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Keeping Jalen Mills needs to be a high priority for Eagles | Early Birds

Mills and fellow cornerback Ronald Darby can become free agents after the season. Howie Roseman needs to make sure neither gets away.

Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills leaving the field after the Eagles win over Chicago on Nov. 3.
Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills leaving the field after the Eagles win over Chicago on Nov. 3.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Good morning, everyone. Well, the bright side of the Eagles’ 17-10 loss to the Patriots was the play of their defense, particularly their pass defense. But defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s unit is going to get an even bigger test this week when it faces Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. Wilson is first in the league in passer rating (114.9) and is 3-0 with a 104.9 rating in three starts against the Eagles. His mobility has given the Eagles fits in the past. He has thrown six touchdown passes and no interceptions in 99 career attempts against them. Schwartz will talk to reporters on Tuesday morning, along with offensive coordinator Mike Groh, and no doubt will reveal his entire game plan for shutting down Wilson. Not.

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Eagles can’t afford to let the Green Goblin get away

Jalen Mills played one of the best games of his career Sunday. Playing in just his fourth game since returning from a serious foot injury that had sidelined him since last October, the Eagles cornerback was targeted nine times by the Patriots’ Tom Brady.

He gave up just three completions for 11 yards. The highlight was a second-quarter pass breakup of a deep ball intended for wide receiver Julian Edelman.

Playing outside leverage on Edelman, he stayed with him through a double move, then turned, backpedaled and knocked the ball away just when it looked like the pass might sail over his fingertips and into Edelman’s arms.

Mills also did another nice job against the run, including a second-quarter stop on running back Rex Burkhead for no gain. Mills is one of the league’s better tackling corners.

Getting Mills and the Eagles’ other starting cornerback, Ronald Darby, back from injury has been a huge lift for the Eagles defense. They’ve held their last three opponents to a collective 51.4 completion percentage and 5.1 yards per attempt. Brady’s 67.3 passer rating was his second lowest of the season.

The Eagles also have held their last three opponents under 20 points. It’s the first time the Eagles have done that since the first three games of the 2016 season.

“The first thing he’s brought is his personality and the passion that he plays the game with,’’ defensive backs coach Cory Undlin said of Mills. “You miss that from him when he’s not out there. I think that’s had a lot to do with his success in his young career. Just having that out there is good for the whole unit

“He’d be the first to tell you that he hasn’t played without any flaws. But he’s out there fighting, and I like the way he’s trending. He’s coming.’’

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz loves Mills. Three weeks ago, he called Mills’ interception against the Cowboys in his first game back from injury “one of the best interceptions I’ve seen around here in four years.’’ He was moved to say that about a pick in a game the Eagles lost by 27 points.

Mills isn’t the fastest corner in the world. He ran a 4.61-second 40-yard dash before the draft, which was a big reason why the LSU product didn’t get taken until the seventh round. But his competitiveness, toughness, smarts and resiliency are off the charts.

Which brings us to his future.

Mills is one of about a dozen players on the Eagles’ roster who can become a free agent after the season. Darby is another.

Given that it’s starting to look like GM Howie Roseman and his former personnel chief, Joe Douglas, might’ve made a mistake on 2017 second-round pick Sidney Jones, re-signing Mills, and possibly Darby as well, figures to be a high priority.

Jones was a healthy scratch against the Bears in Week 9. He was active Sunday, but didn’t play at all on defense and played just three special-teams snaps.

“Nobody has given up on him,’’ Undlin insisted. “Right now, his role, with everybody coming back, his role is a backup. That’s what it is.’’

The Eagles are going to have a lot of offseason needs in free agency and the draft, starting with wide receiver and also including safety (Rodney McLeod is a free agent and Malcolm Jenkins is 31) and defensive line (Vinny Curry and Tim Jernigan are free agents, Brandon Graham is 31 and the jury still is very much out on Josh Sweat).

They don’t need to add cornerback to that list, particularly when the salary cap is about to take a big jump and they’ve already got two guys they know can get the job done.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. In his postgame What We Learned column, Jeff McLane says the playoffs still are very reachable for the 5-5 Eagles.

  2. Why did the Eagles lose to the Patriots? Here are my five biggest reasons.

  3. You always know where Marcus Hayes stands. And right now, it’s definitely not next to Carson Wentz, who he says is a season-killer.

  4. The Eagles are letting Camden and Pleasantville high schools finish their playoff game at the Linc, Phil Anastasia reports.

  5. Les Bowen wonders whether the weight of being the franchise quarterback is dragging Carson Wentz down.

  6. Bob Ford looks at the Eagles defense and considers whether it will become a bright spot for the team or if Sunday was just a flash in the pan.

From the mailbag

Why isn’t JJAW getting on the field more? He played only 19 snaps Sunday but had two catches (one nullified by a Jason Peters penalty). Jordan Matthews played 64 snaps and had one catch (for six yards). What gives? — @BenPiggot via Twitter

When Alshon Jeffery was healthy, or as close to it as he’s been since his Week 2 calf injury, Doug Pederson’s explanation was that J.J. Arcega-Whiteside basically played the same position as Jeffery. Wide receivers coach Carson Walch said last week that JJAW "is in a good place right now'' and "feels good about where he’s at in the offense.'' Then, with Jeffery sidelined with an ankle injury Sunday, he still played only 19 snaps, while Matthews, signed last week, played, as you pointed out, 64. Makes no sense to me, but then neither does their refusal to give practice-squadder Greg Ward Jr. a shot given the lack of production from the wide receiver corps.

Figuring the Eagles

I’m not sure what the NFL record is for consecutive snaps by a wide receiver without a catch, but Mack Hollins surely has to be closing in on it. He has played 198 snaps in the last six games, including 13 Sunday against the Patriots, without a catch. He has been targeted just five times in those six games.