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Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills will stay aggressive despite rare mistakes

He quickly shook off giving up that long touchdown pass against Oakland and was effective the rest of Monday's game.

Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills, “the Green Goblin,” is hard to miss, on or off the field. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills, “the Green Goblin,” is hard to miss, on or off the field. YONG KIM / Staff PhotographerRead moreYong Kim

Jalen Mills is among the most noticeable Eagles. Off the field, there is that lime-green hair, which he dyed in 2016 as a tribute to the franchise that drafted him and has maintained ever since. On the field, there is the fact that Mills plays cornerback, the game's most unforgiving position.

Monday night against the Raiders, everyone shivering in the seats at Lincoln Financial Field and everyone watching on TV saw Mills fall for a slant-and-go move from Amari Cooper, saw him bite on Oakland quarterback Derek Carr's pump fake, setting up a 63-yard touchdown pass. It was the only touchdown Oakland scored in a 19-10 Eagles victory, but it was the kind no one forgets.

"Play smart. Play with good technique, and I think if you do those things, then everything else will take care of itself. Don't be overly aggressive, and then also don't be overly conservative," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said when asked his advice to Mills. "I think you can coach a guy into some bad things. … If we're murdering him for giving up a play, then all of a sudden he plays too soft and gives up a million plays in front [of him]. If we're murdering him for giving up plays in front, then all of a sudden we get too risky on the outside part of the field.

"He's been a good player over the course of the season. He's been a competitive player, and he's bounced back from a lot of things. They tested him after that. They came back with that same play. He took it completely away and played it perfectly. … We didn't have great safety play on that [touchdown] play, and we had a blitz on that play. We didn't pressure the quarterback enough. He was under a little bit of duress, but if somebody wins their rush a little bit sooner maybe we're not talking about Jalen."

Indeed, Schwartz's aggressive scheme assumes quarterbacks aren't going to have time to pump fake, and receivers aren't going to be able to execute double moves without someone getting in the quarterback's face.

Mills might have been bailed out had veteran safety Rodney McLeod also not been suckered by the pump fake.

"I was in the middle of the field. We both were super aggressive. At the end of the day, I have to give the corners the right to go and make those plays, and I've got to be over the top," McLeod said.

"It's something  that, we've been aggressive [with] all year. We've made a lot of plays off of [those situations]. Lesson learned. It can't happen again, and it won't. We know how we're going to play it moving forward.

"I can do a better job not driving down off the pump fake, wait til the ball is thrown."

Mills has what safety Malcolm Jenkins this week identified as a "rare mindset."  When he gets burned, the veterans don't need to help restore any shattered confidence. Mills' confidence is bulletproof, which helped get him from seventh-round draft choice to starter very quickly. He doesn't think he is better than everyone, and getting beat is a fluke. But he always believes he can come back from whatever happens. He can learn and rebound.

"With a secondary guy, it's always something you could have done better," Mills said. "Better eyes. Better technique."

When the Raiders tried the play again, "I read my keys, saw the formation and played it 10 times better," Mills said. "You've got to know when [to be aggressive.] Just like a great shooter. You've got to know when you got that open look and you can take a shot or a defender is tight on you and you have to pass the ball."

Center of attention

The Eagles will need more than a few snaps from some of their starting offensive linemen Sunday since the team carries only eight O-linemen. It's hard to say who gets a breather when, but when backup Nate Sudfeld takes over at quarterback for Nick Foles, look for Jason Kelce to get a break and for Isaac Seumalo to get a look at center.

Seumalo struggled mightily as the starting left guard the first two games of the season, and he hasn't looked great in substitute appearances since. It would be fair to say the outlook has dimmed a bit for the player the Eagles drafted in the third round in 2016 with the idea he would soon be a starter.

But indications are the organization thinks Seumalo just isn't a guard, that he is better suited to center, though with Kelce having an excellent year it isn't clear Seumalo can start there anytime soon.

"We'll see what happens, but I think so," Seumalo said when asked if he thought he'd play in the middle against Dallas. "It'll be fun to play."

"I think he can be a tremendous center," Kelce said when asked about Seumalo. "He's smart. He's athletic. He's got great size" at 6-foot-4, 303 pounds. "I know he had a couple of rough games early on [at guard], but I still have a lot of confidence in him."