The two most important men on the Eagles roster were nowhere to be found on Thursday afternoon. At least, nowhere anybody in the media could find them. In all likelihood, there was no deep meaning to glean from the absences of Lane Johnson and Jason Peters during the hour or so that the Eagles locker room was open to the fourth estate. You might find this hard to believe, but the majority of players struggle to appreciate the convenience of a pack of 50 some cameramen and note-scribblers drifting through their personal space as they traipse back and forth to the showers.
So, yeah, it is possible that the two Eagles tackles were too busy studying tape of Khalil Mack to take advantage of the opportunity to discuss their looming matchup against the NFL’s most fearsome linebacker. It’s also possible that they were quaffing copious amounts of ginger and chicken broth while attempting to quell their game-week nerves. More than likely, though, they were simply waiting for all of us pesky outsiders to clear the room.
It’s a lot simpler time of year for the Eagles than a lot of us professional Eagles watchers like to admit. Narratives are the lifeblood of our profession, and that’s understandable, because they are the lifeblood of the amateurs as well. The spectacle of football is rooted in the story that each game offers its viewers. It is the original and unsurpassed reality show.
Yet one thing that the NFL postseason teaches us time and again is that the only subplots that matter are the physical ones. Player X versus Player Y. The offensive play-caller and his defensive counterpart. Last year, the Eagles were the team that seemed to lack all of those abstract things that our imagination suggests play consequential roles. They lacked the end-of-season momentum, the prior playoff experience, the pedigree at the quarterback position. In the end, what mattered most was the plays that they made.
Take, for instance, the glaring disparity in postseason experience that will exist between these two rosters when the Eagles and the Bears take the field on Sunday evening. According to the data at Pro-Football-Reference.com, Chicago’s active roster features 14 players who have appeared in a total of 45 playoff games. The Eagles, on the other hand, boast 35 players with a combined 171 games. A lot of that action was logged last postseason, but not all of it. Of the seven players with the most postseason experience on the roster, five did not take part in the Eagles’ Super Bowl run, with Haloti Ngata, Darren Sproles, Michael Bennett, Golden Tate and Richard Rodgers having combined to participate in more playoff games (53) than the entire Bears roster.
Sure, somewhere on the margins, there’s an advantage to be realized. After all, experience rarely hurts.
“The inexperience is always something that you are confused about,” wide receiver Nelson Agholor said, “and you may get a little nervous or whatever but I think when you’ve done it before you understand that it’s something to really be appreciative of. That’s the best way for me to put it. Like, I’m really appreciative to play in the postseason and take advantage of this one game that we have, because it’s a one-game season from here on out. We get a wonderful chance to play the Chicago Bears, to play with this family one more time, and leave it on the field.”
Yet the Eagles' own experience points to the limited payout that such illumination tends to yield. Nick Foles had never played in an NFC championship game when he shredded the Vikings in one of the NFL’s all-time great postseason performances last January. Corey Clement was an undrafted rookie playing in his third playoff game when he made that catch in the back of the end zone in the Super Bowl. Alshon Jeffery caught 12 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns in his first ever postseason.
Take it from the Mummer himself.
“It doesn’t mean anything to me,” Jason Kelce said. “The better team that goes out there and plays well will win the game.”
For the Eagles, that means, first and foremost, blocking Mack and the rest of a Chicago defensive front that has dominated opponents this season. Peters and Johnson have combined to appear in seven playoff games. Mack, who finished the regular season with 12.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss, has played in one. If you find solace in that fact, you’ve probably never faced him.
Quarterback is the one position where you might imagine experience playing a significant role. Foles clearly has it, and second-year signal-caller Mitch Trubisky clearly doesn’t. Heading into last year’s divisional round, quarterbacks with Super Bowl experience were 35-19 in the playoffs when matched up against a quarterback who had not appeared in a Super Bowl. But, then, the divisional round happened, and Blake Bortles beat Ben Roethlisberger, and Case Keenum beat Drew Brees, and Foles himself knocked off Matt Ryan. So, really, your interpretation all depends on which tragically flawed sample you decide to prioritize.
There’s an argument to be made that the Eagles are the more talented team, and that Doug Pederson is the more established play-caller, and that the combination of Peters and Johnson will be enough to keep Foles' ribs intact. The only certainty is that those are the arguments that matter.