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Critical Games In Big Picture

Posted Dec 19, 2013

They've used words like "embarrassing" to explain their reaction to Sunday's loss in Minnesota, so please understand the players are looking for some redemption when Chicago comes into town on Sunday ...

In this week-to-week world of the NFL, players and coaches prepare to play, then go out and perform and the cycle starts anew after the usual 24 hours of post-game reaction and recovery occur. It is a demanding cycle that requires great attention to detail and concentration and energy.

By this time in every week, everyone is directed at the 72 hours or so to follow as kickoff nears.

And this week, of course, the Eagles are in their first playoff game of the regular season. It's not entirely true, of course, because there is no win-or-go-home scenario here. But the Eagles are playing a playoff-caliber team (Chicago) and the stakes are extremely high and the Eagles lead the NFC East and, well, you know all of the facts surrounding this game. It's a biggie. It's as big as the Eagles have had since 2010, when they last won the NFC East.

The team since then, acknowledged, has changed dramatically. The roster is younger and revised. The schemes are different. The coaching staff is, obviously, different. The mood is different. The daily approach is new.

Playing Chicago on Sunday night represents an opportunity to beat a quality opponent and, if Washington beats Dallas, a chance to clinch the NFC East title. It's more than that, though, if you want to consider the big picture.

Chip Kelly became the head coach in January and like any new head coach one of his early missions was to change the culture, one that had been poisoned by two seasons of non-playoff football. The 2013 4-12 performance was downright painful, and for a roster that would go forward largely with a young core comprised of recent draft picks, it was counter productive.

How would players learn to win if they weren't winning? Well, Kelly has the culture he wants. The Eagles win. And the players expect to win, a by-product of winning games on Sundays.

This is a different time in the season, though. This is unchartered territory for many on this roster. This is closing time for a team that wants to be in the playoffs, so we're going to see what kind of true killer instinct the Eagles have.

Sunday night's tussle is going to be a great one. Chicago has a loaded offense and is as versatile and explosive as any the Eagles have seen this year (Denver included). The Bears can score points in every way. Philadelphia's defense played poorly Sunday in Minnesota and has a chance in just a couple of days to make up for the shoddy day.

There is a lot of pressure on Nick Foles and the offense, too. How many points do the Eagles need to score Sunday night to win? Do the Eagles take chances that they ordinarly would not take, anticipating the need for a huge number on the scoreboard?

So, it's a telling moment for the Eagles in 2013 and beyond. The coaches learn a lot about players in games like these. The tempo is faster and the urgency is greater and the Eagles, even with a one-game lead in the NFC East, have their backs to the wall. They need a win here against a quality opponent.

Say this much, and know that is pays far greater dividends than what we will see on Sunday night: The culture here has changed. This is Chip Kelly's team and the players and all in the organization are doing it his way.

NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT

  • Big news that Brandon Boykin trained on Thursday and should be on course to play against Chicago. His play in the slot is critical for the defense, which takes a huge step back when he doesn't line up in the slot. We talk about how important the big corners are here -- Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are going to see a lot of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery -- but they will move those receivers around and they'll also use Earl Bennett in the slot. Boykin is important.

  • LeSean McCoy wants the football. I love to hear that. The coaches love to hear that. How much he gets it on Sunday night remains to be seen, of course, but McCoy is the best player on this team and he'll get his touches ... unless the Bears scheme to take No. 25 away from the offense and dare quarterback Nick Foles to throw the football. Kelly is going to go with the matchup advantages, and that's why it's always so difficult to predict what the Eagles will do offensively from one week to the next.

  • Do the Eagles kick the football to Devin Hester, the premier kick returner of the Bears? It's a terrific question. Hester has a punt return for a touchown this season and he's a dynamic player who would likely be a Hall of Fame return man, if such a thing existed. I don't expect the Eagles to kick short on kickoffs, but they are going to try to pin Hester with some directional kicks. Glad to have Najee Goode and Boykin on track to play. The Eagles will really miss Colt Anderson if he doesn't go, but I like the way Brad Smith has made plays down the field.

  • Maybe it's just me, but Smith should be returning kickoffs. He has speed and he has size to break tackles.

  • The Eagles must contain running back Matt Forte in every way, and his receiving skills are as good as any running back the Eagles have seen. He's a big-time blocker and all-around talent. I'm thinking Mychal Kendricks has a huge part in the plan.

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