Grading and analyzing Eagles cornerbacks in loss to Cincinnati

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The Eagles endured a beatdown on Sunday as Andy Dalton and the Bengals picked apart the Eagles Defense, putting up 332 yards and posting a passer rating of 130. With a lot of criticism surrounding the “lack of effort” followed by a press conference in which Jim Schwartz came down hard on his cornerbacks, I wondered just how responsible they were for the loss..making this week’s spotlight even more intense.

Nolan Carroll:
Snaps played: 80%
Tackles: 4

It’s been a streaky season for number 22. Carroll started off inconsistent but burst into life with some huge performances against Atlanta and Seattle. Since then however, the inconsistencies have returned and the confidence appears to be faltering. But did he improve in the loss to the Bengals, or contribute to the struggles?

As you’ll read in the summary later, I don’t actually think the cornerbacks played THAT bad…they’ve certainly played worse. The problem is that they universally gave up too much room off of the line. If Andy Dalton can get the ball out quicker with room for YAC at the end, not only is the pass rush going to be ineffective, but the consequences are costly..and that’s exactly what happened to Nolan Carroll.

Dalton runs the play action beautifully, but Carroll’s late reaction just opened a window too big to pass on throwing into for the Bengals quarterback. Slow to recover, Carroll was always a step behind..and it’s something that followed him through the remainder of the game.

Tyler Boyd was one of the first to take advantage of Carroll’s generous space at the line, accelerating much faster than the Eagles cornerback and as a result leaving him in his trail down the sidelines for a huge gain. McKelvin on the opposite side was far more physical and at least attempted to slow the route. Carroll was slow to turn his body and slow to pick up the vertical look.

Even on plays he wasn’t targeted, Carroll still showed the same habits. He simply gave himself very little chance of winning the battle at the line by allowing too much space to open at the start of the route. If Dalton had glanced over to the other side of the field even for a split second, the scoreline could have been one touchdown uglier.

Carroll simply had a bad game…but one thing he did do well was detect the ball and dissect screens. Tackling was never an issue for Carroll, nor was it on Sunday, but what looked like a cornerback struggling to find confidence and one battling pressure was ultimately the game we saw from Nolan Carroll, in one of his weaker performances.

Grade: D-

 

Leodis McKelvin:
Snaps played: 86%
Tackles: 9

Leodis McKelvin has perhaps been the inverse to Nolan Carroll. There came a point where the injury excuses ran thin and the world turned to the veteran cornerback to make a statement. After some confusing interviews followed even more confusing decisions on the field, McKelvin entered this game with a lot of pressure on his shoulders. Yet to have a big game, was this going to be the moment the signing was justified?

McKelvin’s overall play may not have been fantastic, but if there’s one thing that it conveyed, it was physicality. McKelvin made some seemingly ironic comments after the game about how frustrated he is about consistently missing the playoffs..and even more strangely, it actually showed in his game.

He played like an angry cornerback, something the Eagles have been DYING to see. Tasked with stopping LaFell here, McKelvin is constantly asserting his authority in the one-on-one matchup, switching directions rapidly to stop the fade route and simply blanketing his receiver.

But, LaFell had his revenge on this 44-yard reception. McKelvin’s reactions were slow here and cutting underneath was perhaps one of his weaker decisions given that there was help over the top and to his left. It was easily McKelvin’s weakest moment of the game..that was followed by a few other similar ones.

Other than that though, he was solid..and aggressive. With nine tackles, it’s safe to say that there was certainly a fire in his belly. However like Carroll, McKelvin made some technical mistakes early on in the route that often cost the team or opened up an opportunity for Dalton to capitalize. If the Eagles can see THIS McKelvin against the Redskins though, the cornerbacks may be looking to climb back up the cliff they’ve fallen from.

Grade: C

 

Jalen Mills:
Snaps played: 36%
Tackles: 2

Mills only played in 36% of defensive snaps on Sunday, but it was arguably the perfect summary of his season so far. An impressive play followed by a rookie mistake that cost the team a huge chunk of yardage. His game started strongly enough, covering Tyler Boyd in a way Nolan Carroll couldn’t, successfully. Mills actually made a mistake to begin with, keeping his eyes focused on the quarterback and only rotating when Dalton’s eyes shifted. There was a lot of ground to make up, but the seventh round pick undercut the route and while not credited with the incompletion, did near enough everything to deserve it.

But again, it was Boyd who had the last laugh. Mills fell victim to some trickery from the rookie wide receiver giving Boyd just enough room to break into some space. Mills recovered well and secured the tackle, something he’s been tremendous in doing..but it’s that initial break that cost him and the Defense big time.

Later on in the game, Mills decided it was time to get physical. The ball may have been batted down at the line of scrimmage, but Mills had the quick throw completely blanketed by stunting the route and using his legs to keep the receiver contained as opposed to risking a flag with his arms. It was a rare showing of strength from Jalen Mills, as well as instinct to not fall victim to the same mistake twice.

With the game already out of reach, Mills showed his youth. A main area of concern this year has been his inability to win at the line of scrimmage or jam successfully..and it was on full display once again late on in the game. Mills was forced into recovery mode yet again, but undercutting the route still wasn’t enough to close a very large passing window for Andy Dalton to sling a pass into. It was a rare instance of seeing Mills line up in the slot..and an instance that should probably stay rare for the foreseeable future.

As aforementioned, this was a game that simply summarizes the season of Jalen Mills to this point. A flash of impressive play, followed by costly rookie mistakes. For someone who only played 36% of snaps though, he did feature quite heavily here, which isn’t a good thing.

Grade: D

 

Overall, the Eagles cornerbacks played badly with flashes of mediocrity. I don’t buy that a lack of technique is the issue here however as all three corners showed that they have the ability to make a big play, blanket a receiver and get physical when needed. Carroll can thwart the screen game, Mills can get aggressive when needed and McKelvin can actually avoid being toasted..sometimes.

The problem here for me was simply a lack of confidence. Every single problem pointed out here originated at the line of scrimmage. Whether it was a lack of focus, a lack of effort or a mix of all three, I’m not sure. But the Eagles corners simply seemed away with the fairies at times during this game, despite stern tackling, impressive awareness and consistent aggression. The rookie mistakes at the line are what has cost this team all year..but now the wheels have started to wobble, the entire wagon is beginning to shake thunderously.

 

Mandatory Photo credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

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