Eagles

Eagles notice big change in Lane Johnson

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USA Today Images

Eagles notice big change in Lane Johnson

Fresh off a pretty dominating performance against Von Miller, it's pretty safe to say Lane Johnson is playing at an extremely high level, a Pro Bowl level even. 

The Eagles' right tackle has seemingly used his 10-game PED suspension from last year as motivation. He's on a mission to prove himself in the NFL and it's working. 

That's why when offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland was asked if this is the best football of Johnson's career, the veteran O-line coach gave a look of bewilderment. 

"Seriously?" Stoutland said, opening his eyes as wide as they go while dipping his head slightly forward. "He's off the chart right now.

"I think he just made his mind up that he wants to be a dominating player and whatever it takes from his standpoint, meetings, meeting room. From the time he walks in until the time he leaves here, it's all business for Lane. Lane's a worker, man."

After Jason Peters went down for the season, it might have made sense to flip Johnson from the right to left side and place Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle. But the Eagles decided to leave Johnson at his post for a few reasons. One of them is that Johnson is playing extremely well at right tackle. Another is that they didn't want to disrupt two spots. 

And another is that many premier pass-rushers line up on the right tackle. Demarcus Lawrence and Khalil Mack are still yet to come. As far as Miller, Stoutland said Johnson was "excellent" against the NFL's leader in sacks since 2011. He saw that one-handed toss Johnson pulled on Miller and recognized it as a technique they teach; Johnson executed it "perfectly." 

"He's always had that in him but I think it's at a different level right now," Stoutland said. "He's always had that in him."

Right guard
During his session with reporters Tuesday, Stoutland was answering a question when he got a little annoyed. He pointed out that no one had asked him about Brandon Brooks yet. Because while Johnson is playing at a Pro Bowl level, the guy lining up to his left is, too. 

Stoutland praised Brooks' consistency and his physicality. At 330 pounds, Brooks is the heaviest player on the roster. 

But he's pretty athletic for his size. 

"Extremely athletic. Sneaky athletic," Stoutland said. "You watch him when we screw around a little bit with the football. We'll throw the football around. He's just a very athletic guy for a big man."

A few times Sunday against Denver, it was Brooks who was downfield blocking in the second level. 

What's that like to see?  

"Pretty awesome," Stoutland said. "And then he can stand at the line of scrimmage in a phone booth and knock your face off, too." 

Left tackle 
The flip side of Johnson's staying at right tackle was that Vaitai simply replaced Peters at left tackle. That's no easy task. 

Big V has a pretty unassuming personality. He's so soft-spoken it's actually hard to imagine him having enough fire to be able to take on defensive linemen Sundays. But Stoutland knows how to get that out of him. 

"I know the secret. I know the button," he said. "Trust me. Ask him that. I push him."

When asked where Vaitai has improved the most, Stoutland answered by saying "the use of his hands." He said Vaitai has been able to use his hands violently without losing his balance. 

"He makes progress on a daily basis," Stoutland said. "Very happy with his progression. I like him as a left tackle. He's been a natural left tackle."

Center
For all the criticism Jason Kelce has gotten from fans over the last few years, the veteran center is playing at a really high level in 2017. 

Stoutland was willing to take some of the blame for Kelce's dip in play last season. 

"To be fair to Kelce, I asked him last year to do a whole bunch," Stoutland said. "I think I asked him to do a little bit too much and I think that kind of diluted a little bit of his ability and his production level, to be honest with you. That's on me. This year, we kind of tightened it up a little bit and put him in better positions to be productive and successful. But I have always had a tremendous regard for Jason Kelce and his ability to play center in this league."

Stoutland also praised Kelce's discipline. He said Kelce has always been a technician but is even more consistent with that this season. 

Left guard
Stefen Wisniewski was the third guy to get a crack at the left guard spot this season, but it doesn't look like he's going to give it up anytime soon. When Isaac Seumalo was struggling, the Eagles used a combination of Chance Warmack and Wiz until it was clear Wisniewski was just playing better. 

That's why he earned the job. 

"Just proved it every day. Production. Bottom line," Stoutland said. "The production level of the player. Everybody had their opportunity. And I told them all that. I told them nobody here is my cousin or anything. It's the production of the player and at the end of the day, that's the guy that was most productive."

Stoutland said he kept the rotation at left guard going until he was "100 percent sure" Wisniewski was the guy. That meant benching his longtime pupil dating back to Alabama. 

"Chance did nothing wrong," Stoutland said. "Chance was actually playing very good. At the end of the day, I just didn't feel like we could keep going on the way we were going."

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

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AP Images

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.

Eagles snap counts: Rasul Douglas odd man out of secondary against Cowboys

Eagles snap counts: Rasul Douglas odd man out of secondary against Cowboys

For the first time since he was inactive in Week 1, Rasul Douglas didn't play a single defensive snap Sunday night against the Cowboys. 

Despite playing well over the last couple months, as expected, Douglas was the odd man out after the return of Ronald Darby. The fewest snaps Douglas played in any of the last eight games was 18. He rode the bench for Sunday's 37-9 win at AT&T Stadium (see Roob's observations)

Darby was able to play all 63 snaps, likely thanks to working on conditioning all week (see story). Darby took his snaps at the right cornerback position, while Jalen Mills manned the left side and also played all 63. Patrick Robinson played 43 snaps (68 percent). 

When Robinson wasn't on the field, Joe Walker was the Eagles' MIKE in their base package. He played 20 snaps (32 percent). 

Malcolm Jenkins and Nigel Bradham also played all 63 defensive snaps for the Eagles' defense. 

Derek Barnett had a strong game with two sacks. He played 32 snaps, just two fewer than starter Vinny Curry. 

On offense, LeGarrette Blount led the running backs with 30 snaps, followed by Corey Clement (19), Jay Ajayi (13) and Kenjon Barner (2). Barner made the most of his snaps, grabbing a huge catch and running for a touchdown (see story)

Ajayi actually played fewer snaps this week than he did in his Eagles debut (17 against Denver). 

This was the first time since Week 2 that Carson Wentz and all of his linemen played every snap. On Sunday that meant 64. 

Offense
Brandon Brooks - 64 snaps (100 percent)
Halapoulivaati Vaitai - 64 (100)
Stefen Wisniewski - 64 (100)
Jason Kelce - 64 (100)
Brandon Brooks - 64 (100)
Lane Johnson - 64 (100)
Zach Ertz - 60 (94)
Alshon Jeffery - 47 (73)
Nelson Agholor - 47 (73)
Torrey Smith - 42 (66)
LeGarrette Blount - 30 (47)
Brent Celek - 23 (36)
Corey Clement - 19 (30)
Trey Burton - 13 (20)
Marcus Johnson - 13 (20)
Jay Ajayi - 13 (20)
Mack Hollins - 10 (16)
Kenjon Barner - 2 (3)
Isaac Seumalo - 1 (2)

Defense
Malcolm Jenkins - 63 snaps (100 percent)
Jalen Mills - 63 (100)
Ronald Darby - 63 (100)
Nigel Bradham - 63 (100)
Rodney McLeod - 60 (95)
Mychal Kendricks - 56 (89)
Fletcher Cox - 46 (73)
Brandon Graham - 44 (70)
Patrick Robinson - 43 (68)
Vinny Curry - 34 (54)
Derek Barnett - 32 (51) 
Chris Long - 31 (49)
Tim Jernigan - 30 (48)
Joe Walker - 20 (32)
Destiny Vaeao - 20 (32)
Beau Allen - 15 (24)
Corey Graham - 10 (16)