people talk about ability to play the ball. To me, the number one criteria for playing corner is you have to be a competitor, and he is. He's given up some plays this year. He's made some plays and given up some, but it's never let it affect us."
The success of Mills' campaign can be measured as much by his playing time (64 percent of the defensive snaps) as his statistics (58 tackles, no interceptions, seven pass breakups). The Eagles traded former second-round pick Eric Rowe because they were confident Mills could contribute as a rookie. And Mills might be the least surprised seventh-round pick to ever play as much as he does. Safety Malcolm Jenkins said Mills arrived in Philadelphia believing he belonged on the team - "at least in his mind," and his personality prompted the coaching staff to keep giving him more responsibility with the defense.
"Nobody had to coach him . . . on confidence," Jenkins said.
"Probably just something that was bred in me," Mills said.
With his running back still eight yards from the end zone, Lane Johnson had already started fist pumping. Darren Sproles scampered 25 yards for a score in Johnson’s first series back from a 10-game suspension, and it was the right tackle who largely paved the way.
The Eagles drove 78 yards to open their 24-19 win over the Giants, with two rushes accounting for 42 yards that featured Johnson as a key blocker. Questions arose for weeks about what kind of shape Johnson would be in when he returned to Philadelphia, and in the first series alone, he answered them with an exclamation mark.
“It was huge to get Lane back. I can’t wait to get back and watch the tape and see some of the things that he did,” Carson Wentz said. “That was a good spark for us as an offense.”
The Eagles improved to 4-1 with Johnson in the lineup, and while the defense was stellar in those five games, Johnson has dominated every contest he’s played in this season.
On Philadelphia’s first offensive play of the game against New York, Ryan Mathews ran for 17 yards off of the right edge. Johnson shoved the Giants’ play-side defensive end into the backfield before helping to seal off the defensive tackle.
This was one of those bend-but-didn't-break games for the defense. The Giants racked up 470 yards, which was the second most against the Eagles this season. Manning's 356 passing yards were the most the Eagles have given up this season.
But the defense's primary focus was on keeping the Giants' dangerous wideouts in front of them and keeping them out of the end zone. The cornerbacks primarily played the man not the ball, and left the interceptions to the safeties.
The Giants had converted 60 percent of their red-zone opportunities into touchdowns this season. They made it inside the 20 five times Thursday night, but Shepard's 13-yard touchdown was the only time they found the end zone. They had to settle for Robbie Gould field goals the other four times.
The Eagles are 24th in the league in yards allowed per play, but 12th in points allowed because of their stinginess in the red zone. They are fifth in red-zone defense, allowing just 22 touchdowns in 49 challenges (44.9%).
Three areas of extreme importance in the NFL are offensive line, defensive line and quarterback. The Eagles are well-equipped to compete in 2017 and beyond with all three groups. Let’s take a look at each, starting at the line of scrimmage.
The development this season of rookies Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Isaac Seumalo has been critical in the long-term view of the offensive line. Having those two in the system gives the Eagles a pair of developing players who, in the view of the coaching staff and team, have high-upside ability and flexibility for a line that has some age and question marks.
All five starters – Jason Peters, Allen Barbre, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson – are under contract for 2017 and that’s good news. Within that, there are some decisions. Peters has a salary of $11.3 million and a cap hit of $9.37 million, according to Spotrac.com, and the Eagles have to either work that very high number into their salary cap or figure out a way to smooth the numbers. The NFL has projected its salary cap to jump from $155.27 million in 2016 to a number between $166 million and $170 million in 2017.
Only valuable reserve Stefen Wisniewski, who has started six games at left guard, is an unrestricted free agent after this season.
It’s certainly possible that the Eagles will add some ammunition to the offensive line in the offseason, either in free agency or in the draft, bolstering depth and increasing competition. Seumalo figures to push for playing time at either guard or center in 2017 and Vaitai played well enough at right tackle that the Eagles think he can be a strong player on the edges of the offensive line.