Defense dominated in the Eagles impressive win over the Falcons, stagnating the Atlanta rushing Offense and keeping Julio Jones chained down for the majority of the day. But just how well did the Eagles cornerbacks fare in the matchup? Nolan Carroll left the game early due to a concussion and was replaced by Leodis McKelvin, who was dealing with a hamstring injury..but did a weakened corps show any signs of visible wounds?
Before we get to the analysis itself, there are some interesting statistics worth noting. Julio Jones caught 5 of 8 passes thrown his way for 88 yards when playing against man-coverage on Sunday, which doesn’t sound great at all. However, the Eagles forced Jones into averaging just 3.8 YAC..a number that stood at 7 prior to the contest. So with that in mind, how did the Eagles keep Julio at bay?
Snaps played 100%
With injuries plaguing the Eagles cornerbacks, seventh round pick Jalen Mills was once again thrust into the front-lines, playing in ever single defensive snap on Sunday and lining up against Julio eight times. The first of those was at the beginning of the game..and Mills made his intention very clear. Staying glued to the NFL’s most explosive receiver, Mills brought him down after a tough catch was made, expressing plenty of physicality and confidence from the word go. There was no fear or nervousness in the play of Mills..something which in preseason and his opening games had been a factor in the early moments. So to line up against Julio, get in his face and make a statement..is very impressive.
One of the main complaints I’d had all year with Jalen Mills until recently was the amount of space he gave up on curls and comebacks. It was punished heavily in the opening games and a large reason behind his surprising number of tackles. However against the Falcons, he seemed far more instinctive. On the far side of the screen, Mills pick up his receiver and puts his foot in the ground much sooner to make the adjustment, using his arms to stay locked in with his target and completely shutting off the route. In comparison what we’ve seen previously, the difference is night and day.
Mills also seemed much more confident when it comes to shorter routes and quick adjustments. Here, we can see quick footwork and an instinct to keep his head up and his receiver ahead of him, again, completely destroying the chance of a quick pass without the play ending there and then.
Mills wasn’t perfect however. He misread the route Julio took below, jumping underneath looking to cut it off and instead losing a step on the Atlanta wideout and in turn giving up a 28-yard reception. It’s these rookie decisions that will only be ironed out through experience against receivers such as Julio.
Mills later played great man-coverage against Jones and kept most receivers quiet for the rest of the game, giving up just one penalty in the process. However old habits came back to haunt the seventh rounder, who played with his back to the ball on this play and had to swing his hips around in order to make the adjustment. Ryan was able to make the easy pass but Mills did well to recover and stop the completion moving the chains.
This was arguably the most impressive full game performance we’ve seen from Mills to date. If you were to pick one game that shows his progression from pre-season, it would be this one. Relaxed, composed and rarely putting a foot wrong, Mills was excellent against an Offense that demanded it. Rookie errors will be ironed out over time, but this was a great game from Jalen Mills.
Snaps played: 100%
Once again, Malcolm Jenkins became the heartbeat of the Eagles Defense, leading them in tackles and contributing in every aspect of the game. From making huge plays like this one against Julio Jones in the fourth quarter, in which his toughness and will really gleamed..
..To stopping Devonta Freeman behind the line of scrimmage, penetrating the trenches and dissecting the play with rapid efficiency. Jenkins was simply making plays all over the field on Sunday, despite being predominantly tasked with playing in the slot position.
There were times where Jenkins was beaten however. For instance here he was burned out of the slot after a delayed reaction but luckily, Matt Ryan elected against challenging Rodney McLeod and Jenkins at the same time..instead drawing McLeod down, giving his receiver time to make the completion.
Those plays were few and far between though. For instance, Jenkins and Mills did a perfect job of executing zone coverage in the clip below. Playing out of the slot, Jenkins drops back to a more central position, forcing Sanu to cut outside into a pocket behind two corners and ahead of one Safety. Keeping his eyes on Matt Ryan, Jenkins reads the direction his eyes and immediately starts heading to Julio Jones, helping Jalen Mills stop him on on the spot..a large part of why Jones was so quiet in terms of YAC was due to plays like this.
Jenkins matched a season high in tackles and helped every aspect of the Defense. Although limited to a slot-role, the versatility of Jenkins was on show against the Falcons..and it gave the Eagles some much needed surges in momentum. The consistency of Jenkins meant that even when Julio Jones wasn’t double teamed, that extra helping hand was always just around the corner.
Snaps played 54%
Passes Defensed: 3
Coming into the game due to Carroll’s concussion, McKelvin was dropped in the deep end. The game was hanging in the balance, the Falcons Offense had yet to find a rhythm and the Defense was as intimidating as ever. Could the former Bills corner make the desired impact, or would he fall short of the mark as he has a few times this season?
It was a baptism of fire for McKelvin, as he was immediately placed on Julio Jones. In a play-action look, Ryan searched out his number one threat on a potential TD pass, but McKelvin did a great job of staying ahead of his receiver and closing across over the top once the route became clear. Coming between Jones and the ball, McKelvin stopped a six point play here in just his first effort against the league’s leading receiver.
However, it didn’t take long for fortunes to turn. McKelvin aimed to jump a route, anticipating a curl by speedster Taylor Gabriel. One of the fastest receivers in his class, Gabriel made McKelvin pay with an electrifying adjustment to swing outside and fly down the field to haul in a 76 yard touchdown reception.
McKelvin redeemed himself in the final Falcons offensive play however. In a zonal look, McKelvin stayed light on his feet as Ryan underthrew his receiver, giving McKelvin just enough room to slide underneath and claim the pass as his own, picking off the Falcons quarterback and sealing the deal.
A dropped interception earlier on as well as another schooling from Taylor Gabriel were eradicated there and then as the Eagles corner come up big when needed, which will no doubt give him a huge confidence boost after a rocky few weeks. The performance wasn’t perfect..but all things considered and injury in mind, McKelvin wasn’t bad at all.
Snaps played: 46%
Carroll has been red hot as of late and prior to his concussion, the game against the Falcons was no exception. Left one-on-one with Julio, Carroll knew that he would be on an island with Jone, who ran a deep fade route. But Carroll was with him every step of the way, doing just enough to ensure that Julio can’t get to a slightly overthrown ball.
But, just like most games in his career, Julio Jones did Julio Jones things. Nolan Carroll had great press coverage once again on a deep route, but Julio was able to bring in an incredibly difficult pass. The Eagles cornerback did just about all he could on this route, including staying as close to him as possible..but this is where star receivers earn their money.
Perhaps the most impressive play of his game..was one where Carroll didn’t even make a tackle. Playing zone, Carroll looked as if he was going to jam Julio at the line, forcing what was a slant to become a much shorter dig underneath..and in turn leaving him victim to the vicious Eagles linebackers. Carroll jumped back after the “fake” to then cover the extra yardage if Julio had completed the pass..but this was poetry in motion.
Carroll’s form certainly continued deep into this game and it’s fair to say that the Defense felt his loss early on. Carroll has come on leaps and bounds over the last few games, rekindling the form that saw him do so well in 2015..so losing him to concussion protocol is going to hurt the Eagles, but if he can come back this strong for the remainder of the season, then a long-term contract could be up for discussion.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports