The way Head Coach Nick Sirianni looks at the big picture, every joint practice is equivalent to a preseason game. So, with Saturday's opener at Baltimore in the books, the Eagles returned to the NovaCare Complex in the wee hours of Sunday morning to begin preparations for an extremely important week ahead with the Cleveland Browns in town for joint practices on Monday and Tuesday and a preseason game on Thursday.
Everything matters. The players understand fully what this is all about.
"Just competing. It's the same thing, competing in practice, you know, you just want to win the day," running back Rashaad Penny said. "I can handle the pressure in the league and if you're on a touchdown drive, you want to get back out there and do it again."
Cleveland brings to town a team that has high hopes for the 2023 season with quarterback Deshaun Watson in the system for his first full season, with an experienced offensive line, a power running game, and a defense that is led by one of the best pass rushers in the league. Monday is preseason game No. 2 and Tuesday is preseason game No. 3 and Thursday is preseason game No. 4 and that's just the way Sirianni sees it and that's how the Eagles are going to evaluate the two evening practices (start time, 5 PM) and Thursday's preseason game (7:30 PM) at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles rested their starters on Saturday in Baltimore because, in large part, they've got Cleveland in for Monday and Tuesday.
"We're here to treat these joint practices like games; it's in two days," Sirianni said after Saturday’s 20-19 loss at the Ravens. "It's a little bit more of a controlled situation in a joint practice. When you play a Thursday night game, you're walkthrough, walkthrough, walkthrough, walkthrough, Sunday play, you're Monday walkthrough, Tuesday walkthrough, Wednesday walkthrough, then game. So, we had a good week of work."
For the most part, Saturday night was a good first game step. Offensive Coordinator Brian Johnson and Defensive Coordinator Sean Desai made their respective debuts and handled the game situations well. Philadelphia saw good things from the running game and from quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Tanner McKee. First-round draft picks defensive tackle Jalen Carter and edge player Nolan Smith flashed their enormous talent. Rookie cornerback Eli Ricks intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown. Safety Sydney Brown flew all over the field and led the defense with nine tackles. The Eagles had some strong play at the lines of scrimmage.
The downside was losing linebacker and core special teams player Shaun Bradley, who acknowledged on his Instagram page on Sunday that he suffered a torn Achilles tendon.
There was much more, of course, as the coaches went through the tape on Sunday in South Philadelphia, before the Eagles moved their mindset to Monday. A player like Mariota, who has been in the NFL since 2014, understands the value of all of this – whether it is the preseason or joint practices. Game experience, if you treat both as such, is so important.
"I think it's just to get live action in the system," he said. "I've always been a reps guy. I've learned more from experience and to be able to get out there and play, be under the gun with a play clock and to get into these different situations, I think it's very important for me to feel comfortable in the system. I appreciate the fact when I get the opportunity to go out there and play."
That's where the Eagles are headed for Monday. They practiced last year at Cleveland, so there is going to be a familiar feel at the NovaCare Complex for these practices. The quarterbacks will still wear red jerseys and they won't have much, if any, live periods, but the practices will be at a game tempo. As the 53-man roster takes shape, that is vitally important. When you practice the right way, as the Eagles do, you see how much easier the transition is to live game action. McKee felt it right away on Saturday in his strong debut.
"It's definitely faster. The great thing is your guys are faster as well," he said. "When the coaches do such a good time of preparing you at practice, I feel like in the game it feels like practice. I didn't necessarily feel like the game was much faster than it was in practice. I feel like we prepared really well in Training Camp. We practice like we play and there really wasn't much difference."
The preseason marches on and this week, hey, the intensity is even greater and the stakes remain high. The Cleveland Browns are in town and the Eagles are fired up to get on the field and win the day, one after another.