When a team is winning games, as the Eagles did last season in dominating fashion, it is sometimes easy to overlook some of the smaller details. But when a team is 4-5, more intense self-reflection is required. A deep dive into the football soul, if you will.
Head coach Doug Pederson talked about it in his Wednesday morning press conference at the NovaCare Complex and, as usual, he was upbeat and positive. That’s not going to change. Pederson believes in positive reinforcement in the public setting. He’s demanding of his players, but he’s going to always have their backs.
“I feel really good about these guys. Talking to the (player leadership) committee this morning, I asked them basically that question, 'How do they feel?' They're all disappointed obviously in the performance the other day,” Pederson said. “It is disappointing. It’s a division game and we came up short.
“They're eager to get back on the practice field and they’re excited for this week and this opportunity. I think they understand what's in front of them. They know that the sense of urgency in practice, it's not a panic or anything other than just a sense of urgency of understanding your job, doing your job, doing it collectively, and making sure that they just focus on one play at a time. I really do feel like they're in a good place and they're positive about the future.”
Nobody is “tanking” on the season. The Eagles are 4-5. They’re struggling. They’ve made the same mistakes throughout the season. There is no question that there's a level of frustration. But at the same time, they know that anything can happen over the course of seven weeks. They're two games behind Washington in the NFC East with two games against the Redskins ahead and four overall in the division. There is still a lot to play for.
However, turning the season around isn’t “just going to happen.” The idea of “snapping fingers” and changing the way the team has played isn’t even in the conversation. Center Jason Kelce spoke eloquently in the locker room on Wednesday about the changing faces and personalities and level of experience in the locker room from last season to now. He spoke about “accountability” and the “fine, coaching details that make a difference at the end of the day” and that “those are the things that we’re not getting done on a consistent basis.”
What a difference a year makes, right? The Eagles were 8-1 a season ago, blowing out opponents, establishing themselves as Super Bowl contenders. They had lost left tackle Jason Peters and running back Darren Sproles and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks and placekicker Caleb Sturgis and special teamer Chris Maragos for the season. They were still crushing teams. The “next man up” mindset worked as the Eagles replaced the play at those five positions (and then later, of course, when quarterback Carson Wentz was injured).
This year, those injuries have multiplied. That’s not an excuse. It’s just a fact. The Eagles have been gashed at running back (Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles, plus a lingering quad injury for Corey Clement), limited at wide receiver (Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins, plus three missed games from Alshon Jeffery), knocked around along the offensive line, and gutted on defense with four starters (end Derek Barnett, safety Rodney McLeod, cornerback Ronald Darby lost for the season with injury, and tackle Tim Jernigan yet to play a snap).
The NFL has no room for sentimentality or excuses or free passes. You are what your record says you are, and the Eagles are 4-5 and fighting to find their groove again.
“We’ve been upbeat and positive,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “We are gonna keep fighting. It’s tough. It’s not a good feeling, but we just have to keep pushing and fighting and we have to find a way to get us a win. That starts Sunday in New Orleans.”
If this is, indeed, a true “desperate” time for the Eagles, then maybe they will introduce some new wrinkles to try to get New Orleans off balance. How do you attack a quarterback like Drew Brees who doesn’t get rattled? How do you slow down an offense that averages nearly 37 points per game? How do you get your offense untracked?
“We have to play with confidence, we have to play fast, and we have to play loose,” Kelce said. “We know what we’re capable of doing, but we haven’t been able to do it on a consistent basis this season. Yeah, it’s frustrating for everyone.”
Enough, then, of the collective self-analysis. There is too much work to do with seven games to play. The Eagles have to figure out a way to win this football game, no matter how it might look to the outside world. A few years ago, the downtrodden Eagles traveled to New England to play the mighty Patriots and ended up winning thanks to a blocked field goal that went for a touchdown, a punt return for a touchdown, and an interception return for a touchdown. Maybe that’s what it will take on Sunday.
Doesn’t matter how it happens, it just has to happen.
“That’s the bottom line,” Kelce said. “We’ve got to find a way to get on track and win football games."