Jalen Mills high on confidence after pick-6

Jalen Mills high on confidence after pick-6

Jalen Mills was about to step out of bounds when somewhere in the back of his mind he heard … voices.
"Malcolm (Jenkins), coach (Jim) Schwartz and coach (Cory) Undlin, they’ve been grilling me all week, talking about how I had no return skills," Mills said with a laugh. "So that kind of went through my mind."
Mills did pick up his first two career interceptions earlier this year and had a 15-yard return against the Redskins and a one-yarder against the Giants.
At LSU, Mills had six interceptions and averaged only two yards per return.
And his teammates and coaches have been good-naturedly mocking him about it. As teammates and coaches will do.
"So that kind of went through my mind," Mills said. "So I cut it back, and I had to get in the end zone or I wouldn’t stop hearing the end of it. I had to shut them up."
Instead of stepping out of bounds, Mills cut inside and spun and twisted his way into the end zone Sunday for a 37-yard interception return touchdown at a time when the Eagles really needed a big play in their 33-10 win over the 49ers (see breakdown).
They led the winless 49ers 10-3 but were sputtering in the final minutes of the first half. Until Mills showed off his dazzling return skills.
"That was a good one," Jenkins said. "He shut me up on that play.
"We've been doing a decent job of getting turnovers, but scoring on those opportunities is something we wanted to take the next step to, and Jalen's been playing big for us all year, and that was probably the biggest play of all."
Working on a 3rd-and-7 on the 49ers' 28-yard line with a minute and a half left before halftime, 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard dropped back, felt pressure from Chris Long and tried to lob the ball to Pierre Garcon near the right sideline.
But Mills picked it off in front of Garcon at the 37-yard-line, then started speeding down the sideline (see Roob's observations).
Just as it looked like he was about to go out of bounds at the 12, he cut inside, swung back to the 15-yard line, darted past Fletcher Cox, who had just leveled Joe Staley and knocked him out of the game, then cut back inside at the 4-yard line and with blocks from Dexter McDougle and Jaylen Watkins, he galloped past three 49ers and into the end zone.
It was the Eagles' first pick-six this year and longest by an Eagles cornerback since Brandon Boykin's 54-yarder off Jay Cutler in 2013.
"As soon as I got a pick, Malcolm grabbed me, so I knew I was over him," Mills said. "Then I ran right to Schwartz, and he gave me a big hug, and then Cory gave me a big hug."
Mills' interception was the product of a week of preparation but also some game-day preparation.
“I was talking to some of the other DBs, like Malcolm and Pat (Robinson) and Rodney (McLeod), when we were out there in pregame just warming up and watching the quarterback, seeing the rain and the wind," Mills said.
"He was kind of letting the ball float a little bit and you see a lot of guys slipping out there, so knowing the ball was floating a little bit, just kind of trusting my break and taking an extra step just so I could get a clean break on it, and he threw the ball, it was floating a little bit and I got underneath it."
Mills has three interceptions this year and all three have come on third down. He's the only NFL player with three third-down interceptions this year.
Overall, he ranks third in the NFL in INTs, behind only Buffalo's Micah Hyde (five) and Tennessee's Kevin Byard (four).
Sunday's INT was his first ever at home.
“Finally got it," he said. "Great feeling, man. I really can’t even explain it. Seeing the crowd going crazy, my teammates jumping on me, I really couldn’t celebrate because I was getting pulled down. I really can’t even explain that feeling."
Mills is only the fourth player the Eagles have drafted in the seventh round or later with three or more interceptions in a season in the last 25 years. The others are Mark McMillian in 1995 and Kurt Coleman and Jamar Chaney in 2011.
And he's got half a season to go.
"Somebody asked me before the season who was going to have a breakout season this year and I said Mills," McLeod said.
"Just his approach in the offseason, how he worked, the things that he fixed from last year, from film study to his technique, and you just see it all unfolding.
"He’s playing with a lot of confidence, and once you have that in this league as a cornerback, the sky’s the limit, and you just see his confidence growing every single week, and as a cornerback that’s something you want to have, and he’s got it right now."

Why Eagles' play in trenches is behind 8-game win streak

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Why Eagles' play in trenches is behind 8-game win streak

The strength of the Eagles is built on fundamental, sound pay on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Yes, the play of Carson Wentz is the biggest reason the Birds are 9-1, but the play of the defensive line and offensive line are also major factors.

There was no question coming into the season that the DL would pull its weight. I doubt if knowledgeable football minds could argue against the D-line being ranked the No. 1 unit in the NFL.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz centered his defense around the play of his D-line's ability to generate constant pressure on opposing offenses, whether that's in the run game — the Eagles are the NFL's best run defense — or creating havoc on quarterbacks in the pocket. The defensive line has allowed the young secondary to catch up and perform well above expectations, and then Ronald Darby returned Sunday in Dallas (see story).

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles' offensive line has also become a top-five unit in the NFL, and that's without future Hall of Famer Jason Peters. I know Carson Wentz wouldn't argue that.

In Sunday's 37-9 win over the Cowboys, the Eagles' O-line, against a pass rush with featuring a stout defensive front that includes NFL sack leader DeMarcus Lawerence (11 1/2), didn't allow a sack. A lot of credit goes to Lane Johnson for his work on Lawrence.

With no real individual leader to hold this Eagles' offense's hat on, it's a total team effort in which the Eagles go about their about their business. This is just a shining example of why this O-line is so good and underrated. At 9-1, there has not been a wide receiver over 100 yards in a game. If my memory serves me right, the Birds have had a 100-yard rusher twice, both by LeGarrette Blount. So, even with the absence of the all-world Peters, I am secure in rating the Eagles' OL as the No. 1 unit in the NFL.

Fundamentally speaking, football is won in the trenches. I was privileged to be a part of a Super Bowl team with the same formula the Eagles are using to win eight straight games: A young franchise QB (Ben Roethlisberger), a really good defense and a very good O-line.

The Eagles are just scratching the surface with their potential. Like these young players — guys like Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Derek Barnett — develop in the trenches, the sky's the limit for the core of this team.

Doug Pederson uncertain on Eagles' kickers heading into game vs. Bears

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Doug Pederson uncertain on Eagles' kickers heading into game vs. Bears

One kicker is getting better. One kicker just got hurt. One kicker isn’t even a kicker at all. Who’s going to kick Sunday? Maybe Caleb Sturgis, maybe Jake Elliott, maybe someone else. Definitely not Kamu Grungier-Hill. 
Does that clear everything up?
Head coach Doug Pederson revealed Monday that Elliott, the rocket-legged rookie, will be the Eagles’ placekicker long-term moving forward, but he also said he doesn’t know whether Elliott — who suffered a concussion Sunday night during the win in Dallas — will be available for this Sunday’s game at home against the Bears.
"We haven't made any decisions yet," Pederson said. "We still have a couple days before we have to make a decision."
Elliott replaced Sturgis, who suffered a quad strain in the opener against the Redskins and has been on injured reserve since. 
Ideally, the Eagles want Elliott to be cleared through the NFL’s concussion protocol and be able to kick Sunday so they can keep Sturgis on IR. 

If Elliott isn’t ready, they could activate Sturgis, who Pederson said is "close," but that would mean they would have to clear a spot on the 53-man roster for a guy who they don’t plan on keeping long-term. 
"He's continuing to rehab, he's begun a kicking regimen," Pederson said. "He's getting himself back to where he was prior to the injury. He's close. He's close."
If neither Elliott nor Sturgis is able to go, the Eagles could add a third kicker for a week or two, although that would also require keeping two kickers on the 53 (and another on IR).
"Again, you're talking about roster spots and making moves and things of that nature," he said. "We're not there yet. We'll continue these discussions the next couple days."
Most importantly, Pederson said despite Sturgis’ excellent track record since joining the Eagles, Elliott will be the team’s kicker once everybody is healthy. 
"I think so," Pederson said. "If he's healthy and he can play. You hate to disrupt that right now. I'd have to say yes to that one."
Sturgis is scheduled to be a free agent after the season. Elliott is under contract through 2018, and the Eagles control his rights through 2019.
Elliott, whom the Eagles signed off the Bengals’ practice squad in September, is 17 for 21 this year. He missed from 34 yards against the Cowboys Sunday night, although that miss came after he apparently suffered the concussion. 

Pederson said the concussion symptoms weren't discovered until after Elliott had attempted the field goal.
Elliott has made five of six attempts from 50 yards and out, including the franchise-record, game-winning 61-yarder against the Giants.
Sturgis is 7 for 11 as an Eagle from 50 yards and out. Including his years with the Dolphins, he's an 81.0 percent kicker, although with the Eagles he's made 84.8 percent of his field goal attempts — third-best in franchise history behind Cody Parkey (87.5 percent) and Alex Henery (86.0 percent).
"I think moving forward, as we continue to evaluate this week, we'll find out more in the next couple days with Jake, and I don't want to put myself in a box, but we'll keep all the options open," Pederson said.
"It kind of goes back to the same old thing. We still have a couple days here today and tomorrow to evaluate Jake and see where everybody's at. There's still a little while before we play Sunday."
There's one other option.

No, not letting Grugier-Hill kick. Going for two all the time.
Pederson — who's 9 for 12 as Eagles head coach on two-point conversion attempts — admitted he's thought about it.
"Yeah, I have," he said. "You always go into a game with a few (plays) in your pocket. You never expect that situation again like we had last night. But, yeah, you look at the numbers. If you're around 94, 95 percent on the extra point from the 15-yard line, your conversion rate should be in that 47, 48, 49 percent on a two-point conversion. So we look at all of that.
"We keep a couple extra plus-five red zone plays in our pocket for that situation. It just worked out, I think 3 for 4 last night. It's something we'll look at going forward."