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Is Jalen Mills the Eagles’ best cornerback? | Early Birds

With the struggles at cornerback, Mills’ return has been welcome news for the team.

Cornerback Jalen Mills walks off the field after the Eagles lost to the the Dallas Cowboys, 37-10, on Sunday in Arlington, Texas.
Cornerback Jalen Mills walks off the field after the Eagles lost to the the Dallas Cowboys, 37-10, on Sunday in Arlington, Texas.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Good morning, Eagles fans. It’s been a rough two weeks for your Birds, but they can end the first half of the season at 4-4 and stay in the NFC East race with a win at 5-1 Buffalo on Sunday. The Bills are only 1½-point favorites, which tells you a little about how Vegas feels about their start. Their five victories have come against teams with losing marks and a combined record of 6-27.

Buffalo’s lone loss was at home against the 7-0 Patriots. As unimpressive as their strength of schedule has been, the Bills have only allowed 15.2 points a game and just 16 to New England. Buffalo coach and former Eagles assistant Sean McDermott knows at least one thing, and that’s defense.

The Eagles returned to work Tuesday after Sunday’s drubbing by the Cowboys and had to relive the experience, this time by watching film of their substandard performance. Wednesday will bring about their first practice of the week. It’ll be interesting to see which injured players are back on the field and how much closer they are to returning.

There is still uncertainty about receiver DeSean Jackson (abdomen), tackle Jason Peters (knee), linebacker Nigel Bradham (ankle), defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (foot), cornerback Avonte Maddox (concussion/neck), and running back Darren Sproles (quadriceps). If there was a silver lining in Dallas, it was that the Eagles came out relatively healthy. Defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway (ankle) was the only player who got hurt who is expected to miss time.

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Jalen Mills returns and plays — like Jalen Mills

After nearly a year, Jalen Mills returned to playing football, and despite the long layoff, the Eagles cornerback didn’t look as rusty as he could have. In fact, he might have had the best performance of anyone at his position on the team this season, which might not be saying much, but it’s something.

Mills was targeted eight times in the 37-10 loss to the Cowboys, and he allowed six catches for 74 yards. But he mostly kept Dallas receivers in front, and the one time he got beat over the top, quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Amari Cooper hooked up on a nearly indefensible 28-yard fade.

“He was able to get on the practice field last week and be able to go, but there are going to be some inconsistencies there,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Tuesday. “I think you can see that in his play.”

If Mills struggled in one area, it was against the run. He missed a couple of tackles and wasn’t as stout on the perimeter, but that should come as he gets his sea legs. The fourth-year corner suffered a foot injury last October, had surgery in January, and was often outta sight, outta mind at the NovaCare Complex.

Few knew what to expect once he finally came back. But with the struggles at the position this season with Ronald Darby, Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones, Mills’ return was welcome news for the team. Jones was benched to make way for his replacement, which says as much about the former second-round draft pick as anything.

Mills’ ability to have a short memory and stay confident is something Jones has yet to master.

“I do think that will serve us well, that kind of competitiveness, and that sort of never-say-die attitude,” Schwartz said. “I think Jalen is a great example of that. It was great to have his energy out there. He was great on the sideline and competitive. He gave up some plays, but all corners do.”

But Mills made plays, as well. The Eagles turned the ball over early in the fourth quarter when Carson Wentz threw an interception. The Cowboys led, 30-10, but there was still plenty of time left. On their ensuing possession, they went for the jugular and threw to Tavon Austin in the end zone.

“They tried to ice the game right away,” Schwartz said. “Three-score game with 10 minutes to play is still a game. They took a shot at the end zone and [Mills] made a great interception, one of the best interceptions I’ve seen around here in four years.”

Schwartz’s affinity for Mills is obvious. The coordinator played him as a rookie, started him in his sophomore season, and won a Super Bowl with him on the outside. Mills has liabilities. He doesn’t have the best long speed and can often get fooled on double moves. But he has solid technique, keeps the ball in front, and has the necessary confidence to play one of the NFL’s tougher positions.

Mills becomes a free agent in the offseason. He might be worth keeping, even though Jones and Douglas will still have a year left on their rookie contracts.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. From Les Bowen: Jim Schwartz and the Eagles’ defense scramble for solutions, as points and losses pile up.

  2. Eagles’ Nelson Agholor explains his missed deep ball against Cowboys, but acknowledges ‘no one cares,’ writes E.J. Smith.

  3. Les has more: Eagles’ Mack Hollins can’t seem to catch on as a weapon in the passing game.

  4. My What We Learned, after the Cowboys pasted the Eagles, asked whether Doug Pederson’s coordinators are the problem.

  5. From the venerable Bob Ford: Eagles down, but not out … yet.

  6. Mike Sielski has some good news for Eagles fans: There are only a few problems with their favorite team. The bad news, though, is that all of those problems are huge.

From the mailbag

If you would have to bet on Howie Roseman’s actions during the next seven days, would you say he will be a buyer, seller, or is standing pat? If he buys, which position will he go for? I’m more interested in what would he do than what would you do if you were Howie. — Hulkeinstein @Hulkeinstein14 via Twitter

Hulk — I hope it’s OK if I call you Hulk — that’s a question on the tips of many tongues in Philadelphia. If I would bet, I’d say Roseman trades for a player if the Eagles win Sunday to move to 4-4. And, if they lose, he stands pat, because I’m not really sure there’s an expendable player on the roster that teams would be lining up to acquire before Tuesday’s deadline.

If he’s buying, cornerback seems like the most obvious position to address. But Jalen Mills’ return and the eventual return of Ronald Darby could placate Roseman. I know that wouldn’t satisfy fans, but I’d be hesitant to trade for a rental, although they could recoup a comp pick if, say, the Broncos’ Chris Harris were to walk in the offseason.

Receiver would be the next likely position, but the pool of available receivers could be shallow after Mohamed Sanu and Emmanuel Sanders were traded this week. DeSean Jackson could be back in the lineup soon, and I don’t know if you want to bring in a young guy with so much already invested in rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.

If Roseman’s selling, I’m sure he’d be OK with parting with someone like receiver Nelson Agholor, whose contract expires this offseason. He might have some worth on the market. Cornerback Sidney Jones could be made available. A change of scenery might benefit the 23-year old. The Eagles might also be compelled to move a veteran to make a statement to the locker room — if they lose at the Bills — that no one is safe (except Carson Wentz, of course).

NFL deadline trades used to be virtually unheard of. Roseman has long been one of the few general managers to be aggressive in the trade market. And there’s been a reason why: He usually gets good value. But the price was set high at cornerback with Jalen Ramsey’s trade to the Rams and at receiver with Sanu and Sanders.

It’s a seller’s market, which could make it hard to get a deal done.