The way the NFL is now, with rosters changing annually and with preseason used more to evaluate the young, “bubble-type” roster players rather than the veterans, the opening of a regular season isn’t what it used to be. Back in the “old” days of flip phones and fax machines, teams had a pretty good sense of what they had going into a regular season.
That isn’t necessarily the case now.
Take the Eagles, for example. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz met the media on Thursday and vaguely offered answers to questions based primarily on speculation because, well, nobody has played a regular-season game. And not a whole lot of veterans played substantial snaps in the preseason, either for his defense or for a Washington offense that has a new face at quarterback (Case Keenum) and running back (Derrius Guice) and a vat of wide receivers (including Terry McLaurin and Trey Quinn) whom the Eagles know almost nothing about.
Schwartz isn’t one to put himself on a tightrope with wild predictions and expectations, so there really wasn’t a whole lot to say. The results, Schwartz is often wont to say, speak for themselves.
And, the truth is, the Eagles don’t really know who they are just yet. That’s going to take some time.
“I think every team, they might say they know what they have and I’m just speaking for the Philadelphia Eagles, you spend the first couple of weeks possibly figuring out who you are,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “I’ve heard Tom Brady talk about that. I’ve heard Drew Brees talk about that. I’ve heard other coaches talk about just trying to see what the identity is going to be. In Training Camp, even if starters play (in preseason games), they don’t play long enough to really find an identity.
“I think early in the season, at least these first couple of weeks, you truly see what you have and sort of the path that you’re going to take as an offense for the remainder of the season.”
Translation: Anything can happen in the first week or two of the regular season, so you’d better be prepared for everything.
Said Schwartz: “You never know what’s going to happen.”
To that end, as the Eagles draw closer to the opening kickoff, the general mentality of the players and coaches is this: Be on point. Be at your best from the very start against a Washington team that is tough, physical, smart, and hungry to make a statement in the NFC East.
“They’re going to be tough and they’re going to give us everything they’ve got. We have to expect the best from every team,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “It’s a division game and we know what they do and they know what we do, so we have to impose our will and make it about us.
“I think we have a sense of what kind of team we can be, but until you go out and do it, you never really know. You just want to jell as fast as you can as a team. That’s the key – coming together early in the season and staying that way and staying hot.”
We’re at that point in the week where all of the storylines have been established. The Eagles have an offense that looks great on paper and has all kinds of individual talent, but until they do it in the regular season, it’s all just speculation, talk. The Eagles want to start fast as they did in 2017 – scoring 106 points in the first quarter to rank third in the NFL – and then build confidence. Washington wants to shock the Eagles – jolt the fans, put the team on its collective heels. The matchups – Eagles offensive line against Washington’s excellent defensive line, the return of DeSean Jackson, Carson Wentz’s first action since last December – you know all about that.
Words at this point mean absolutely nothing. Everything points to 1 p.m. on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. That’s when the “real” begins.
"I don't see this as a game that will be won by scheme though," Schwartz said. "This will be won by players fundamentally playing within the scheme and doing their job within the scheme. It's not going to be the scheme that makes a difference offensively or defensively."
Do that and, yeah, the Eagles will be off and moving in the right direction. We’re inside of three days until kickoff and the sense of anticipation is building.