Monday was business as usual for the Eagles at the NovaCare Complex. The New Normal, just as head coach Doug Pederson promised days after the Eagles won Super Bowl LII. It's playoff time, and the Eagles spent their Monday looking ahead to the 12-4 Chicago Bears, a team that has one of the best defenses in the NFL and an offense that is brilliantly schemed and executed well enough to score points and possess the football.
It's the NFL Postseason. And the Eagles are loving the view.
"You have to enjoy the moment and make the most of it," Pederson said. "It doesn't come around every day."
Winners of five of their last six games, the Eagles head to Chicago for Sunday's game (4:40 p.m., NBC) understanding the challenge: Chicago's defense is dynamic and, truthfully, there are few holes.
"We've got our work cut out for us. We know how good they are and we're looking forward to preparing for that," Pederson said. "Our job as coaches is to make sure our protection is sound, make sure that we've got the guys in the right position. Of course, the players around our quarterback have to do their job in protection and keep him clean. It's a tough task, but I appreciate what our guys go through."
For much of this season, the Eagles searched for their identity on offense. They lacked consistency. They lacked, perhaps, some confidence. They've got all of the above now and it's led to greater consistency and more production. Quarterback Nick Foles is getting the football out of his hand quickly and he is spreading it around to all of his pass catchers. The rotation in the offensive backfield works – some credit to Wendell Smallwood here, because his touches have bounced around (10 carries in Los Angeles, one against Houston, and then 12 at Washington) and he's given the Eagles 104 rushing yards in those three games. Darren Sproles looks fresh. Nice to see Josh Adams pick up 50 yards on 11 carries after some rough sledding in the previous two weeks.
The wide receivers are just doing it. Alshon Jeffery is a beast. He's had 22 receptions for 351 yards, a 16-yard average per catch, since the Dallas game. He goes up and snatches it. He makes catches in traffic. He is winning deep and he's winning in the intermediate game. Nelson Agholor has 10 receptions, 156 yards, and three touchdowns in the last two weeks. Golden Tate is another terrific option and as the passing game continues its quick-throw rhythm, he'll be a threat.
At tight end, Zach Ertz commands a defense's attention and Dallas Goedert is taking big-time reps and producing as a receiver and a blocker.
Lane Johnson is at the top of his game at right tackle, a new man after his Pro Bowl snub. He and Brandon Brooks are again the best guard-tackle tandem in the league. Jason Kelce has been a warrior this year, hasn't he? All kinds of bumps and bruises and he goes out there and plays a whale of a game. Stefen Wisniewski is doing his usual bang-up job at left guard with Isaac Seumalo out (pectoral, will see increased practice reps this week) and Jason Peters bounced back nicely from the quad injury that hampered him against Houston to play well against Washington.
All of that leads to the game plan. What the Eagles did against Washington – short passes, establish the run, a lot of two-tight end sets, showing patience – isn't necessarily what I expected. With the Redskins short at safety after releasing D.J. Swearinger, I thought maybe the Eagles would take some shots to Ertz and Goedert down the middle of the field. Instead, the Eagles took what Washington gave them and ended up controlling the football for more than 43 minutes, including a ridiculous 19-play, 87-yard drive that consumed nearly 12 minutes of the second quarter.
It was beautiful.
And it was an example of how multidimensional the offense has become heading into the playoffs.
"We had a lot of moving parts early in the season, trying to figure out who was where and so it's taken us time to get our rhythm on offense," Pederson said. "Then we had more changes late in the season. It takes time to get into that groove. I think we're there now."
Anyway, it's only Monday. I know we all want Sunday to get here fast, but let's sit back and think about the ways to beat the Bears. It won't be easy. This is a good football team the Eagles are playing. Matt Nagy is an aggressive head coach with a young quarterback and the Bears are here to seize the moment. They're not settling for "just being in the playoffs."
What we've got is a week ahead of us that is going to be fun and fascinating. The game plan is being put into place. As you usher in the New Year, 2019, be thankful for where we are, all of us. A season that looked like it was in danger of heading south, really south, turned around and the Eagles are alive. Does it matter that this football team, with so many veterans who have won in the postseason, is going on the road? Not in the least.
Every team has a shot in the postseason. And, as we've seen, the Eagles know how to keep a season alive. They've had "a shot" for the last six weeks and here they are, trusting their own "process," or in the words of Doug Pederson, "The New Normal."