Doug Pederson's task is one that he has encountered before: Turning the disappointment of a Sunday loss into something larger, more positive. The Eagles are in first place in the NFC East at 3-5-1. They now enter the toughest phase of the 2020 regular season – the five opponents ahead, starting with Cleveland on Sunday, have a combined record of 32-13. The Eagles have the toughest remaining schedule of any team in the NFL.
The job is a difficult one.
And Pederson is up for the challenge.
"We're all frustrated," he said on Monday afternoon. "We know we're so much better and we've just got to buckle in this week. Everything is still right in front of us. We've got a great opportunity on Sunday."
With that, another critical week awaits as the Eagles wash away the negativity from Sunday's 27-17 loss to the Giants and focus in on a good Cleveland Browns team waiting. Pederson knows the offense that failed to convert a third down on nine opportunities at MetLife Stadium has worked to do to, as Pederson says, "dial in." There is a chance, Pederson told me after his press conference, that left guard Isaac Seumalo, who practiced all of last week, will return to the lineup. Maybe even tight end Zach Ertz, who has been out since the Baltimore game with an ankle injury. We will see about that later in the week.
First things first: Pederson wants a particular environment this week. He knows the locker room expressed its frustration in the postgame scene on Sunday. He knows how the players reacted. And Pederson wants that emotion to carry forward to this week when the players report back to the NovaCare Complex and prepare for Cleveland. It's going to take great emotion and focus and execution to beat the Browns, a team with a punishing running game offensively and a defensive front to be reckoned with. The Browns are for real. They've won by outscoring teams (like Dallas) and by outslugging teams (like Houston on Sunday, a 10-7 victory).
"It's going to be a mood where, I don't want it to be a panic mood by any stretch of the imagination," Pederson said. "I don't want any of that, but I do want the guys to feel that emotion they felt after the game and feel that sort of anger, that 'mad' feeling they had and channel that for good, channel that for their week of preparation. I talk to the team a lot about preparation and hard work and you can't substitute for that. The way you practice is the way you're going to play and we've got to focus on that and take care of the details during the week."
We've got seven games to go in this regular season, and as Pederson says, that's a "great opportunity for this football team" to gain a spark and get on track. At 3-5-1, the Eagles aren't under any kind of delusion. They know the job ahead is a tough one. They've bumped up and down all season, and this is where they are.
Starting with Cleveland on Sunday, and then moving through Seattle, Green Bay, New Orleans, and Arizona, the Eagles are seeking to raise their collective game from Coach Doug all the way down. The NFC East race is tightening. There isn't much room for error.
Most of the focus, of course, has been on quarterback Carson Wentz and the season he's having. Wentz didn't turn the ball over on Sunday, but the offense also only scored 17 points and failed on third downs. If the Eagles can get Wentz going, really going as we know he can go, the offense takes on a different complexion and plays at a much higher level.
What then, with Wentz?
"It's always the head coach and the quarterback," Pederson said. "Carson just needs to be Carson. He doesn't need to do anything more than that. He needs to continue to build on the confidence that he has with the guys around him – getting Isaac back gives us stability in the offensive line and we don't have as many moving pieces there, that helps the quarterback's frame of mind – and then just keep working with the young guys, staying on the same page with them. Keep these guys coming. Just be him. Just lead this team like he knows how."
And so it begins. Again, in this nutty season. The Eagles have a hill to climb. This time, unlike in recent seasons, they're doing it from a first-place view. We'll see on Sunday in Cleveland how the emotions from the loss at New York and the week of hard work translates on the field against the Browns.