NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The hoopla in this remote hotel located at the Nashville airport as the Eagles arrived on Saturday afternoon was nothing like the party in Tampa a couple of weeks earlier. Eagles fans are doing their thing in the downtown area and everyone with the Eagles knows that the fans are here, thousands strong, at perhaps the most popular road trip of the season. As the players and coaches settled in on Saturday night, finished with production meetings with the FOX broadcast team and final film review and position meetings, the reality of Sunday's game became clear: Two teams that have faced a lot of adversity early in this 2018 season with similar personnel profiles kick off at 1 p.m.
"It seems like they're both in the same situation. Injuries on the offensive side of the ball, so they're leaning on the defense, leaning on special teams to get through the first month of the season as both offenses work through their issues," FOX game analyst Daryl "Moose" Johnston said after a production meeting with the Eagles at the team hotel. "With Carson (Wentz) coming back for Philadelphia, the Eagles are a little bit ahead of the curve. I don't think we know what Philadelphia is going to be offensively at this point. They haven't had everyone out on the field together, so the fact that they're 2-1 without having their players out there should be exciting for the fans.
"Tennessee has had to endure a lot early this season – the long rain delay in Miami to open the season, the injury to Marcus Mariota and some other injuries, and so you wonder if new head coach Mike Vrabel has had a chance to get his philosophy to the guys, but here they are at 2-1, so they've done a great job navigating some tough situations. I think he's done a great job. His guys have found a way to win."
Johnston and play-by-play man Chris Myers were at Lincoln Financial Field last week as Wentz made his season debut. They heard the crowd roar when Wentz came through the tunnel as the offense was introduced before the game and they watched as Wentz showed that he was going to play fearless, confident football.
The physical traits that Wentz showed in his first two NFL seasons emerged again on Sunday.
"I thought he was fantastic. Mobility was the big thing that everyone wanted to see and he showed he has it, that the knee isn't an issue," Johnston said. "Carson said he was fooled a couple of times, but I think Frank Reich (former Eagles offensive coordinator now Indianapolis head coach) being on the other side had something to do with that. It's just a matter of Carson playing at game speed. He's going to get better and better.
"We just met with Carson. He commands a presence when he walks into a room. He's serious. He's competitive. I noticed a difference between Fridays and Saturdays. We had him last week at home on a Friday and he was a little bit more conversational. Here, it's a Saturday, we're within 24 hours of kickoff and he's sliding into game mode. I was very similar that way. Troy (Aikman, former Cowboys quarterback) was very similar that way. That's the competitive nature of a player. I like seeing that."
Who wins? How can the Eagles reach 3-1 at the quarter pole of this very long regular season? Eagles Radio Network analyst Mike Quick talked for a few moments as he walked into the hotel lobby following the short flight from Philadelphia. For Quick, this game is about which team wants it more.
The Eagles are the better team, Quick says. They have to play like it.
"I think it's one of those games that if you take it too lightly, it's not going to be a good day. But I think that if they make sure they are on top of every single assignment, it should be a good game. The big thing to me is the line of scrimmage. The Eagles' offensive line should be able to handle Tennessee, especially in the run game," Quick said. "And the defensive line should be able to take away the Titans' running game. Tennessee likes to run the ball more than any other team in the league so far and that's not going to bode well for them against this defensive front."
The anticipated return of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, Quick thinks, can make a difference for an Eagles offense that has not been explosive and that has had to focus its passing game heavily toward the middle of the field.
Jeffery will force the Titans to account for him.
"Alshon Jeffery can have a major impact. I think he can loosen up things," Quick said. "He can make things easier for Carson. Carson targeted him for than any other Eagles receiver last year. That's where he likes to go with the football. Just having him on the field makes the Eagles a better offense.
"What's really important is that the Eagles get off to a good start. It didn't happen at Tampa Bay. And Tennessee hasn't allowed any points in the first quarter of their three games so it's important that the Eagles get off to a good start and then maintain that throughout the game. If the Eagles can get up on these guys, the Titans will know that they're beaten. They won't lie down, but it's tough for this team to play catch-up football."
The game will have an Eagles feel from the stands as the fans invade Nissan Stadium. Johnston is certainly not new to the world of Eagles fans as he played on the other side of it as a member of the Dallas Cowboys, and he is appreciative of what the fans mean to the football team and what the team means to the fans.
"We were always jealous of what Philadelphia had. Jealous of what Washington had. It was hard playing at the Vet. That's awesome. That's all you can ask for as a player," Johnston said. "Truth be told, we were always envious of what the Eagles had with their fans. We would have loved to have had that in Dallas. I think the fans have done a great job. They support their team through thick and thin. Eagles fans are a group that just doesn't waver. I was really happy for everybody last year. Look, if the Cowboys can't win I want somebody from the NFC East. It's Dallas first, NFC East second. That's the family. I grew up in the Buffalo area so in those first two Bills Super Bowls, I cheered for Buffalo because I knew what it would mean for that community.
"That's the way I felt last year. I know what it means to the Philadelphia community to have won the Super Bowl. I was over the moon for the fans after the Eagles won. Fans have always said to me, 'I don't like the Dallas Cowboys, but I respected you.' That's great with me. I respect that."
The game nears. A win would be huge for the Eagles. To get to 3-1 with so many players in and out of the lineup would mean a lot. And it's right there. Start fast, finish strong, and let's get back to Philadelphia. That's the formula for this road trip.