Self-scout. Points of emphasis. What does it all mean in terms that we can understand as the Eagles' coaching staff and analytics department work together during this bye week? On Tuesday, all three coordinators met the media and discussed how they feel about things through six games and what might be ahead for their phases of the team. Interesting stuff, because it goes so much deeper than any of us can understand.
Anyway, in laymen's terms ...
Jonathan Gannon: 'Our best ball is in front of us'
"We have some projects that the head coach has us do, and then I would like to talk about with the staff certain things that I want studied and want to improve on and some answers to some different things," he said. "We kind of collectively get together. We're on our own and then we collectively get together and look at everything from top to bottom and start to make some decisions. You do it weekly, but the difference is obviously now you're not getting ready to play a game, so you can kind of take a deep breath and it can be a little more not as matter of fact all the time. You can have some different conversations about it because time is not an issue.
"It's good because a lot of good ideas come up and it's a good brainstorm session for some of that stuff validated with the tape, numbers, and stuff like that. So, we'll definitely improve coming out of this week."
Gannon has a defense that leads the NFL with 14 takeaways, a statistic he specifically mentioned prior to the season that he wanted to see improved over 2021. That, and explosive plays – the Eagles rank fourth in the NFL in fewest 16+ yard passing plays allowed and 23rd in 10+ yard rushing plays allowed. So, the Eagles have some work to do there.
"We need to get the explosive runs down a little bit," he told me in his office afterward. "We've got a lot of areas to improve with those two statistics, but I like where we're at and I like where we're tracking."
The reality is that the Eagles have assimilated a lot of new pieces – linebackers Haason Reddick and Kyzir White, cornerback James Bradberry, safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, tackle Jordan Davis – into a new system very quickly and very successfully. The defense has been dynamic for much of the time through six games. And the more the players are together and absorbing more of the Gannon system, the expectations grow.
"I think," Gannon said, "our best ball is in front of us."
Michael Clay: 'This whole thing is never a finished product'
Special teams are generally the last phase that comes together, given the constant turnover of personnel, so this is an especially important week for Michael Clay and his coaches. Those who have returned from 2021 – the kicking game in particular – have been outstanding. Jake Elliott has made 6 of 7 field goals and the only miss was the blocked attempt against Minnesota. Punter Arryn Siposs has been terrific directionally and has been extremely consistent. The operation on kicks is so good that even when the Eagles needed to turn to rookie Cameron Dicker, it was flawless.
Still, everything is under review this week. The Eagles are pleased that Britain Covey has solidified the return game, but the team wants more there and from the coverage units. Always want more.
"Just to review everything. You always want to see what your tendencies are, what you're calling at certain field positions, whether it's punt return or punt, which way you're going. Finding different techniques, going back to how to help these guys get off blocks, how to get our blocks going right there," Clay said. "It's just really peeling back all the layers that are going to help them with all this time that we do have, not really getting too far ahead into Pittsburgh. Just really looking back and saying, 'Hey, what's working for us, what's not working for us, how can I improve myself, in terms of telling these guys, improve in this to get better at that.' It's just really taking everything into consideration, looking back at it, stripping it down, and let's see what we can build on when we come back off the bye week."
There are so many young players with key roles on special teams – rookies Nakobe Dean and Kyron Johnson, second-year man Zech McPhearson, and third-year linebacker Shaun Bradley. This is a phase that should improve week to week, and that is what Clay hopes happens.
"This whole thing is never a finished product. It's always going to evolve," he said. "Guys are going to get better. It's one of those things where it's always growing, and hopefully it's always growing in a positive manner. You go out there and you try to get these guys in the right situation to succeed at their biggest levels. There are times where these young guys are out there playing some heavy minutes for us, especially when they're making big plays. But regardless of the situation, the outcome, we're out there to help this team win regardless of the score, the time of the game, who we're playing against. It's one of those things we have to keep growing and eliminate those bad plays week in and week out. We've got to get after it. These guys are always working."
Shane Steichen praises Miles Sanders
Pick your poison. That's what the Eagles want their offensive philosophy to be and through six games, that's what it has been. The goal is to be more consistent – more explosive, more productive – in all four quarters. There have been some lapses that the Eagles, moving forward, want to minimize.
During this bye week, Steichen and the coaches are looking at the minutia. Are they giving away plays? What kind of tendencies are developing? What wrinkles can be added to the offense?
"We're really just looking at what we're doing well, what we need to improve on," Steichen said. "We look at where we are around the league statistically and categories and then we look at two-minute situations, four-minute, backed up, first, second down, run-pass tendency, by formation, motions, shifts, all those different things, because at some point you're going to have tells and we got to break those tells."
Steichen made sure to shout out to running back Miles Sanders, who has been outstanding with 485 yards on the ground, fourth in the NFL. He's been more than just yards, said Steichen.
"Miles has been tremendous through this first six weeks. Averaging 4.6 yards a carry. He's running hard. He's got great vision," Steichen said. "The biggest thing, too, besides that and his speed and his power and all those things that he has, the ball security is huge. We've had no fumbles this year, knock on wood. And we've only had two turnovers. I think when you go back to our big thing and what we look over is winning the turnover battle and winning the explosive play battle, I think it's proven over the first six weeks. We've got to continue to do that. Hats off to Miles. What he's done so far has been tremendous."
Same with the offense, given everything. The Eagles are 6-0. They aren't content, not by a long shot. This week, a bye as we know it, as every bit as important to set up the season as the Eagles dig in with a critical eye to clean up their faults and emerge a better football team two Sundays from now.