Eagles' Jalen Mills returns home to Dallas to inspire on the field

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Eagles' Jalen Mills returns home to Dallas to inspire on the field

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Perhaps no Eagles player enjoyed demolishing the Cowboys more than cornerback Jalen Mills.

You see, Mills, who starred in college at LSU, grew up in the Dallas area and got to play in front of his family and friends.

"It feels good, man," Mills said after the Eagles crushed the Cowboys, 37-9, at AT&T Stadium on Sunday Night Football (see Roob's observations).  

"And by me saying that, 9-1 feels good. Everything feels good. I think the biggest thing about it was we were doubted. Us being 8-1 and doubted, that just put a little more hunger in us, and you see what happens when you put a hungry team on the field."

Mills grew up in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, not the worst of neighborhoods, but certainly not the best. His first job was selling local newspapers when he was 14 years old. He was determined to make something of himself, and football was his way out. 

He would go on to become a four-year starter in college with the Tigers and thrived in the competitive football hotbed that is the SEC. 

Because of character issues coming out of college, Mills' draft position took a nosedive in the 2016 NFL draft. Projected as a first- or second-round pick, he slid all the way to the Eagles' seventh-round pick at No. 233. But he has used that slight as motivation to succeed. His hard work and determination paid off. In his rookie year with the Birds last season, he played 65 percent of the defensive snaps. This year, he heard the whispers from doubters about not being good enough to man one of the cornerback spots full time. 

So far he has silenced his critics. Mills has played 99 percent of the snaps this season and his made very few mistakes. Against his hometown Cowboys on Sunday evening, Mills was in on seven tackles. For the season, he is second on the team in passes defended (13), second in total tackles (63) and tied for the team lead in interceptions (three).

And as for the Cowboys fans in his family, Mills told me they switched to Eagles loyalists the moment he was drafted. Why? Because he is the only one of those close to him who made it out of Oak Cliff, and he uses that as a means to give hope to others where he came from. 

"It's motivation for me." Mills said. "I know, in my mind and my heart, whoever it is older, younger, it doesn't matter. They're always looking up to me, and I can't let them down. So each and every day, that's how I approach the day, knowing somebody is looking up to me whether it's my family or friends."

That's a big responsibility for a 23-year-old to carry, but considering where he came from to get to where he, Mills has broad enough shoulders to carry that load.

Gunn on One: Lane Johnson on his family's love for the Cowboys

Gunn on One: Lane Johnson on his family's love for the Cowboys

Trench warfare will be watched closely in this Eagles-Cowboys matchup. Recently I stepped to the line of scrimmage to face right tackle Lane Johnson for the latest Gunn on One. Lane talked about going back home, who’s the best right tackle in the game, and his upcoming one on one matchup.

Gunn: You’re from Texas, so what’s it like to have family and friends who want to see you do well, but will be just as happy if the Cowboys beat the Eagles?

Johnson: That’s all I’ve been dealing with for five years, so there will be a little less tickets this year, that’s all I gotta say (laughter). If they want to root for the Cowboys, I have a little less seats for them in the stadium that day.

Gunn: Are you the best right tackle in the game today?

Johnson: I feel like I am, not arrogantly, but I try to put good stuff on tape. I try to have that wow factor in games.

Gunn: You get to face a guy named DeMarcus Lawrence who currently leads the NFL in sacks with 11.5. That’s more than he’s had in his previous three seasons in the league combined. When you look at him on film right now what jumps out about the way he’s playing at such a high level?

Johnson: I see a guy that’s pretty similar to me, a hungry guy. One thing that I think that has improved with him is his playing strength, and his hands. He’s really good with his hands. He’s a lot better than what he has been in the past. He’s been striking guys that are leaning or punching, trying to put their hands in his chest. He’s really good at separating himself, getting distance, and chopping hands. I have to be keyed in on every play.

You can see my extended conversation with Lane Sunday on Eagles PreGame Live between 6:30 and 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Derrick Gunn's NFL Week 11 picks: 2 games that will impact Eagles

Derrick Gunn's NFL Week 11 picks: 2 games that will impact Eagles

Derrick Gunn makes his picks for Week 11 of the NFL season.

Eagles at Cowboys (Sunday 8:30 p.m. on NBC)
Now that their bye week is over, the Eagles are focused on wrapping up the NFC East. Dallas is licking its wounds after getting manhandled down in Atlanta. Ezekiel Elliott is serving his suspension. LB Sean Lee is out with a hamstring injury, and Pro Bowl LT Tyron Smith is ailing with a groin injury. It all sounds too easy for the Birds, but with Dak Prescott on the other side, they’re not about to overlook this one. And they still remember what happened in Dallas last season.

Without Elliott and Smith, trying to establish a ground game against the Eagles’ top-ranked run defense will be near impossible. Dallas is 0-2 in games Lee hasn't played in this season. Carson Wentz will spread the wealth through the air, and now that Jay Ajayi has had extended time to get familiar with the offense, the Birds' running attack should be even more diversified. If the Eagles' defense can make the Cowboys' offense one-dimensional, it's game over.

Pick: Eagles 27, Cowboys 17

Detroit at Chicago (Sunday 1 p.m. on FOX)
The Bears’ defense is actually decent, ranked ninth overall, but the offense is abysmal. In their last two outings, the Bears hung tough, losing by eight to New Orleans and by seven to Green Bay. Chicago just doesn't have enough offensive firepower to hang with Matthew Stafford and the Lions.

Pick: Lions

Jacksonville at Cleveland (Sunday 1 p.m. on CBS)
This is a matchup of feast or famine, and the Jags' defense (first in sacks with 35) should be doing a lot of feasting. The Jags are tied for first in the AFC South and should win their fourth in a row.

Pick: Jaguars

Baltimore at Green Bay (Sunday 1 p.m. on CBS)
Aaron Rodgers’ replacement Brett Hundley has improved each week, but this time he's facing a Ravens defense that leads the league in interceptions with 13. It is likely the Packers will be without their top two rushers. Joe Flacco has been a disappointment this year (eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions) but he will pile up yards against a generous Packers' pass defense. Ravens win a close one.

Pick: Ravens

Tampa Bay at Miami (Sunday 1 p.m. on FOX)
The 3-6 Bucs vs. 4-5 Fins. No one expected both of these teams to have losing records at this stage of the season. Tampa’s list of offensive weapons on paper is impressive but has not lived up to expectations. The Dolphins are a mess, losing the last three and giving up 40 or more points in two of their last three. Somebody has to win this battle of Florida. Bucs get a slight nod.

Pick: Bucs

Los Angeles Rams at Minnesota (Sunday 1 p.m. on FOX)
This clash of division leaders is worth watching as both are 7-2 and behind the Eagles in the NFC. The Rams are the best scoring offense (32.9 points per game) and are facing the Vikings’ No. 5 scoring defense (18.3 ppg). Jared Goff has come into his own and Case Keenum has been solid. It comes down to which defense can get the most stops. The Vikings’ D is really good and playing at home. Advantage Minnesota.

Pick: Vikings

Washington at New Orleans (Sunday 1 p.m. on FOX)
The 'Skins keep losing frontline bodies while the Saints, at 7-2, just keep winning. Drew Brees has completed a minimum of 71 percent of his passes the last four games and the Saints' D isn’t bad, ranked eighth overall. The Redskins will not win in the Bayou.

Pick: Saints

Kansas City at New York Giants (Sunday 1 p.m. on CBS)
Andy Reid's crew is lucky the rest of the AFC West is struggling. The Chiefs have had a bye week to fix the problems they had against Dallas. Meanwhile, the Giants have become a laughingstock. Players are getting suspended, and others are grumbling. The Giants will do a lot of sulking after Kansas City is through with them.

Pick: Chiefs

Arizona at Houston (Sunday 1 p.m. on FOX)
Both teams are without their starting QBs. The Cardinals still don't know who will start this one, Blaine Gabbert or Drew Stanton. Tom Savage has been ineffective for Houston the last two games (46 completion percentage, two touchdowns and two interceptions). All of the Cardinals’ losses have been against teams with winning records. This will be ‘Zona’s first loss to a team under .500.

Pick: Texans

Buffalo at Los Angeles Chargers (Sunday 4:05 p.m. on FOX)
What has happened to the Bills? The defense can't stop anybody. The Bills are losers of two straight and now QB Tyrod Taylor is benched. Philip Rivers is in the concussion protocol. If it’s a battle of backup QBs, I’ll take the Chargers’ Kellen Clemens over the Bills’ rookie Nathan Peterman.

Pick: Chargers

Cincinnati at Denver (Sunday 4:25 p.m. on CBS)
The only thing these two 3-6 teams have left to play for is pride. The Broncos have lost five straight and the last three to the Chiefs, Eagles and Patriots. The Bengals are minus-9 in turnover differential but Andy Dalton, who hasn't thrown a pick in his last three games, will lead Cincy to victory.

Pick: Bengals

New England at Oakland (Sunday 4:25 p.m. on CBS)
Like them or not, the Patriots just keep finding ways to win. Their defense is ranked dead last, yet once again, they control the AFC East. Old Man Brady still has many tricks up his sleeve and will dissect the Raiders’ defense.

Pick: Patriots

Atlanta at Seattle (8:30 p.m. Monday on ESPN)
The Falcons were impressive against Dallas, but that was in their dome. This one will be outdoors in the cold with possible rain, and the 'Hawks' 12th man will be out in full force. Seattle can't run the ball but Russell Wilson can carry this team on his back. The Seahawks desperately need a win to stay close to the Rams. They’ll get the W.

Pick: Seahawks