A plan has been in place for a long time to mitigate the news that came down on Wednesday afternoon, that Head Coach Nick Sirianni tested positive for COVID-19 and was immediately placed in the protocol. The Eagles knew it was coming – not this specifically – and they have long been enforcing the strict policies in and around the NovaCare Complex for a team that had, to date, been relatively unscathed by a virus that is plaguing the world.
Meetings have been held in the team's auditorium and practice bubble with plenty of physical distancing and ventilation throughout. An in-building mask mandate has been followed precisely and players have shown great maturity and discipline with their actions. The Eagles have a great team of behind-the-scenes leaders who have guided the entire organization through these last two seasons and the results have been largely positive. Trying times, for sure, but the Eagles have made it work with great leadership, communication, and guidance.
Sirianni felt symptoms when he awakened and tested positive for COVID on Wednesday. He will conduct his responsibilities remotely throughout the remainder of the week – virtual meetings, communications with his coaching staff and players, and so forth – and is hopeful to return by Sunday. Passing Game Coordinator Kevin Patullo – who coached with Sirianni in Indianapolis for three seasons before joining the Eagles this past offseason – will take over Sirianni's duties on gameday, should Sirianni not be able to coach against the New York Giants. During the game, Sirianni said, Patullo would make some of the decisions like going for it on fourth down, the coin flip, etc. Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen – who works with Sirianni during the game in a collaborative way to direct the offense from series to series – will call the plays on that side of the ball and Jonathan Gannon will continue to oversee the defense.
As for the practices at the NovaCare Complex, Sirianni said they "run themselves" and that it would be "business as usual." He would, as normal, put together the practice script with his coaching staff and then the coordinators would handle the practice periods such as 11-on-11 in various game situations – base personnel, nickel personnel, red zone work, third-down scenarios. For much of the practices, which will resume on Thursday on such a short week, position coaches work with their players on fundamentals and technique drills. This late in the season, also, there is an emphasis on recovery so coaches around the league have used walkthrough practices to take the place of more up-tempo work.
"Hopefully, I'll be ready to go on Sunday," Sirianni said from a hotel room during his virtual Wednesday press conference. "If not, we've been prepared for this. I'm very confident in what we did as far as getting ahead of everything last week, the last couple of weeks, as far as being separated, putting ourselves almost in protocol as it was with the extra precautions that we took. We'll see what the numbers say ... everything up until gameday will be very normal except that I'm not in the building. But I'll be running everything the same way because I'm the head coach.
"As far as Sunday goes, we'll play that by ear and see how it goes."
The coaching staff used the extra 54 hours over the weekend once the Washington game was postponed from Sunday to Tuesday to put together a game plan, so they are all caught up there. The Eagles played the Giants just four weeks ago, so there is familiarity with what the Giants did on November 28 to win that game, 13-7, and the Eagles have studied how the Giants have played since. The Eagles aren't in any kind of catch-up scenario here.
They are prepared. Proper preparation prevents poor performance ...
"We're in a good spot right now where we normally are on Wednesday and where we are normally on Wednesday is that you've got a big portion of the game plan done," Sirianni said.
The approach the Eagles have taken since the beginning of the pandemic – back in March 2020 – was to address the situation honestly and to prepare for every possibility. The last year and many months have taken many twists and turns, and the Eagles have been able to stay ahead of the curve and they've been able to maintain the health of the organization and the sanctity of their daily operations. It's been as smooth as possible, and the players have been able to work functionally for these two seasons.
"We took a lot of precautions the last couple of weeks as the spread was more rapid and that doesn't mean you're not going to have an outbreak," Sirianni said. "I feel like we've done the right things ... the NFL has done a good job putting the protocols in place."