The Eagles stifled the high-powered Steelers Offense in week 3, holding them to just 3 points and keeping Ben Roethlisberger out of the endzone..something that seemed almost impossible after his six passing touchdowns through the opening two games. The Eagles Defense stole the show at Lincoln Financial Field..but how much of that was down to the cornerback play?
Snap count: 100%
Passes Defensed: 4
After two disappointing games to start the season, Nolan Carroll simply had to play much better against one of the most explosive Offenses in the league. With Markus Wheaton returning to action, the Steelers had an abundance of weapons that could cause major problems for the Eagles cornerbacks..but Carroll stepped up to the mark when it counted.
Carroll started the game with some beautiful coverage on Antonio Brown. Staying in front of the dominant receiver at the top of the screen and giving up very little space when adjusting to the cut.
The one criticism that has found its way into all three of these all-22 articles so far is his inconsistency. Carroll started this route perfectly and even turned his body ready to make the stop at the perfect moment..but when Wheaton began to improvise, Carroll looked lost. Wheaton cut inside and got to the back of the endzone, leaving Carroll in his dust..before the Eagles cornerback capitalized on a near drop to finish the job and pick up the pass deflection. When looking a it closer, it’s not nearly as glamorous as it looked on TV.
Later int he game, Carroll rebounded in a way only he can..by making a huge play on Wheaton, showing great instincts in zone coverage to close in, pop the ball out to force the incompletion and bring the 2013 third round pick to the ground. It’s also important to notice how quickly Antonio Brown got away from Jalen Mills, quite literally shaking him off of his tail..but we’ll get to that later.
The tug-of-war between Carroll and Wheaton was fun to watch, but sometimes scary. Carroll was completely beaten off the line here and it very almost cost the Eagles a big play. Big Ben instead decided to throw over the middle in what was simply brilliant coverage by Stephen Tulloch.
Carroll showed great instincts later in the game, coming close to breaking up a play intended for Eli Rogers. After keeping an eye on the quarterback and reacting to his eyes, Carroll turned off of the screen protection and straight into the path of Rogers who was overthrown. An interception was just a millisecond away from Carroll’s grasp and he knew it..as he galloped down the field in disbelief.
Carroll struggled to keep his receivers in check toward the end of the game, leaving a lot of room for a deep shot after losing a step and often relying on the Safeties as a security blanket.
There was more good than bad for Nolan Carroll in this game, especially on short looks. His reactions were much better than in previous weeks and he was playing with more instinct and drive. The physicality that has spread through this Defense appeared to finally hit Carroll as he made some impressive plays..but there are still times where he gets burned too easily. This game saw a definite improvement..but if it wasn’t for the exceptional pass rush, great linebacker play or Safety help..we may not being saying that.
Snap count: 97%
Ron Brooks saw much more action this week, given the reliance of the nickel package to help prevent the Steelers Offense from firing all cylinders. This was the most interesting corner to take a closer a look at this week as his development and skill set made themselves clear.
A direct contrast would be a great way to start. Here’s a clip of Ron Brooks struggling in man coverage against Markus Wheaton early in the gam. Brooks was simply outpaced and outsized in a mismatch down the sideline, but the pressure forced Big Ben to take advantage of a narrow lane that opened to his left, somewhat saving Ron Brooks.
To contrast, here’s a clip of Brooks working in the slot and staying glued to Antonio Brown all the way to the endzone. Brown got open at the end of the play, but by that point it was too late. The fluidity in the footwork of Brooks has to be commended..just as his ability to not get shoved off the ball or draw a PI call on what as a very physical play.
Brooks wasn’t perfect and there were still growing pains after spending most of 2015 as a special teamer in Buffalo. Brooks was deceived in the slot by Antonio Brown in a play that should have been a huge gain. The pass fell incomplete however and luckily for the Eagles, Ron Brooks rebounded from this nicely. It’s also worth noting how impressive Jordan Hicks is in coverage. He drops back quickly, reads the quarterbacks eyes perfectly and despite never facing Brown, stays perfectly in sync with his route.
Brooks got a great push on this play and showed a rare strength at an area of concern for this unit..jamming at the line. Brooks played brilliantly to keep Brown glued to him and force him close to the sidelines..but this is Antonio Brown, so he’s going to do an Antonio Brown thing eventually.
Brooks had his strongest game of the season when it most and was in my opinion the most impressive cornerback in week 3. Brooks still had a few scary moments but given how powerful this Offense is, Brooks held his own and was able to show a real strength in nickel packages.
Snap count: 88%
Jalen Mills has swam away from the deep end he was dropped into in the absence of Leodis McKelvin, but faced his toughest task yet covering one of the most electric receivers in the game and his supporting cast. His maturity and mental toughness was set to be tested arguably more than his physical game..and it was.
The game started in worrying fashion for Mills, who gave up a big reception early on after trying to be too physical in the early stages of the route, after letting Eli Rogers gain momentum off the line. McLeod made the big tackle..but Mills continued to show a struggle at the line.
Mills then gave up a 41 yard pass to Sammie Coates in similar fashion, making a poor start even more worrying, but seemed to bounce back well..especially against short passes. Mills becomes a human barricade on this play and ensured that Brown made no progress at all after catching the pass.
Mills showed good instincts at the start of this play, but showed a shade of what we saw in preseason..hesitation. Mills seemed to panic once in deep water and turned his back to look for the ball too soon, which probably comes as a contrast to Schwartz’s comments last week. But Mills was nearly two steps behind his receiver as he hit the endzone on what would have been the third big play given up by Mills.
However he did show an improvement on his positioning. Mills read the out route and cut very well and closed in efficiently, ready to make the stop or push out of bounds.
Mills lined up in the slot on this play and showed his hesitation early. Big Ben threw the pass and Mills shed the block quickly, but by that point it was too late. Mills was fooled on the screen and as a result fell victim the block and gave up some small yardage.
The most impressive play Mills made on the day..was brought back for Pass interference. Great footwork at the line of scrimmage by Mills to transition into a sprint followed by some extremely tight coverage on Antonio Brown forced the incompletion, but a PI call dug the Steelers out of a very deep hole.
This game, if anything showed that Mills still has a long way to go. He gave up the two biggest plays of the day and very nearly gave up a couple more while surrendering two penalties. He led the team in tackles once again and was clinical in his technique..but the nerves that plagued his first preseason game against the Bucs, seemed to make a return..and this is an Offense that licks its lips in those kind of scenarios.
The cornerbacks didn’t play overly brilliantly against the Steelers, it was the dominant pass rush, great coverage by the linebackers and heavy hitting Safeties that often saved the day. It’s clear that this is the position of weakness on the team and as a long haul after the bye-week unfolds..the other units may not be there to pick up the slack. For this week however, the cornerbacks leave knowing that they never surrendered a touchdown against the most impressive Offense in the league..which must be a very good feeling.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports