Grading and analyzing performances of Eagles CB’s in loss to Cowboys

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The Eagles fell to a tough loss on Sunday Night, as the Dallas Cowboys scored an overtime touchdown to clinch a game that should have been sealed by Doug Pederson and company in the second half. But through the problems and questionable decision, lies a cornerback corps that has been inconsistent at best this season. How did it fare against one of the most efficient Offenses in the league?

 

Nolan Carroll:
Snaps played: 100%
Tackles: 2
Passes Defensed: 1

Carroll has had a rollercoaster season so far, but until Sunday night had struggled to find a rhythm. Whether he was still being hampered by an ankle injury or had just simply regressed a little, Carroll had come away unscathed on several occasions after being burned..but against the Cowboys, he was a completely different corner.

The game started in explosive fashion for Carroll. On the very first passing play of the game, Dak targeted Dez Bryant on a curl route, but it was sniffed out by Carroll, who was able to position himself extremely close to Bryant despite the quick turn and force an incompletion. Jamming tougher receivers had been a concern for Carroll in the opening weeks, but he looked to have turned a corner early on.

The Eagles showed a Cover 0 look here, which forced Dak Prescott to get the ball out much quicker than he would have liked. But once again, the quick footwork of Carroll was on full display to complete the stop. Not only did he stick to his receiver, but actually edged in front and was ready to intercept the pass had it not gone wayward.

 

Carroll was definitely feeling momentum in this game. Challenged by Dez Bryant on a deep route, he adjusts his speed and slows just a little to attain contact, never coming to a stop. This may not sound like much, but it enabled him to accelerate much quicker without losing a step. Carroll ensured the pass fell incomplete after some great physical coverage.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all perfect for the veteran. Carroll fell victim to some wizardry from Dez Bryant, who looked to use the force on Carroll with some incredible selling footwork, sending him careering back on a curl route. Carroll made up for it, but it was a lesson that wouldn’t be forgotten in a hurry…

Dez tried to put on the afterburners again against Carroll, testing his reaction time..but this for me was his most impressive play of the day. Not falling victim to the athleticism of Bryant, Carroll keeps ahead, his eyes on the quarterback and his feet light. The result is some great coverage that stopped Bryant’s turbo from engaging.

It wasn’t a perfect game from Carroll, but the difference between his performance here and what we saw in the opening few weeks is night and day. It actually sent chills watching Carroll not just make one big play, but keep guys like Dez Bryant under wraps for most of the game and never giving up a touchdown due to an error. This was easily Carroll’s most impressive performance of the year.

Grade: B+

 

Leodis McKelvin:
Snaps played: 94%
Tackles: 6
Passes Defensed: 2

Prior to Sunday, we hadn’t really had a chance to see what McKelvin was capable of when fully healthy in a large sample size. That finally changed against the Cowboys, but did his play meet expectation or continue to underwhelm?

The game didn’t start in the most encouraging fashion for McKelvin, who tried to get a bit too physical with Bryant on a go-route, in turn seeing him bumped outside like a dodgem and giving up a 53-yard catch. The initial coverage was good, but McKelvin was just a little overzealous against a very tough opponent..and it cost him. Not much, but enough for Dez to get the inches needed to make a big play.

And so, the battle ensued. Bryant was elusive coming off the line of scrimmage on the play below, completely fooling McKelvin and creating room for a floating pass..but Prescott was pressured heavily and he was instead forced to challenge Carroll..who was in a much better position to defend the pass.

The former Bill went on to redeem himself however with some great goal line coverage. McKelvin is physical enough to extinguish the route and break up the play, but conservative enough to not draw a flag from a very flag happy officiating unit. It was probably the high point of McKelvin’s game and reaffirmed the belief that he still has a LOT more to give.

Momentum is a funny thing..and something that followed McKelvin like a hawk on Sunday. Keen to get one back on Dez Bryant, McKelvin jumps this route perfectly to force the incompletion. The curl and comeback routes were HUGE causes for concern in the opening six games..but against the Cowboys, it was a non-issue, mostly…

McKelvin lost Butler on a flag-route toward the end of the game, allowing a huge completion. Butler cut inside like a hot Knife through Butter and left McKelvin scrapping to make up the ground lost. It was a great route by the receiver, but McKelvin was too focused on the quarterback and played with his back to the receiver in this zone coverage play.

There were certainly glimpses of potential in McKelvin’s game and it’s the first real opportunity we’ve had to see him in a game, knowing that injury isn’t a concern. The physical play and fearless mentality played a huge role in his coverage against Dez Bryant, but the few times he was caught off guard, he was caught badly. A solid entry into the second half of the season, where McKelvin looks to feature much more prominently.

Grade: C

 

Slot corner (Jenkins & Mills):
Snaps played: Jenkins 100%/ Mills 60%
Tackles: 12
Passes Defensed: 1

Interestingly, the slot role was played by a combination of Jalen Mills and Malcolm Jenkins. Many have associated the long-term slot role with Jalen Mills, but he hasn’t had a chance to shine in that role, instead filling in for the injured McKelvin on the outside. This would be his first opportunity..so how would he handle the likes of Jason Witten in comparison to veteran Malcolm Jenkins?

The Eagles Safety set the standard early on, showing a perfect blend of awareness and footwork in the slot. He may have been a bit slow to pick up the Cowboys tight end, but in terms of covering the middle of the field, number 27 ticked all the boxes and kept his eyes on the quarterback.

Mills had a trial by combat at the position however. Looking to jam Beasley and cut the route short, Mills  tried to stand firm and was instead tan straight through. He recovered well to read the route, detect the scramble and cover the inside..but it was a scary moment for the rookie.

Mills did a great job of reading this play however, an ability he has shown consistently all season. Mills again lost his man underneath, but recovered well and later saw the pass completion, fleeing down to make the tackle. It wasn’t a perfect play..but the football instincts were on show as he helped prevent a big gain by jumping early.

Mills was later undone by Dez Bryant on a crafty play not too dissimilar to the one that fooled Malcolm Jenkins one week ago. However, the former LSU standout recovered well and threw his arms in the air in order to block the view of Bryant and force the incompletion. It looked scrappy in a move I’m not trademarking as “the windmill”, but it got the job done and prevented a score..which was tough to do given how much ground he initially lost in a clutch situation.

When Malcolm Jenkins was in the slot, he was putting on a clinic. The awareness and elusiveness of Jenkins made him looked so elegant on this play as he tracked the ball down on a curl, covered the middle of the field and bought down the receiver.

For Mills, the clinic was being led by Cole Beasley, who was able to outwit the rookie in overtime for a big gain. It was a great route by a veteran receiver regarded by many as the best slot receiver in the league, but Mills was schooled in every sense of the word here as he aimed to follow the footwork of Beasley following a slow getaway from the line. Beasley faked outside and then cut inward, gaining a lot of momentum on Mills, who credit where credit is due, was able to recover and make the tackle.

To me, this game felt like an experiment. Could Jalen Mills handle slot responsibilities full-time and how far along in his development is he? The good news is that he’s learning from one of the best in the game and every experience like this will only help him improve..it certainly isn’t the worst performance we’ve seen and you can definitely see the improvement to his awareness when playing zone.

Overall, the rotation between the two kept things fresh and they were often able to come up with big stops. Mills appears someway off of being able to start in the slot, but the initial signs are encouraging.

Grade: C

 

 

Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

 

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