Why Eagles already think this season is different from last season | Early Birds

Good morning, Eagles fans. How many of you knew who Jake Elliott was before Sunday’s game? (Hint: If you read Early Birds on Sept. 15, he was the subject of my Q&A.) This is “Early Birds,” the twice-weekly newsletter breaking down the Eagles. It’s free to sign up here to get it in your inbox every Monday and Friday. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thanks for reading.

— Zach Berman

The kind of game they would have lost last year

Camera icon David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
The Eagles celebrate Jake Elliott’s game-winning field goal. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)

In the locker room following Sunday’s dramatic win, Eagles coach Doug Pederson told his players that they might have lost that type of game last year. He viewed the victory on Sunday and the back-and-forth fourth quarter as a sign of growth, of how the 2017 Eagles are different from the 2016 Eagles.

And he wasn’t the only one.

“A year ago, we were always coming up just one play short,” quarterback Carson Wentz said. “To fight until the end, have that comeback, put that drive together and kick that game-winning field goal, that was huge for us. It shows growth and something we can definitely build on.”

The Eagles went 7-9 last season. Six of those losses were by seven points or fewer. That’s not uncommon — eight NFL games this week were in that category. But it’s noteworthy how the Eagles lost. In all six of those games, Wentz and the offense had the ball in the final two minutes with a chance to win or tie the game. They did not have a late fourth-quarter victory all season. (They had one game when Wentz led them on a potential game-tying scoring drive, but the Eagles missed a two-point conversion that would have given them the win.)

That’s why there was so much excitement on Sunday to go along with the improbability of making a 61-yard field goal. As tight end Zach Ertz pointed out, “it definitely helps” to have a player such as Alshon Jeffrey. The field goal will achieve immortality in this city, but the play that set up the field goal was huge. Seven seconds remained, and the Eagles were stuck at their own 38-yard line. Wentz needed a chunk of yards quickly and precisely. There was no time to waste. Jeffery caught the pass in traffic and found the sideline instead of trying to get the Giants to tackle him. Jeffery admitted if there was more time, he would have sought more yards. But he knew how little margin for error existed. And in a crucial moment like that, it helps to have a 6-foot-3, 218-pound receiver with a three-foot vertical leap and 33-inch arms with Jeffery’s ball skills.

“Last year we didn’t have a lot of wins [in] adverse situations like we faced today,” Ertz said.

Brandon Graham added it feels like the Eagles are “getting over that hump.” I don’t know if I’d go that far. They had the game tied at 13 last week in Kansas City and lost. And if they lose in the fourth quarter next week against the Los Angeles Chargers, the narrative will quickly change. But the Eagles must win games like Sunday to play into January.


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3 Questions With | Tackle Jason Peters

Camera icon CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Eagles left tackle Jason Peters on the bench during Sunday’s game at Washington. (Clem Murray/Staff)

Zach Berman: Doug Pederson said this is a game you might not have won last year. What’s the difference this year?

Jason Peters: “Just that fight at the end. We lost a bunch of games by a field goal last year. That’s a bad deal. We learned during the offseason to fight to the end. If we fight to the end, we have a chance to win it.”

Zach Berman: You established the running game during the first touchdown drive with LeGarrette Blount. What does he provide to the offense?

Jason Peters: “Power. We get on those guys, get on the linebackers, he gets up to the second level. He’s a power back, he’s going to break tackles, will get us hard yardage. Once we get him going, it’ll help Wentz out in the pass game. We just have to keep him going and carry over to next week.”

Zach Berman: You’ve spoken about your relationship with Lurie before. Was it significant to you that he was out there with the team during the national anthem?

Jason Peters: “No doubt. He came out and we locked arms, and it was just a great feeling having him out there supporting us like that.”

 


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From the mailbag

Glad you asked. You’re referring to Pederson mentioning “the guy that’s helping me upstairs with some of the analytics.” This question about who helps with those numbers came up during a roundtable interview I was a part of with Pederson back in June. He mentioned Alec Halaby and Ryan Paganetti. Halabay’s title is vice president of football operations and strategy. He interned with the Eagles in 2007 and 2009 and has been a part of the organization since 2010. Halaby, a Harvard alum, has been involved with player evaluation, roster management, and “integrating traditional and analytical methods in football decision-making.” Paganetti is now a coaching assistant working with linebackers, but he was previously an analyst on the staff. I’m not certain with whom Pederson spoke on Sunday, but that’s who he mentioned during the summer. I’ll work to find out more this week.

I asked Pederson this after the game. He said the plan was to rotate Chance Warmack and Stefen Wisniewski. Pederson compared it to rotating a wide receiver in and out of the lineup. That seemed unconventional, but it was the path the Eagles chose Sunday. I thought Wisniewski played better than Warmack — he’s a solid veteran and is in his second year in the scheme. Peters said that Wisniewski is a “technician.” I’m curious to see what the Eagles do next week. Pederson mentioned Isaac Seumalo is “still in the mix,” but he was behind both Warmack and Wisniewski on Sunday. The running game was much better on Sunday, too.

Yes, it is. He’s under contract through 2018. The big question is what happens when Caleb Sturgis is healthy enough to return. The Eagles can bring him back from injured reserve after Week 9. If Elliott is consistent, the Eagles could be compelled to stick with Elliott this season and have a competition next summer between Elliott and Sturgis. As impressive as Elliott was on that 61-yarder, he missed a 30-yarder last week. So he needs to be consistent. But there’s certainly reason to be encouraged. He has a big, big leg.