Eagles begin preparing for Week 17 vs. Cowboys, but how will they approach a game without postseason implications? | Early Birds

Good morning, Eagles fans. The Eagles won’t have a full practice Wednesday. Doug Pederson will put the players through an 11 a.m. walk-through. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz hold news conferences at 10:15 a.m. The players will meet with reporters at 12:25 p.m.

  • When asked about resting players, Pederson said to “do the math. ” The Eagles have 53 players on the roster and they have seven inactive each week, so the Eagles need to dress most of their starters for Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys. That doesn’t mean they need to play the whole game — or, for some, to play at all. Just look at the Week 17 Eagles-Cowboys last year. As the Eagles did this year, the Cowboys had clinched the No. 1 seed. In addition to their inactives, they dressed running back Ezekiel Elliott, linebacker Sean Lee, and offensive lineman Ronald Leary and didn’t play them. They took many key starters out in the first half, including quarterback Dak Prescott. By the second half, it was mostly deep reserves. That would be a sensible way for Pederson to approach Sunday’s game, even though Pederson said he hasn’t made a decision yet about playing time. Get most of the starters early snaps and hope they put a few good drives together to enter the bye week on a positive note, but try to escape the game healthy and take a look at down-the-depth-chart players in the second half. Pederson is not asking me for advice, but that’s how I’d handle Week 17.
  • If you’re waiting for the Eagles to change their offense or simplify the scheme for Nick Foles, keep waiting. They’re going to run the Eagles offense — as players and coaches have said, that’s their “DNA.” Plus, some of what Carson Wentz did special wasn’t a part of the offense. It was Wentz improvising to make plays. “A lot of the plays that Carson makes are just his God-given ability to run and to make plays with his legs,” Pederson said. “It does help you out to make big plays that way. But Nick has the ability to make big plays through the air. Believe it or not, he is pretty efficient when he is out of the pocket in finding receivers and guys down the field. We’re going to continue to run the offense the way we have all season. We just have to get better execution.” The Eagles went 1 for 14 on third downs against the Raiders. Just think how many third downs Wentz converted on broken plays or off-schedule plays. Those are conversions the Eagles aren’t getting from Foles.
  • What stood out in the Eagles-Raiders playing time distribution? Dannell Ellerbe, who played only one snap this season before Monday, took 39 percent of the snaps at middle linebacker. Derek Barnett was down to 29 percent of the snaps at defensive end, although he missed time last week with a groin injury. At running back, Jay Ajayi went backward after creeping above 50 percent in recent weeks — he was down to 41 percent of the snaps Monday. Corey Clement took a bigger third-down role and played 40 percent of the snaps.

If your friends haven’t subscribed to Early Birds, it’s free to sign up here to receive the newsletter in your inbox every weekday. 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. Thank you for reading.

— Zach Berman

Camera icon YONG KIM
How much should the starters play Sunday vs. the Dallas Cowboys? YONG KIM / Staff Photographer

What you need to know about the Eagles


From the mailbag

If the question is specifically about Monday’s loss to the Oakland Raiders, then I’d put it on Nick Foles more than the offensive line or the wide receivers. I understand Doug Pederson‘s point Tuesday that everyone plays a role in it, but Foles wasn’t good enough. It’s that simple. He made poor throws, missed open targets, and wasn’t aggressive enough in certain situations. I don’t think that’s the Foles you’ll see every week. The Eagles need to focus on getting Foles into quick rhythm passes and incorporate play-action. The key is third downs. The Eagles will lose some of their big-play ability without Wentz. They must sustain drives, and that will require more manageable third downs. They need positive plays on the early downs to avoid third and long. Foles also has to give his wide receivers a chance. He’s careful to avoid turnovers, but sometimes, you need to trust your playmakers. The bottom line is that a great quarterback raises the level of the players around him. I think you saw that with Wentz, and you’re seeing the significance of Wentz’s absence, too.