The 1 game that led to Jalen Mills' position switch to safety


If you’re wondering how Jalen Mills will fare in his new hybrid defensive back role with the Eagles, he says to look back at the Patriots game last season. 

Because in that game Jim Schwartz used Mills all over the field, as a corner, nickel corner, dime linebacker and more. The Eagles lost 17-10, but Mills and the Eagles’ defense played very well. 

In fact, Mills thinks it was one of his best games of the 2019 season. 

I had fun that game,” Mills said. “I was around the ball almost every play. I think the biggest thing for me is always wanting to be around the ball, whether it’s getting a pass breakup, getting a chance to pick the ball off or make a tackle, blitz. I think that’s the biggest thing, trying to be a tone-setter and a game-changer. 

“Football comes down to two to three plays really every game, whether a guy misses a tackle, whether a guy scored a touchdown on one play, whether a guy got a sack or an interception or a pass breakup on another play. For me, the biggest thing is wanting to be around the ball each and every play if possible and to make those game-changing plays, not only for the defense but for the team.

While the Eagles didn’t approach Mills about a position switch until long after the season was over, that game against the Patriots last November made him think that perhaps his future could look like that. After signing a one-year deal to remain an Eagle — and after Malcolm Jenkins was let go — Mills will assume that type of hybrid role. It’s unfair to expect Mills to simply replace Jenkins, but that’s the type of role he’s expected to have. 

In that 17-10 loss to the Patriots on Nov. 17, Mills played all 74 snaps. It was the only game all season in which he played every snap. He had four tackles and a pass breakup. Overall, he played well. 

Take a look at how those 74 snaps broke down by position. According to ProFootballFocus, this shows how the Eagles used his versatility in that game: 

Left corner: 43 (58%)
Slot corner: 13 (18%)
In the box: 13 (18%)
At the line: 4 (5%) 
Free safety: 1 (1%) 

This was the first time in Mills’ career that he played 10-plus snaps at three different positions. And he wasn’t just playing there, he was good. 

Against the Patriots, his PFF grade in that game was 77.3, his highest on the season and third-highest in his career. He was targeted 9 times and gave up 3 catches for 11 yards. 

Now, it’s also fair to realize that the Eagles put this in their game plan for a week against the Patriots and the Patriots didn’t have a chance to prepare for it. In 2020, opposing teams will be able to game plan knowing about Mills’ hybrid role. 

And just because Mills played well for one game in this type of role, it doesn’t mean he’ll succeed over the course of a 16-game season. But at least the Eagles and Mill shave some sort of idea about how it’ll work. And that’s better than nothing. 

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