NFL coaches live in a different world, one that eliminates distractions and ignores the outside world. For a coach two weeks into the preseason, the focus is on the here and now, with an eye on September.
That's why offensive coordinator Frank Reich understood the big picture of Thursday night's 17-9 preseason win over Tampa Bay, a game that was sloppy and uneven offensively from start to finish. Reich walked away with a slightly different perspective than what the Philadelphia media and fans have offered.
"There is no negative mindset coming from anywhere that can keep us down," Reich said on Saturday after practice at the NovaCare Complex. "Our first offense on Thursday night had only three snaps and we scored a touchdown. From where I'm from, that's a winning day for the 1's. So, you keep moving on."
And that's what the Eagles are doing, even with bumps in the road. Starting right tackle Lane Johnson said on Saturday that he anticipates having the NFL impose a 10-game suspension on him for a second offense of the league's substance abuse policy. Thus, the Eagles are experimenting with some new looks for the offensive line, moving veteran Allen Barbre from left guard to right tackle and inserting third-round draft pick Isaac Seumalo into the starting lineup at left guard.
First-round draft pick Carson Wentz, who looked so good in his preseason debut against Tampa Bay, found out on Saturday that he suffered a hairline fracture in his ribs and will be out indefinitely. Head coach Doug Pederson said he hopes to have Wentz back on the field before the end of the preseason, so that September 1 game against the New York Jets seems like a reasonable goal. We'll see on that.
Meanwhile, Reich and the Eagles' coaching staff know the offense struggled on Thursday after converting two takeaways in the red zone into touchdowns. The pass protection faltered. The run blocking was spotty. Receivers dropped passes. Everyone made mistakes.
It was one of the hottest days of Eagles Camp thus far, but the quarterbacks kept up the intensity at practice in full pads.
The game gave the coaching staff a chance to look at every player on the roster in a live game situation for the first time in these new schemes. Now that there is evidence on tape with which to work and to use as a teaching tool, a new level of expectation is established.
"As a coach, you look at it play by play, series by series, down by down," Reich said. "We embrace the fact that the fans are passionate and that they want the best. We want the best, too. You're always striving to get better and a preseason game is an opportunity to get a better look at where you are really at and where you need to improve and who is progressing and what individual players are progressing.
"There are always positives and there are times in this league when the offense struggles and the defense and the special teams carry you. There are other games when the offense carries the day. But you still have to make every play count, even when you're struggling. You still have to fight and press and keep trying to improve."
Reich pointed out some of the positives: The running game at times, the conversion of the two takeaways into red zone touchdowns, and some individual players and how they played.
But the present situation is that the offense knows it needs to get better and that is what the coaches are striving to make happen. They are critical of themselves and of the players on the roster, and so for Reich and the offensive coaches the emphasis is on sharpening things up in practice and performing better under the lights in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Reich is a realistic guy. He knows the Eagles have work to do on offense. He also knows that there was very little, if any, game planning done for the Bucs, that the play calling was vanilla and that phase of the game changes in the regular season.
"You always have to find ways to get better. You have to believe that you can do it and if you don't believe it, then you can leave. That's the posture we take," Reich said. "I've seen a great deal of improvement since the spring and I also realize that we're still learning. That's what the preseason is for. We'll use these games to get better. We will accept the challenge every day. That's the only way to approach it."
With blinders on, then, the Eagles continue to work. This is the time of the year for the fans and the media to overreact – we all did it last preseason, remember? – but the coaches keep their noses to the grindstone and work to find solutions and prepare for the regular season ahead.