Good morning, Eagles fans! The Birds are back in the building today with total focus on Sunday's showdown in New Orleans. Quarterback Nick Foles will speak with the media at 10:45 and head coach Doug Pederson will take the podium at noon. We will carry both live. Here's what you need to know in today's Morning Roundup presented by Microsoft leading off with the players under the radar during this playoff push.
1. Unsung Heroes
Cre'Von LeBlanc. Treyvon Hester. Boston Scott.
These are all Eagles players who don't necessarily show up in the stat sheet each week but were huge in the Wild Card win. The Eagles' resurgence in the second half has included a lot of players fans had not heard much from before. As it has continued, it has been those unsung heroes that have become the backbone of this Eagles team. Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro breaks down the various role players who have been added during the season and become staples of the team:
DT Treyvon Hester (Promoted from the practice squad on October 2)
This is an interesting player. A former Raiders draft pick, Treyvon Hester was waived as Oakland made its initial 53-man roster. The Eagles added Hester to the practice squad and then promoted him to the 53-man roster. He ended up playing 22 percent of the defensive snaps (226 total) in the regular season and contributed 20 total tackles and a quarterback sack. Sunday, of course, Hester made his impact on special teams with a block of Cody Parkey's 43-yard field goal to save the Eagles' victory.
"We had a need and he's earned his reps," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "He's a strong guy and he plays with some energy. I don't know that we've had a bigger play than getting a fingernail on a field goal attempt. That's a play that probably 99.9 percent of the people watching the game wouldn't even notice an interior rusher, but he gets his hand up at the right time and he makes all the difference."
2. Bring It Home For Jerome
The much-lauded stat is impressive: the Saints are 5-0 in postseason games at the Superdome with Drew Brees under center and head coach Sean Payton leading the way. They've never lost. You have to go back to the 1992 season for the last time New Orleans ever lost a playoff game at home.
Which team pulled off the improbable win in the hostile confines? Well, that would be the Philadelphia Eagles.
In a year marred by tragedy, Eagles players took the sadness of Jerome Brown death over the summer and used it as motivation. "Bring it home for Jerome" became the rallying cry for the season and it was certainly on the Eagles' minds as they overcame a 13-point second-half deficit, led by tide-turning defensive plays, and scored 29 unanswered points to pull off the 36-20 win over the Saints in the NFC Wild Card Round. Ray Didinger takes us back to that day and recounts the inspiring comeback that defined the season:
"I really didn't see this game as them crumbling," said Joyner, the Eagles' Hall of Famer. "I saw it as us making big plays. We finally got a bead on what they were doing. We just picked up the intensity when we had to. It took us some time to get it done, but we put it together when we had to."
Check out the best photos featuring the offense from the Eagles' win over the Bears.
3. Offense Ready To Roll
When Doug Pederson was asked in November following the Eagles' 48-7 loss whether he was more disappointed in the 48 points given up or seven scored, he said with no hesitation it was the seven. While the defense had its hands full with Drew Brees and that prolific offense, the Eagles' offense did not do it any favors to stay in the game or put the defense in favorable positions.
When Mike Groh met with the media yesterday, he laid out a clear goal: score every time the Eagles have the ball. That will be challenging, of course. But, as Dave Spadaro writes, Groh knows the Eagles' offense has improved mightily since Week 11 and is prepared to go toe-to-toe with the Saints:
"I've said this all season long, we've got a ton of confidence in our entire offensive line unit, and we just found a little bit of a groove, I guess," Groh said. "Got some traction and guys are playing confidently, playing well and really preparing hard and preparing smart and taking advantage of the reps that we get every day out there at practice. We're going out there and we're executing at a high level right now."
4. Lucky And Good
In a tightly contested battle at Soldier Field, the Eagles separated themselves by making more key plays to win the game in big moments. In situational football alone, the Eagles were dominant by converting 6-of-13 on third down and going 2-for-3 in the red zone. The Bears were just 5-of-16 on third down and 0-for-3 in the red zone. And when it came down to the last kick, a smart timeout and a hand extended just enough made the difference.
The perception of Sunday's game may be that the Eagles got lucky. In some ways, it appears they were outplayed by looking at the stat sheet. But Tommy Lawlor writes that that's incorrect. The Eagles created their own luck by being better when it counted most:
The Eagles were sloppy in this game. Foles threw two interceptions, with one of them being just a terrible decision. There were some costly penalties. Tre Sullivan dropped an interception in the end zone. That could have kept points off the board. The Eagles should have won this game more comfortably than they did.
The postseason is all about finding a way to advance. It doesn't have to be pretty, just find a way to win. The Eagles did just enough on offense, just enough on defense, and just enough on special teams to come away with a tough win in Chicago. The Bears are a really good team.
5. A Different Defense
The Saints' offense is as good as advertised. New Orleans scores 34 points per game in the Superdome, an average that's lower than the 48 the Saints hung on the Eagles in Week 11. The Eagles' defense has greatly improved since that game, mostly due to the return of players either injured going into New Orleans or hurt during the game. and have put together impressive performances against great offenses.
Schwartz knows the Eagles will have to be at their absolute best on Sunday to slow down an MVP candidate in Brees and two impressive rushers and pass-catchers in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. But they are prepared for the challenge. Dave Spadaro writes that the defense will draw upon the lopsided loss and look to keep the game from getting out of hand early this time:
"It also shows you how one play here and there, the tide can turn really quickly in this league and provide that urgency," Schwartz said. "When it's all said and done, neither team is going to start this game with a lead and neither team is going to start with an advantage because of something that happened. It seems like another season ago, at least to us. Each game is going to start out new and we're going to have to play good for 60 minutes in this game, not make up for anything that happened eight weeks ago, and not get down about anything that happened."