The Eagles are 2-0 heading into their week 3 showdown with their bitter rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers..and it’s safe to say that a lot of attention is going to be placed on the Eagles cornerbacks given just how explosive the Steelers passing attack is.
With Leodis McKelvin injured, the trio of Nolan Carroll, Jalen Mills and Ron Brooks held the fort at Soldier Field against the likes of Alshon Jeffery..but just how convincing were their performances?
Snap percentage: 98%
Carroll struggled against the Browns and with a lot of the attention being placed on the shoulders of Jalen Mills, it gave Carroll the opportunity to quietly go under-the-radar and find a rhythm…an opportunity which he simply didn’t take.
Although the game started promisingly enough with a physical tackle, it didn’t take long for history to repeat itself. Just like he did against the Browns a week ago, Carroll showed a lack of strength at the line of scrimmage and was often beaten inside.
The first example came when Alshon Jeffery cut inside with ease on a post-route to haul in a big catch over the middle. Carroll was late on the cut to make the tackle after the reception and if not for the aid of Malcolm Jenkins, could have likely surrendered an even bigger loss of yards due to the momentum Jeffery had.
Later in the game, Carroll was almost shoved back after locking his arms, which allowed for acres of space on a crossing route and a potential running lane over the middle. The Eagles pass rush collapsed the pocket and instead, Cutler aimed to throw in the direction Jalen Mills.
Carroll was beaten off the line with ease in the play below before cutting inside, realizing that the ball was thrown to the opposite side of the field. It’s easy to say that covering the receiver wasn’t his responsibility, but compare his reactions to those of Jalen Mills at the bottom of the screen. Mills keeps his receiver ahead and forces him onto a tightrope outside while never taking his eyes off of the quarterback. Mills then readies himself for the tackle and ends the play. Mills was much stronger in recognizing the play and adapting than Carroll, who just seemed disjointed at times.
Carroll’s play seemed to deteriorate as the game went on, which is worrying considering how much firepower the Bears lost. McLeod almost comes away with a turnover here, but after the reception is hauled in, Carroll gets taken for a ride by his receiver. If it wasn’t for the arrival of Stephen Tulloch, Carroll would have been in huge trouble.
Carroll also drew a costly flag as if his troubles weren’t damaging enough. With Antonio Brown and the Steelers sitting just around the corner, this is extremely worrying. Carroll has showed no improvement from his dismal week one form and was easily the weakest cornerback on the field against the Bears. It’s difficult to tell if he’s simply regressing, is struggling to adapt to the system (if so they traded the wrong corner) or is still dealing with the ankle injury that has persisted to linger.
Either way, in a cornerback corps this thin, it’s only a matter of time before Carroll is exploited without the likes of Malcolm Jenkins able to save the day. Another tough day at the office for Nolan Carroll..a theme that could become even more prominent on Sunday.
Snap percentage: 83%
Pass deflections: 1
The seventh round pick was the biggest surprise of last week’s win over the Browns, being dropped into the game in the absence of Leodis McKelvin and swimming his way to safety. In week two, he was launched into the Ocean and with the inconsistent play of Carroll..the workload was heavy.
However, after a tricky start, Mills was simply stunning. In a game that was in someways reminiscent of Eric Rowe’s trial by fire against Megatron, Mills overcame an early burn to emerge as an instrumental part of the Defense. The pressure came as early as the second play of the opening drive. Mills was covering Alshon Jeffery and was a Malcolm Jenkins sack away from giving up some big yards as he lost a step off the line of scrimmage..an early warning.
Mills then showed two contrasting pieces of play. One, where he wrapped up Alshon Jeffery on a crucial tackle, reading the play just as well as he executed the move..
..before attempting to do the same but in a much more sporadical approach, giving up an eight yard gain. This is the kind of thing we saw from Mills in preseason, but as a seventh round pick playing such a heavy amount of snaps..it’s natural to expect a steep learning curve.
Then, Alshon Jeffery schooled the rookie. A stutter step caught Mills completely off guard causing him to slip and the flood gates to open. While it was a bad play to give up, you have to respect the hustle Mills showed to get back to his man and bring him down after he made the catch.
The play seemed to light a fire for Jalen Mills as he went on to lead the Eagles in tackles, consistently wrapping his receivers and bringing them to the ground.
Then, in the dying moments of the game..Mills had his revenge. Lined up in man coverage against the veteran receiver, Mills expressed his physicality and if the ball was thrown lower, could have potentially been called for Pass interference. However, the seventh rounder stayed with Jeffery stride for stride and leapt over him in the endzone to ensure an incompletion.
Just one play later, Mills was in a similar situation, lining up against a much bigger receiver..and forcing another incompletion with increased physicality.
Mills had a strong showing, considering that the Bears have a lot of receiving weapons and that he was always likely to see a lot of action, given his reputation and limited experience. He held his own however and expanded on the base built against the Browns..reaffirming the trust put in him by Jim Schwartz. Mills recovered from his early stumble well, something that cannot be said for Nolan Carroll.
Snap percentage: 81%
Brooks had an inconsistent showing against the Browns and with Eddie Royal being such an elusive threat..was likely going to be put the test after being given a lucky escape in week one. Brooks seemed more consistent for the most part and finished second in tackles, only to Jalen Mills.
Brooks had a sloppy start to the game..and as expected, the Bears tried to pounce on his flaws. If not for the explosive pass rush, they may well have gotten away with it. Brooks was beaten off the line and lost a step on his receiver after a struggle at the line. It’s a persistent theme with Brooks..man-coverage is not where his strengths lie.
Where his strengths do lie however, are in closing down receivers. Brooks shows great instincts here to beat his block, sniff out the dump pass and bring down the receiver.
However, Brooks still lacks the consistency needed to become a true starter. His sporadic tendencies that were so poignant in preseason followed him to Soldier Field as once again, Brooks throws himself into a tackle, misses it and then gives up some crucial yards.
Brooks showed overall toughness and made some big stops, while almost picking up a sack on a surprising pass rush. His skill set is slowly but surely revealing itself, but until the Eagles are greeted with depth at the position, it will be a while before Brooks will be in a spot to flourish.
A much more efficient showing than what we saw a week ago, Brooks is finding his feet at the outside spots but there’s still a long way to go..however, he contributed much more to the Defense than Nolan Carroll..which says a lot.
Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports