If you are wondering how the mood around the NovaCare Complex is as the team gets down to business on the practice field to prepare for Sunday's playoff game in Minnesota, well, you can imagine the excitement. The sense of a second season beginning. The feeling of tremendous hope and confidence. The understanding that 12 teams remain, and that the Eagles have as good a chance as any of them.
The playoffs are here.
These are the good times, the days almost taken for granted as the team earned five consecutive playoff bids and advanced to the NFC Championship Game consecutively in four of those years. This moment feels different, of course. This is a moment in our hands, new, fresh and, yes, one that a week ago was a statistical long shot, at the very best.
The Eagles have been given a new lease on their 2008 season's life, They went out and earned the right, after a fortunate series of events, to play in this postseason by slamming the door on Dallas and gaining the invite to the Wild Card weekend.
And so here we are. Yes, the NovaCare Complex is buzzing. The Eagles have a great opportunity in front of them as the coaches work to prepare the game plan and the players tune up mentally and physically. This is win-or-go-home time as the best month in sports begins in front of our eyes.
That's the backdrop to everything that is happening. On the surface, so much is the same. The players, while given the day off on Tuesday, reported to the NovaCare Complex and studied film and worked out and received treatment to soothe their aching bodies. The coaches immersed themselves in video of the Vikings, studying every nook and cranny of past Minnesota games.
What happens on the outside remains, largely, on the outside. The Eagles are in their bunkers now as the countdown to Sunday afternoon quickens.
*NEWS AND NOTES AND THIS AND THAT *
- I spent most of Tuesday with coordinators Jim Johnson and Marty Mornhinweg, interviewing both men and trying to gain some insights as to what the Eagles feel about Minnesota. Johnson thinks Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, in only his second NFL season, is already better than merely great right now.
Johnson thinks Peterson is on the verge of being an all-timer right now.
"Yeah, he's special. You don't see his kind come around very often," said Johnson. "Maybe one of the better backs in a long, long time. He's a very scary guy. He's just like (former Bears running back) Gayle Sayers. He's a special person and a great back."
The biggest difference with the defense from early in the season until now?
"It's the coverage," said Johnson. "We made the move to put Joselio Hanson inside in the nickel and he played very well. Our coverage has been excellent. The guys feel good about themselves and they should feel good. The coverage has really been outstanding as the season went along. That has helped a lot."
- Marty Mornhinweg knows the Vikings are going to be aggressive on defense, and with all that noise in the Metrodome the Minnesota defense has an extra charge. "They're awfully good. They are the best in the league at stopping the run, and they are excellent at rushing the passer," said Mornhinweg. "Those are two things that are good to be good at if you are on defense. It all starts with our offensive line, so we've got quite a challenge.
"We have experience and in many cases, the experience wins out there."
- Tra Thomas led an outstanding effort Sunday against DeMarcus Ware, concentrating on keeping Ware from using his speed to gain the edge on Donovan McNabb's blind side. Thomas has a similar task in Minnesota against Jared Allen and his 14 1/2 sacks. But as he has done since 1998 when the Eagles made him a first-round draft pick, Thomas has to be sure in his sets and his technique. Allen is going to be furious off the edge. That's the way he plays. The Eagles will go with a silent count because of the noise, and that's OK with Thomas.
"I actually think I get off the line faster with the silent count," said Thomas. "I'm looking at the ball when it is snapped and then I have to find my man," he said. "I'm fine with it. I don't think it's going to be a problem."
- Sunday will be a test for SAM linebacker Chris Gocong as the Vikings run to the edges of the Eagles defense. Why wouldn't the Vikings run at Gocong, lining up a tight end on his side and bringing Peterson around the corner? If Minnesota tries the edges, as teams have tried throughout the season, Gocong will have to shed blockers and be physical with Peterson. The Eagles, as they did in the 2007 season, have to rally to the ball to stop the talents of Peterson and his breakaway abilities.
- We'll know more on Wednesday and Thursday about Vikings defensive linemen Pat Williams (shoulder) and Ray Edwards (ankle). Both are key to what the Vikings do at the line of scrimmage.
- Thanks to the Eagles fans out there who are making the trip to Minneapolis for this game. It should be quite a show of Eagles Midnight Green at the Metrodome. Let's make the city blush with Midnight Green.
- My novice opinion from Sunday is that fullback Dan Klecko and tight end Brent Celek did a fine job at the line of scrimmage blocking, and their task will be more of the same against the Vikings. Everything I see in this game points to the line of scrimmage.