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Eagles’ Jalen Mills is happy to be playing football again after nearly a year as a spectator

The Eagles' defense still has a lot of problems, but finally getting cornerback Jalen Mills back after nearly a year on the sideline helps a lot.

Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills stretches during practice at the NovaCare Complex. He'll make his second start of the season Sunday in Buffalo against the 5-1 Bills.
Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills stretches during practice at the NovaCare Complex. He'll make his second start of the season Sunday in Buffalo against the 5-1 Bills.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

After being sidelined for nearly a year with a foot injury, Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills finally got to play in a football game again Sunday.

The result – an ugly 37-10 road loss to the Cowboys – was a bit of a downer. But Mills was elated just to be able to practice his craft again.

“It felt great,’’ he said this week. “It felt electric. Just being out there with the guys. Doing the secret handshakes. Even just jumping on the pile when we were making a tackle. It felt like football again.’’

Despite the long layoff, Mills played 63 of 69 snaps against the Cowboys. Only safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod and linebacker Nate Gerry played more.

“My mindset before the game was that I was going to play every snap,’’ Mills said. “It was up to the coaching staff. But I wouldn’t let them take me out even if they wanted to.’’

He didn’t need to worry about that. Even with a year’s worth of rust, he immediately became the best cornerback on the team.

He had an interception and did a decent job of keeping the ball in front of him, which was something the Eagles weren’t able to accomplish a week earlier in an 18-point loss to the Vikings.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott completed 21 of 27 passes for 239 yards, but he threw only one touchdown pass, and that was a 1-yarder to backup tight end Blake Jarwin.

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was impressed by how well Mills played on just three days of practice after spending the preseason and the first six regular-season games on the physically nnable to perform list. A player isn’t allowed to practice with the team when he’s on the PUP list.

“It was tough duty,’’ Schwartz said. “He had worked extremely hard on the side with the trainers but hadn’t been able to work with his teammates.

“He was great in the meetings and great in paying attention to all our stuff. But there is a big difference. There are going to be some [early] inconsistencies. But his competitiveness showed through.’’

Schwartz pointed to Mills’ interception of a deep ball to Tavon Austin early in the fourth quarter when the Cowboys had the ball at the Philadelphia 37 and were looking to add to a 20-point lead.

“They took a shot at the end zone and he made a great interception; one of the best interceptions I’ve seen around here in four years, and gave us a chance [to get back in the game],’’ Schwartz said.

That never happened because two plays after that, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz committed the last of his three turnovers, fumbling a shotgun snap that was recovered by the Cowboys.

“I do think that will serve us well – that kind of competitiveness, and that sort of never-say-die attitude,’’ Schwartz said of Mills’ interception in particular, and play in general. “I think Jalen is a great example of that. It was great to have his energy out there.’’

Mills, a seventh-round pick by the Eagles in the 2016 draft, will be a free agent after the season. So will the Eagles’ other starting corner, Ronald Darby, who is expected to play Sunday after sitting out the last four games with a hamstring injury.

Darby, who has missed 19 of 39 games with injuries the last three years, probably won’t be re-signed. But even though Mills doesn’t have elite speed, Schwartz is expected to pound the table for the Green Goblin. His toughness and resilience are the essence of what the Eagles coach loves in a corner.

The Eagles head to Buffalo with a 3-4 record and little room for error. They need a victory to help replenish both their playoff hopes and their confidence.

“We have to put our working caps on,’’ Mills said. “The season’s not over. We’d like to be 7-0, 6-1. But it doesn’t happen like that all the time.’’

Figuring the Eagles

--Carson Wentz was 2-for-5 for 58 yards and one touchdown Sunday on throws of 20 yards or more. Wentz has completed 33.3 percent of his deep balls (throws of 20-plus yards) this season (11-for-33). His deep-ball completion percentage the previous three seasons: 36.9 last year, 33.8 in 2017, and 31.3 in 2016.

--Wentz’s overall completion percentage this season is 61.3. That’s considerably lower than last year’s 69.6. The most noticeable drop-off has been on 0-to-10-yard throws. Last year, he had a 75.8 completion percentage from that distance. Through seven games this season, it’s 68.2. His completion percentage on 11-to-19-yard throws also has dropped, from 63.1 last year to 55.8 this year.

--Wentz has targeted tight end Zach Ertz 35 times on 0-to-10-yard throws. Ertz has caught just 22 of them. Ertz has 12 completions on 16 targets on throws of 11-to-19 yards.

--The Eagles have been one of the worst blitzing teams in the league. Jim Schwartz has sent extra rushers on 61 of 271 pass plays, or 22.5%. Opposing quarterbacks have a 110.9 passer rating, including a 64.8 completion percentage, six touchdowns, and 10.2 yards per attempt, when the Eagles have blitzed.

--Opponents have scored on their first possession against the Eagles in six of the first seven games. The Eagles have given up 38 points and 18 first downs on their opponents’ first possession. Five of those six first-possession scores have been touchdowns Last season, the Eagles allowed first-possession points in just five of 16 games. Just two of those five scores were touchdowns. They gave up 20 first downs the entire season on first possessions.

--The Eagles’ average drive start in their loss to the Cowboys was their 18.8 yard line. Thanks largely to the Eagles’ four turnovers, the Cowboys’ was the 41.7. That’s a minus-22.9-yard drive-start differential.

Road to the draft

Periodically this season, draft analyst Ben Fennell will break down some of the top prospects in the 2020 NFL draft. Fennell is an Emmy award-winning producer, editor, and researcher for several media outlets, including the NFL Network and ESPN college football. Today, he breaks down his top five wide receivers:

Jerry Jeudy

6-1, 192


Fennell: “Jeudy is a dangerous combination of explosive and sudden. He’s a route-running technician with deliberate movements. He could make a defender miss in a phone booth. His negatives: doesn’t have great play strength and has a slight frame.’’

NFL comp: Antonio Brown

Ceedee Lamb

6-2, 192


Fennell: “Lamb has great body control that allows him to adjust to passes. He’s a returner once he has the ball in his hands. Has lightning-fast feet that allow him to get in and out of his breaks quickly. Playing in the Big 12, he doesn’t see a lot of press coverage. So that’s kind of an unknown at this point.’’

NFL comp: Chad Johnson

Tylan Wallace

5-11, 189

Oklahoma State

Fennell: “Wallace is aggressive at the catch point despite a less than desirable size and frame. He can win over the middle or outside the numbers and has the long speed to win vertically. Because of his size, NFL teams might be leery of him as a potential outside receiver.’’

NFL comp: Rocket Ishmail

Henry Ruggs III

5-11, 192


Fennell: “Ruggs has sprinter’s speed. He reportedly ran a sub-4.3 forty this past summer. He’s a high-effort, competitive player who can block and play on special teams. Ruggs is an exceptional yards-after-the-catch receiver. The biggest question about him is his positional fit in the NFL. Can he play in the slot or is he a gadget wide receiver?’’

NFL comp: Santana Moss

Laviska Shenault

6-2, 224


Fennell: “Shenault has gadget abilities. You can use him in Wildcat, on end-arounds, and jet sweeps. Good after the catch. He has strong, confident hands. He can make tough grabs and can catch the ball in traffic. He has deceptive speed. He has excellent burst and acceleration as well as long speed. Biggest question is whether he can stay healthy. He has been sidelined with multiple injuries at Colorado.’’

NFL comp: Andre Johnson

Other wide receivers on Fennell’s watch list: Tee Higgins, 6-3, 205, Clemson (comp: Braylon Edwards); Jalen Reagor, 5-10, 196, TCU (comp: Brandin Cooks); Tyler Johnson, 6-2, 198, Minnesota (comp: Davante Adams); Bryan Edwards, 6-3, 218, South Carolina (comp: Allen Robinson); and K.J. Hill, 6-0, 198, Ohio State (comp: Stefon Diggs).

A look in the mirror

What do the last two weeks say about the 2019 Eagles? Not a lot, insists Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks.

“What we rolled out there the last two games, we’re a better team than that,’’ he said. “I think everybody sees that. We know that.

“The thing we have to do across the board is execute. We can’t keep making the same mistakes week after week, thinking things are going to change.’’

Last year, the Eagles also started out 3-4 and then 4-6 before turning things around and winning five of their last six games and making the playoffs.

But just because they did it once doesn’t mean they can do it again.

“The reason we came out of it last year was [because] we took a long, hard look in the mirror, and everybody tried to do their job a little bit better and improve on what they were doing a little bit better,’’ Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce said. “That’s the only mindset you can have.’’

Are players taking those long, hard looks in the mirror again?

“I think that’s very much the case,’’ he said.