Eagles

Coaching, Eagles' secondary receive failing grades in embarrassing loss to Cowboys

Coaching, Eagles' secondary receive failing grades in embarrassing loss to Cowboys

After a loss like the Eagles just endured — 37-10 to the NFC East rival Cowboys, dropping the team back below .500 — we could just as easily give the whole team an F or unsatisfactory for a grade.

There will be no polishing this turd, no individual performance or moment to point to as a silver lining. It was a total catastrophe.

On to the report card. And these guys better get their parents sign these things, because it’s bad.

Quarterback

Carson Wentz: 16/26, 191 YDS, TD, INT

Typically one of two players you can point to as having a good game — the other, punter Cameron Johnston — this wasn’t Wentz’s best. Granted, he was under a ton of pressure, and the Eagles were down 20 when Doug Pederson decided to start throwing the ball. Regardless, Wentz wasn’t seeing the field well. He didn’t see open receivers and failed to diagnose blitzes, and late in the game, he got reckless with his decision making, too. He was far from the biggest issue here, but certainly not his best work either.

Grade: C-

Running backs

Jordan Howard: 11 ATT, 50 YDS, 2 REC, 6 YDS

Howard ran the ball fine, even effectively, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Miles Sanders continues to flash the instincts of a rookie, most notably on a 3rd-and-4 carry in which he appeared to be looking straight into a crease to a first down, but instead danced his way to a three-yard gain and a punt. Six carries (for 21 yards) were arguably too many.

Grade: C

Wide receivers and tight ends

Dallas Goedert: 4 REC, 69 YDS, TD

While Goedert finally showed value as a receiver, he got the ball rolling in the wrong direction with his fumble on the Eagles’ opening possession. No one else recorded more than two receptions for 38 yards, Mack Hollins had zero catches, and while it was hard to tell, it sure looked like Nelson Agholor (two catches, 24 yards) could’ve at least extended for an overthrown pass in the fourth quarter. Doesn’t seem like these guys are getting open all that much.

Grade: D

Offensive line

So afraid of the Cowboys’ pass rush, the Eagles ran the ball 18 times to 19 dropbacks through three quarters while trailing almost the entire time and by as much as 20. Given the pressure on the quarterback — three sacks and a fumble — you can almost understand why. It was Andre Dillard’s first start, so some struggles were to be expected, but Lane Johnson was getting wrecked, too.

Grade: C-

Defensive line

Derek Barnett: 2 TKL, TFL, SK

It’s no coincidence the two drives the defensive line got the quarterback on the ground for sacks were the only drives the defense actually stopped. And in addition to a generally ineffective pass rush — three quarterback hits in 31 dropbacks — Cowboys ball carriers got to the second level much too easily, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

Grade: D

Linebackers

Nathan Gerry: 11 TKL

Gerry made it so Zach Brown and even Nigel Bradham version 2019 weren’t really missed, which isn’t saying a lot. But of the unit’s 17 total tackles, there were few true impact plays, and nothing remotely like a tackle for loss, sack, interception or so much as a pass breakup. What there were, though, were plenty of missed tackles. Of course, that goes for all three phases.

Grade: C-

Secondary

Jalen Mills

Lack of pass rush does them no favors, but a 77.8 completion percentage and 8.9 yards per pass attempt are big numbers. Mills’ late interception is the only time an Eagles defensive back even got their hands on a pass. When Malcolm Jenkins is out there getting trucked by running backs or blowing his assignments (last week), you know all is lost.

Grade: F

Special teams

Jake Elliott: 1/1 FG, 1/1 XP

Penalties by Kamu Grugier-Hill (holding) and Rudy Ford (block in the back) caused two Eagles possessions to start inside their own 15-yard line. Miles Sanders choosing to run a kickoff out of the end zone pinned the offense deep a third time. The average starting field position for the night was the 19. You’re not going to win a lot of games like that.

Grade: D

Coaching

Eagles’ record: 3-4

When people say Pederson should run the ball more, they don’t mean while the Eagles are down 20. And it’s no wonder Jim Schwartz doesn’t like blitzing, because he sure doesn’t seem to know when to call one or how to scheme anybody free. Special teams are bad. This team constantly has the wrong number of players on the field in all three phases. They weren’t ready to play, and Pederson’s talking trash and putting a target on their backs didn’t help.

You can only hope this is like the Saints game in 2018 and becomes the low point of the season from which the Eagles bounce back.

Grade: F

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Jalen Mills, the man who saved the Eagles' secondary

Jalen Mills, the man who saved the Eagles' secondary

It’s no coincidence the Eagles’ defense has suddenly started playing light years better the last few weeks.

That’s when Jalen Mills showed up.

For some reason a large segment of the Eagles' fan base has decided Mills isn’t any good.

Maybe because he was a seventh-round pick. Maybe because he doesn't have typical NFL cornerback wheels. Maybe it's the green hair.

But if you forget your assumptions and actually watch him play, you see a tough, physical, smart, fundamentally sound cornerback who has helped transform the Eagles’ defense from a disaster the first month and a half into the season into a legit unit today.

Mills came back for the Cowboys game and Ronald Darby a week later for the Bills game. Along with safeties Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins and slot corner Avonte Maddox, it's the first time the Eagles have had their full projected starting secondary together since Week 3 of last year.

Jalen is playing at a high level all across the field,”defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “He's tackling well, he's covering well. He's up to the challenge of covering guys, and he brings us a lot of spirit and a lot of competitiveness and toughness. I think you've seen the level of defensive play increase since he's been back. He's always been a respected member of our defense and a guy that the coaches and players both have a lot of confidence in. He was down for a while. He worked really hard to get back, and I think all that hard work is paying off for him. I'm really proud of him.

The Eagles are 22-8 over the last three years when Mills starts and 15-6 when both Darby and Mills start.

Mills missed over a year with a foot injury. Darby missed the stretch run last year with a torn ACL and then four games this year with a hamstring injury.

Let’s take a look at the Eagles this year with and without Mills. The difference is astonishing:

Passing yards allowed

Before Mills: 280 per game (27th)
With Mills: 174 per game (3rd)

Opposing completion percentage

Before Mills: 64.3 percent (14th)
With Mills: 56.9 percent (3rd)

Opposing passer rating

Before Mills: 94.5 (20th)
With Mills: 81.1 (11th)

Opposing TD passes

Before Mills: 13 (27th)
With Mills: 4 (6th)

Opposing net yards

Before Mills: 353 per game (15th)
With Mills: 174 per game (3rd)

Obviously there are other factors. But after missing 16 games, Mills has picked up right where he left off.

“I feel good,” Mills said. “I’m running round, playing a lot of different positions for sure, more this year than I did in my previous years.”

Mills has gotten some work in the slot over the past few weeks, something he did at LSU but hasn’t done here since his rookie year in 2016.

At the end of the day I pride myself on being a defensive back, I don’t pride myself on just being an [outside] corner,” he said. “Whatever the game plan is, Schwartz needs me to play on the outside, inside, weak side, strong side, it doesn’t matter, I feel like I can do it.

With Mills and Darby holding it down at corner as opposed to Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas and all the others who've come and gone, Schwartz is able to call a much more aggressive game. You can’t blitz if you don’t trust your corners.

Finally, Schwartz does.

“It never hurts to have your guys back in there,” Schwartz said. “It does give you a little bit more flexibility and be able to match up different ways."

You saw that Sunday, when the Eagles harassed Tom Brady throughout the afternoon. The Eagles lost, but the defense held Brady to a pedestrian 67.3 passer rating, just 216 yards and no TD passes.

It was only the fifth time in 172 games over the last 10 years Brady has had a passer rating under 70, fewer than 220 yards and no TD passes.

You think that’s happening without Mills?  

The most remarkable thing is that Mills literally did not play football from Oct. 28, 2018, until Oct. 20, 2019.

As soon as he got back, he was back to his old self.

Jalen has never checked out, so you could say, ‘Yeah, it's surprising because it's a tough thing to do,’ but I also recognize all the work that he's put into it, and it hasn't just been sit around for a year waiting for it to come back," Schwartz said. "He's been actively engaged in every one of our meetings and every one of our game plans. Even if he wasn't playing, he sits right over there and he's into the game taking notes like if he was playing. And that's paid off for him. We've had other players, not just Jalen, injured players, but we've had guys on the practice squad that have been that way, and generally the guys that succeed are the guys that stay ready so they don't have to get ready, and Jalen certainly personifies that.

Things don’t get any easier Sunday when Russell Wilson and the mighty Seahawks come to the Linc.

But with Mills and Darby back there, at least the Eagles will have a chance. Without them? They would have none.

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Jay Ajayi eager to show rest of NFL that JayTrain still has it

Jay Ajayi eager to show rest of NFL that JayTrain still has it

During the first half of the 2019 season, Jay Ajayi spent his Sundays in Southern California, keeping his mind occupied.

As the NFL’s slate of games kicked off every Sunday afternoon, Ajayi would train.

“To be honest,” Ajayi said on Tuesday, “I really didn’t try to watch too much football because I knew just my competitiveness, I knew it would kind of get me upset that I wasn’t playing yet.”

While he didn’t play against the Patriots on Sunday, just two days after signing back with the Eagles, Ajayi’s schedule is now full for most of the remaining Sundays in the 2019 NFL season.

And after an ACL tear ended his 2018 contract year early, Ajayi is looking forward to showing the rest of the NFL that the JayTrain still has it.

Ajayi, 26, on Tuesday confirmed that his contract with the Eagles includes a “right of first refusal,” which could potentially keep him in Philadelphia past the 2019 season. But the former Pro Bowler on Tuesday claimed that, for now, he is just trying to worry about showcasing his talent for at least the next six games.

“I think it’s just an exciting prospect for me to just get back onto the field,” Ajayi said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve played football, in my mind, so I’m just excited to get back out there and just showcase who I am and what the JayTrain can do.”

That’s right … Ajayi pulled into the station with a third person reference to his nickname before getting on the practice field. But that’s a good sign; Ajayi has always been a confident player and it seems like that confidence is back.

Ajayi tore his ACL on Oct. 7, 2018, ending his contract season prematurely and ruining any hope he might have had about finally signing a significant deal as a free agent. Because Ajayi was a fifth-round pick and because of his long-term knee issues, it seems unlikely he’ll ever really cash in as an NFL player.

On Tuesday afternoon, Ajayi said he didn’t know how many more years he wants to play football.

“I just take it every day at a time,” he said. “Not really looking too far into the future. I just count my blessings every time I step on the field.”

After the injury last year, Ajayi began the long process of rehabbing. He did his rehab in El Segundo, California, and wasn’t cleared until late August or early September. And he didn’t really start to feel like himself again in October, which is when he began to prepare for re-entry into the NFL.

Ajayi got a call from his agent last Thursday, the day after Darren Sproles suffered a season-ending injury, telling Ajayi to get to Philly for a workout. He worked out and took a physical on Friday before signing a contract. He said he would have been able to play on Sunday, but it was a coach’s decision to not get him on the field.

That should change this Sunday in South Philly against the Seahawks. His role will likely depend on the health of Jordan Howard.  

But either way, he won’t have to avoid football on Sundays anymore. He’s back and Ajayi has six games to prove he’s still got it.

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