Good morning, Eagles fans! Wild Card weekend is just about upon us and the excitement in the NovaCare Complex is palpable. Head coach Doug Pederson will speak to the media at 10:30 a.m., which we will carry live, and the team will have a full practice this afternoon ahead of tomorrow's trip to the Midwest. Here's what you need to know in today's Morning Roundup presented by Microsoft leading off with how all eyes are on Pederson in the playoffs again.
1. Pederson Leads The Way
As the 2018 regular season came to a close and head coaches from struggling teams were let go, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson became the last one of the seven 2016 hires to keep his job. And he's not just still working, he's thriving. The defending Super Bowl Champion is set for his fourth career playoff game as a head coach in just his third season. And after the show he put on last season, all eyes will be on him to set the tone on Sunday.
Pederson has already turned a 4-6 team into a 9-7 playoff team and has his players working with a lot of confidence. He has been himself through the entire process. So as the Eagles head to Chicago as big underdogs once again, Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro writes that how Pederson sets the tone will be crucial in this weekend's playoff opener:
"I think, with Doug," Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks said last week, "you kind of know where he's coming from. He believes in us. He knows when to push us, when to challenge us. He knows when to back off and give us a breather. I think the guys appreciate that. I know that I do."
2. Attack Mack
When it comes to the Bears and their defense, the X-factor is Khalil Mack. He's the one that drives the defense and can single-handedly change a game. The Eagles have faced, and even shut down, several of the league's top pass rushers this season. But Mack, along with the depth of the Bears' defense, presents possibly the greatest challenge of the Eagles' season.
The Eagles have faced Mack before (he was held to four tackles and no sacks last season as a Raider in Week 16) and have a plan to minimize his effectiveness. Fran Duffy breaks down that plan that was effective last season and shows just how dominant Mack is in his latest Eagle Eye column:
Khalil Mack can beat offensive linemen in a multitude of ways. He can win with speed. He can win with power. He can win with technique. He can win with effort. He's excellent on stunts and twists up front. He's one of the toughest guys to block in the league regardless of position. Mack single-handedly presents the biggest challenge in Sunday's game for this Eagles team, and his presence has had a huge impact on that entire side of the ball for Chicago.
3. All About The Eagles' O-Line
The Bears are the best team in the league at forcing turnovers and, more specifically, grabbing interceptions. Quarterback Nick Foles will have to make quick, decisive throws on Sunday and a clean pocket will be vital for that.
Center Jason Kelce knows the challenges the Bears present. He's spent the week watching every single defensive snap of every Bears game this season. He knows the challenge Mack presents but also the talent from Chicago's interior defensive line. Dave Spadaro writes that Kelce isn't backing down from a line with two Pro Bowl game-wreckers and is ready to show just how talented the Eagles' offensive line is:
"I know that if we go out there and we execute what we're being coached to do, if we go out and play the way we've played the last few weeks, we'll put ourselves in position to win the game," Kelce said. "That's what it comes down to … I really think this is about us – how we prepare, how we execute, and that's what is going to help us be successful on Sunday."
Check out the best photos featuring the Eagles fans that made the trip to see the win over Washington.
4. 'I'm Coming Home Again'
Sunday will be a homecoming celebration for Eagles kicker and Chicago-area native Jake Elliott. It's the first time the second-year kicker will have a chance to play where his childhood team played and he will do so in front of more than 20 family and friends who he swears are all Eagles fans now. There will be a lot on the line during this trip back home but despite all the distractions, Elliott is focused on attacking this special game like any other:
"It's exciting. It's exciting to go back home," said Elliott at his locker after practice on Thursday. "Obviously, I'll have a lot of family there at the game. I haven't played a game back there since high school, so it'll be cool to go back, but other than that, it's just another game."
5. Whatever It Takes
Tight end Zach Ertz enters the playoffs red hot following one of the most successful years by a tight end in NFL history. He set the NFL record for receptions by a tight end in a season and the Eagles' record for a receptions by any position in a season.
But against Khalil Mack and the Bears' defense, it's all hands on deck. Chicago does a tremendous job at limiting the effectiveness of receiving tight ends and slowing down Mack often requires the assistance of running backs and tight ends in blocking schemes. Whether Ertz is leading the offense like normal or making plays in the trenches, he's ready to do whatever to help his team:
"Whatever the coaches need me to do, I'm willing to do," said Ertz, who played 75 percent of the offensive snaps against Washington last Sunday but had just three receptions for 15 yards. "Whether it be blocking every play or try and catch as many balls as I can, it doesn't really matter to me at this point. I think in the playoffs, all that matters is winning football games ... so I'm just going to go out and do everything I can to find a way to win the football game."
6. Big Questions
How much will last year's playoff experience help the Eagles?
What is the best approach against the Bears' vaunted defense?
Which playmaker for the Bears' offense is the biggest concern?
Our writers Chris McPherson, Fran Duffy, and Dave Spadaro answer your biggest questions ahead of the Eagles' difficult road playoff game in Chicago. They emphasize the effectiveness of the Bears' playmakers on both sides of the ball and preview what playoff experience can do for a team when the lights get brighter:
Fran Duffy: This is absolutely critical, because not only did the Eagles win the Super Bowl last year, but they also won it with their backs against the wall when everyone had counted them out, much like this year. Despite all of the injuries and adversity this team has dealt with this fall, they're going to come in confident in themselves to get the job done. Chicago is a very "green" team. The majority of its offense, outside of Trey Burton, has never played in a playoff game. Defensively, the situation is very similar. If the Eagles can jump out early and take the crowd out of the game, we'll see if that experience (or lack thereof, on Chicago's end) can come back to be a factor.
7. Injury Report
Nick Foles was a full participant in yesterday's practice and will no doubt be ready to go against the Bears on Sunday. Center Jason Kelce was limited with his knee injury and cornerback Avonte Maddox was added to the injury report with an oblique injury that limited him in practice. Chris McPherson has the full list of injuries for both the Eagles and Bears from Thursday afternoon.
Take a look at the best photos featuring the defense from the win over Washington.
8. Where Are They Now? T Ron Heller
In 1988, another year where the Eagles traveled to Soldier Field for a playoff game, the Eagles made two trades for one player -- tackle Ron Heller. The five-year veteran came to the Eagles after a confusing contract situation and surprised head coach Buddy Ryan with his ability to handle Ryan's historically good defensive front in practice. By next season, he was voted the offensive MVP by his teammates. Jim Gehman caught up with Heller to see where he is now:
"So I got down in the stance and I had to pass block the first guy, then the second guy, the third guy, the fourth ... I just went through it. There were about 10 of them. And when I was done with that, Buddy Ryan said, 'Alright. He'll do.' And then we lined up for team period and I went to the back to watch and he came over and said, 'Hey! We didn't trade for you to sit here and watch. Get in there with the first offense!'"