Jalen Mills doesn't lack confidence. That's for sure.
The green-haired, finger-wagging cornerback is as confident against the worst third-string receiver in the league as he is against a guy like Julio Jones, whom he'll see this weekend. That confidence never wavers.
But there is one thing that changes when he's on Jones.
"You've gotta think the ball is coming to him each and every play," Mills said on Monday. "Every time you get in front of him, you've gotta think, 'This guy is getting the ball,' whether they're having a run or a pass play. You've just got to think the ball is coming to him."
Last year as a rookie, Mills got a chance to line up against the 6-foot-4, 220-pound All-Pro receiver. In that game last November, Jones caught 10 passes for 135 yards, but the Eagles still beat the Falcons, 24-15.
When Jones was lined up against Mills, he caught four passes on six targets, for 48 yards, according to ProFootballFocus. Jones got some yards, but Mills was able to prevent big plays. And that game against Jones and the Falcons seemed like a big moment in the young cornerback's career.
"Our confidence in Jalen started in OTAs and rookie camp and training camp, just seeing how competitive he was and knowing that there weren't situations that were too big," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "And when you had a marquee receiver and marquee team come here to Philly last year, he was ready for that challenge."
When asked what he learned about Jones from that first meeting against him, Mills said he learned just how dangerous Jones is with the ball in his hands. While everyone seems to respect his playmaking ability down the field, Mills said Jones is just as dangerous when the Falcons get the ball in his hands quickly. It'll be up to Mills and the other corners — the Eagles' corners are generally good tacklers — to take him down. He also mentioned that Jones can run good routes, especially for his size. He's not a one-trick pony.
As of Monday, Mills wasn't sure how Schwartz would game plan for the Falcons this time around. They could use Ronald Darby and move him around to stay on Jones, but that seems unlikely. They'll probably keep Mills on his side and Darby on his, and let them face Jones no matter where he lines up.
It's not just Jones, though. The Falcons also have a former MVP at quarterback, a solid No. 2 receiver and two dynamic running backs. The Eagles have to worry about Jones, but he's just a big piece of the tricky puzzle.
"I think here's the point: The point is to try to win the game," Schwartz said. "I think that we have to keep our eye on that. If Julio Jones has 350 yards receiving and we win the game, that's what it took to win the game. If he has 10 yards receiving for the game-winning touchdown, then that wasn't enough."
Mills is looking forward to facing the challenge of Jones and the entire Falcons offense, which gained the eighth-most yards from scrimmage in the NFL this season.
Saturday will be the first playoff game of Mills' young career. And because of the first-round bye, he's been waiting a long time for it to get here.
"It's like an itch right now that you can't scratch," Mills said. "Of course, it's a long week and you want the game to be here right now but at the same time, you have to go through your progressions, go through the film and the playbook. I think once the [game] comes, everybody's going to be ready."