Doug Pederson did something so perfectly understood, so magnificently appreciated, and so genuinely visionary that, immediately, the tweets went out suggesting that the Eagles changing practice on Wednesday at the NovaCare Complex from work with pads on to a non-contact walk-through had to mean some kind of subterfuge was in the works.
The Eagles canceled practice today.
The change is because the #Eagles have canceled practice for Wednesday, which I can't recall every happening for a Sunday game after a Sunday game.
This is interesting. Eagles have canceled their regular Wednesday practice. Have a closed-to-the-media walk-through today.
There was no conspiracy, as Pederson explained at his Wednesday press conference. It's just that, with so many players nursing injuries after a tough game against Atlanta and with Detroit on Sunday followed by a road trip to Green Bay for the following Thursday, a walk-through was a better option than suiting up with pads and banging bodies.
It's something Pederson has done in the past, but later in the season. It's a forward-thinking, sensible move, one that Green Bay, in fact, practiced on Wednesday.
And it was a decision very much appreciated by the players.
"I think Doug did a good job with that because he's been there. He's been a player. He understands that he doesn't have the bodies he needs to complete a full practice and to get something done," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "He knows how hard we work. We need bodies for people to be able to relieve each other, to help each other in practice. I think that was the right call. I think he does a great job of coming up with the plan for the season.
"It's cool when you have a player's coach, someone who listens to his players because he knows the guys who are active give maximum effort. If we didn't give that, he wouldn't give us today. I think it's a respect thing and a trust thing with each other and how we handle this week is how we're going to do moving forward. If he can do it down the line, who knows? But it's all about how we handle it and so far, so good."
Said linebacker Nigel Bradham: "It's nice to have a coach who understands what we're going through. He knows how much a day can make a difference for us. I think the guys appreciate it. Doug's been in this situation. He gets it."
As Graham says, the important thing is how the Eagles "handle it" as it relates to Sunday's game against Detroit, an undefeated team that needs to be taken seriously. The Lions' defense is a handful and the offense has some players – including wide receiver Kenny Golladay, the best receiver you've never heard of – that will challenge the Eagles in a big way. This has the feel, for mid-September of as close to a "must-win" game as possible. All-Pro tackle Lane Johnson called it as such.
The injury concerns for Sunday are very real, particularly on the offensive side of the ball with wide receivers DeSean Jackson (groin) and Alshon Jeffery (calf) along with tight end Dallas Goedert (calf) "day to day," said Pederson. The Eagles, like every team, take the "next man up" mentality for Sunday's game.
"We value every player on our 53-man roster," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has said many times.
The point here is to give Pederson a big dose of credit for recognizing the big picture and the injury situation and valuing the aspect of a walk-through versus putting the players in pads and being physical. The Eagles were down numbers on Wednesday and rather than stress out the active roster and practice squad, Pederson opted for the mental reps.
"It's smart. Doug knows it's a long season. He knows what we go through," guard Brandon Brooks said.
Practices in the NFL are treasured time to develop timing and chemistry, to work on technique, and to develop younger players. When teams practice poorly, skills dull and performance lags. So every coach wants to make the most of every practice and as the NFL has evolved, practice time has been reduced and those teaching moments are fewer.
That's the "risk," if you will, of turning a padded practice into a walk-through. Pederson is betting that the benefits will far outweigh the risk.
"I want these guys as fresh as possible obviously for these next two weeks," Pederson said. "I have to think of the big picture here, obviously, and keeping guys – it's early in our season, keeping guys as fresh as possible now so we can make a push later in the season. So that's also a factor in this decision."
The rest of the work – the film study, the conditioning, etc. – remains the same. The Eagles are going to be ready for Detroit. The players are all in, and all on board with a head coach who understands their needs, who gets that there are other ways to make the most of a practice day. This is the "new school" way of coaching from Doug Pederson and the bet here is that his smart thinking is going to pay off in the near – and long-term – future for the Eagles in 2019.