Each week this season, we’ll have an oral history of a play, trend or scheme from the Eagles’ previous game using the coaches all-22 film. This week, we spotlight cornerback Jalen Mills, who shadowed New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. throughout Sunday’s 27-24 victory.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
After last Thursday’s practice, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and defensive backs coach Corey Undlin approached Mills about following Beckham for the entire game. Cornerback Rasul Douglas would stay with Giants receiver Brandon Marshall on the other side.
Schwartz: They had sort of very distinct wide receivers and a very quick guy like Odell, and then a bigger guy like Marshall, and we liked Rasul’s match-up, his size match-up on that.
Mills had not only faced Beckham twice last season, but they had routinely practiced against each other for two years in college.
Mills: I was ready for it. I always embrace competition, especially going against – not just another LSU guy – but a top-tier receiver.
THE EYE OF THE STORM
The exact number of times that Mills was targeted by Giants quarterback Eli Manning depends upon the interpretation. Pro Football Focus logged 18 targets with 12 caught for 85 yards and a touchdown. There were 23 plays, however, in which Mills was either targeted or had to make a play on the ball.
Schwartz: I had a guy upstairs [at the NovaCare Complex] say that [he] was the most targeted player that they had recorded.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins: That stat’s a little misleading. They targeted him a lot and that’s because we made him travel with Odell Beckham. [The Giants] target Odell Beckham regardless of who’s on him.
It took seven plays, but Manning went to Beckham on successive plays at the end of the Giants’ first possession.
Mills: When they see you playing off on the perimeter, the first thing they want to do is see if you can tackle.
Schwartz: He did a very good job of limiting the big plays. I think most of those [receptions] were short. I mean, he was targeted 20-some-times and I think they averaged about 5 yards per attempt. He was tackling well.
Mills came up and tackled Beckham after only a two-yard gain, and then on third down and six, Manning went back to his No. 1 receiver.
Schwartz: I think [Manning] threw 52 passes in the game, and we charted 34 of them as less than two seconds.
The Giants went with a quick passing game to counter the Eagles’ aggressive pass rush. Schwartz had expected as much, which is why he had his cornerbacks play mostly off coverage. He was willing to give up short catches if his defenders tackled well.
Schwartz: If you want to throw it that quick, you can’t really get routes down the field.
Mills: You just got to trust the scheme. Trust the call. And just that guys are going to be in certain positions.
STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS
Schwartz’s scheme was effective for most of the first half and the Eagles went to the break up, 7-0. Manning continued to attack Mills in the third quarter, though, and on this second down play, he got the second-year corner to show pre-snap that he was playing zone.
Mills: Eli’s a Super Bowl MVP. He’s a smart guy. He sees it and checked to a short route.
Mills mostly played man-to-man, press coverage as a rookie.
Schwartz: His technique wasn’t good enough [to play off coverage]. A lot of times people think that being off is less technique. You have to be very, very sound to be off because one misstep you can’t make up, and he’s worked really hard at doing that.
When Beckham took a break, Mills stayed out on the field. The corner also matched up against Marshall, receivers Sterling Shepard and Roger Lewis, and tight end Evan Engram. Late in the third quarter, he broke up a third down and two pass to Shepard.
Mills: Route recognition. Me and Pat [Robinson] were reading the routes together. As soon as I saw [Shepard] sit down I broke on the ball. Eli kind of threw it far inside. I was hoping he’d throw it outside. I just put my hand in there and knocked the ball away.
Schwartz: He can still press, but now the ability to play off and stay square has been a big advantage for him.
HARD TO BE PERFECT
The Giants finally got on the board early in the fourth quarter when Beckham got behind Mills with a double move.
Mills: Bad eyes. I was just kind of trying to anticipate a route playing the formation. I took a chance and it was the wrong one.
Schwartz: His eyes were on the quarterback too long on the double move, and I think that if he’s on the receiver a little bit more — they were throwing so much quick, and it’s good to clue the quarterback in some of those — but he’s still got to be able to see that. He can react a little bit faster. That wasn’t one of his better plays.
A series later, after tight end Zach Ertz fumbled in Eagles territory, Beckham made a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch.
Mills: Good catch. I don’t know if he got two feet there. From the replay it kind of didn’t look like it but it is what it is.
Schwartz: [Mills] was in pretty good shape on that one, and it goes into the cost of doing business.
Jenkins: That was a hell of a catch.
Schwartz: I’m really proud of the way he hung in there, and never flinched … as the game went on. It was a hot game, we started playing a lot of snaps, we got over 70 snaps, [and he] never asked for [a double team] or Cover 2.
TESTING LONG SPEED
After defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and linebacker Jordan Hicks left the game with injuries, Manning took deeper drops and attempted more downfield passes. With the score tied, 21-21, the quarterback went deep to Beckham against the Eagles’ deep zone.
Schwartz: As soon as they saw that coverage, they were going over the top, and he was there.
Mills: I had to play over top on him. I saw Eli getting [ready to] cock back and getting ready to throw it, so I just start running. I thought I was about to catch an interception. He did kind of grab me and push me.
Beckham was called for offensive pass interference.
Schwartz: Not only did [Mills] make the play, but he created the foul, also.
One of the knocks on Mills coming out of college was that he didn’t have the long speed – he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds at the combine — to match up against speedy outside NFL receivers.
Schwartz: Richard Sherman didn’t run a great 40 time; Josh Norman didn’t run a great 40 time. I don’t know exactly what their numbers were, but it wasn’t 4.4-something; it was 4.5 or 4.6, no different than Jalen. Those guys have extreme competitiveness and they have the ability to play the ball in the air and they have the ability to get their eyes back to the ball.
Schwartz said that was the only time he called for that type of coverage. But Manning went back to Beckham a few plays later when Mills wasn’t set.
Jenkins, who was the safety help over top, said he had no choice but to whack Beckham to the ground and take the pass interference penalty.
Jenkins: Not going to let him score in that situation.
Beckham: He made a smart play. I’m running down the field. I’m gonna make a play and so he stops that. It’s football.
A few plays later, the Giants faced third down and seven. Manning, predictably, threw to Beckham on a slant.
Manning was a little high, but Mills was on Beckham just as the ball arrived and the pass sailed off the receiver’s hands incomplete. The Giants settled for a field goal.
Mills: I was tired. I saw Odell about to break inside and just trusted myself and broke on the ball and made a great play.
Manning: We have to hit that.
Schwartz: We needed a stop when we let them in field goal range and we couldn’t give up a touchdown right there … he came up with that third-down play, and I think that short memory is a good sign for a corner.
The Eagles, of course, would go on to winning in dramatic fashion. Schwartz chose Mills as his defensive player of the game.
Schwartz: I’ve said this for a long time about Jalen: I love his competitiveness. That took every bit of his competitiveness to be able to survive that game.