Jalen Mills caps strong season opener with first interception

AP Images

Jalen Mills caps strong season opener with first interception

LANDOVER, Md. — For all the bravado, for all the swagger, for all the finger wagging, there was still something missing for Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills.

He entered his second NFL season without an interception.

It finally came at a pretty good time on Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field in the Eagles' 30-17 win over Washington.

"Very good timing," Mills agreed, nodding his green-haired head.  

"What a big play when we needed it," head coach Doug Pederson said.

Washington was driving down the field early in the fourth quarter and was already well into field-goal range down 19-17. But Kirk Cousins felt the pressure up the gut from a Jordan Hicks blitz and lofted a pass over the head of intended receiver Jamison Crowder.

Mills was at the goal line waiting for it.

After the game, Mills said he was confident he was going to pull in the pick.

"I knew the offense needed that, I knew the team needed that," said Mills, who was plugged in as a starter since the first practice in the spring. "And as a whole, as a defense, in the red zone, you want to be the firemen to put the fire out and give the ball back to the offense."

After Mills caught the errant pass from Cousins, he took off, returning the ball to the Eagles' 15-yard line.

But he had even more in mind.

"Man, I'm not even going to lie to you," Mills said, "once I caught that ball, I was just trying to get to the end zone."

While the interception was obviously the biggest play of the day for Mills, he had a good game before then, too (see Roob's 10 observations). Mills had two pass breakups, nine combined tackles and went toe to toe with Terrelle Pryor for much of the afternoon. Early in the game, it sure seemed like Cousins wanted to test Mills. And Mills passed. Sure, he gave up some catches, but he kept everything in front of him and minimized the damage.

In the second quarter, the Eagles lost Ronald Darby to a nasty-looking right ankle injury. And just like that, the Eagles lost their top cornerback. Once again, Mills is the Eagles' top dog.

It won't be easy to play without Darby for however long he's out, but the Eagles are confident they'll be able to survive. A big reason for that is because of how much confidence the team has in Mills. While the Eagles lost Darby, they didn't change anything about their game plan or personnel. The only difference is that Mills is now their top option at corner.

Many of his teammates expected the 2016 seventh-round pick to make a big jump in Year 2. So far, so good for Mills.

"I thought he had a good day," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Obviously with the interception, but before that, just his ability to challenge routes, understand scheme. He's a lot more comfortable over there. We're not looking to him, we're not leaning towards him. It's a level of comfort, even as a safety, to not have to worry about what's going on on his side of the field. Obviously had a big day for us. And he'll continue to have a big role for us this year."

How Eagles could shut down Vikings' receiving duo

USA Today Images

How Eagles could shut down Vikings' receiving duo

When you think about the best wide receivers in the NFL today, names like Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and DeAndre Hopkins come to mind and rightfully so, but the Minnesota Vikings have a pair of wideouts who have given opposing secondaries fits.

This season, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have been the perfect complement to each other. Thielen finished the regular season with 91 receptions (eighth-best in the league), 1276 yards (fifth-best) and his 20 catches for 20 or more yards tied for fifth-best overall. As for Diggs, he finished with 64 receptions for 849 yards.

Together, Thielen and Diggs accounted for 54 percent of the Vikings' receiving yards this season. They also combined for 12 touchdowns. In the Vikes' miraculous playoff win over the New Orleans Saints, they accounted for 66 percent of the passing game. They have been the safety valves for Case Keenum all season long.

Minnesota offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has the rare luxury of lining up either one of them on the inside or outside on any given play. Both are excellent route runners — whether it's doing deep or intermediate routes or crossing routes, and both are excellent blockers.

So how should Jim Schwartz defend against these two? Some believe help over the top on Thielen and playing single coverage on Diggs is the way to go. We may see that concept occasionally in the NFC Championship Game but I have a feeling Schwartz will come up with some variation we have not seen before. The Eagles are not going to completely shut these two down, but their damage can be minimized. Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson and the other DBs will put in a full day’s work shadowing these two.

Howie Roseman honored for his tremendous offseason

AP Images

Howie Roseman honored for his tremendous offseason

As the Eagles practiced on Thursday afternoon, just a few days before hosting the NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field, vice president of football operations Howie Roseman stood next to owner Jeff Lurie and watched the team he created. 

Of the 53 members on the Eagles' roster heading into this championship game, 25 weren't on the active roster last season. Roseman had a very busy offseason, molding the Eagles into a Super Bowl contender. 

For his efforts, the 42-year-old Roseman, who began with the Eagles as an intern in 2000, has been named the NFL Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America. 

Roseman helped turn over a roster that went 7-9 last season into a team that went 13-3, earning the first-overall seed in the NFC. He built the team with enough depth to survive major injuries to Carson Wentz, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks, Chris Maragos and Caleb Sturgis. 

Never afraid to make a trade, Roseman came back from his time away from football operations more aggressive than ever. He claims his year away from GM duties while Chip Kelly took over was both humbling and eye-opening. 

For this season, Roseman traded 25 spots in the third round to bring in veteran defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, traded away Jordan Matthews and a pick to bring in cornerback Ronald Darby and pulled the trigger on a midseason move to bring in Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi. 

In free agency, he signed Alshon Jeffery, Chris Long, LeGarrette Blount, Nick Foles, Patrick Robinson and Chance Warmack. He brought in several of those players on one-year prove-it deals, and for the most part, the team has gotten more than their money's worth out of them. 

He also helped hire VP of player personnel Joe Douglas to revamp the scouting department. That hire of a top personnel man was one of the conditions when Lurie reinstated Roseman to power following Kelly's dismissal. 

Roseman and Douglas spearheaded drafting a class that included Derek Barnett in the first round, an injured Sidney Jones in the second and some other contributors in the next five rounds. 

Aside from just bringing players in, Roseman has been able to manipulate the salary cap better than anyone in the league. It's been a strength of his since his arrival in Philly, so that should be no surprise. 

You could actually argue that Roseman's 2016 was more impressive. That's when he laid the groundwork for this playoff season by moving up and drafting Carson Wentz. But 2017 is when it all came together.