Good morning. The Eagles' final practice of the week is today at 11:50 a.m. They leave for Chicago on Saturday. Doug Pederson’s final press conference this week is at 10:30 a.m.
This is a Friday edition of the Early Birds newsletter, but it will not be the game preview that is typically found in this space on Fridays. There will be a special bonus edition of Early Birds on Sunday morning to get you ready for the game, so make sure you check your inboxes then.
— Zach Berman
It’s January, but the Eagles should hope Fletcher Cox plays like it’s December. That’s because Cox is coming off the best month of his career, with a league-high 6.5 sacks. Only Kansas City’s Chris Jones has matched him. Aaron Donald, the Rams star who won NFC defensive player of the month, had six sacks. Cox finished the season with a three-sack performance that earned him defensive player of the week, though.
“I would say yeah,” Cox said when asked if this is the best he’s played. “Obviously, getting to the quarterback. I think I went one game without sacking the quarterback in this little stretch right here. It’s always fun. None of this would happen without great teammates.”
Cox has said in the past that his contributions cannot be measured by sacks alone. One only needs to watch the Eagles each week to see how he influences games with the way he draws double teams and can penetrate the backfield. But the reality is sacks are an important metric for a player such as Cox, especially when compared to players like Donald. This is the first time in Cox’s career that he’s reached double-digit sacks, and it’s because of the way he played this past month.
“Everything is kind of just falling right into my hands,” Cox said. “The biggest thing is it’s toward the end of the year, and learning to rush with [Michael Bennett] inside…has helped a lot with the success I’ve had the last couple of games getting to the quarterback.”
Last season, Cox often played next to Brandon Graham on passing downs. This season, it’s been Bennett often rushing from the inside. Both players have clicked together during the second half of the season.
Jake Elliott knows what it’s like to kick in Chicago this time of year. After all, he grew up in the area. Elliott, who is from La Grange, Ill., is kicking in his hometown for the first time in his NFL career.
"It’s special, getting to go back there – it’s the first time I’m playing back in Chicago since the high school days,” Elliott said. “Cool to play in front of a bunch of family or friends, but other than that, I don’t see it much different.”
It will be up to 40 degrees on Sunday with winds of 10-20 mph. Elliott pointed out the “Windy City” nickname has political roots, but the conditions there can affect a kicker.
“It’s windy there, it’s a tough place to kick, but so is [Philadelphia]," said Elliott, who has also kicked in the Meadowlands, which is known for its swirling winds. So if there’s a kicker whose first Soldier Field kicking experience is in a high-stakes January postseason game, it helps to be Elliott, who knows all about Chicago.
“I’ve kicked in a bunch of places,” Elliott said, “so I feel prepared.”
Nick Foles was a full participant at practice on Thursday, which is a good sign. That means he took his normal allotment of snaps, just as Doug Pederson said Foles would at the beginning of the week. Foles’ ribs were sore on Sunday night, but he said Wednesday that he’s “drastically improving.” He would have been limited if the Eagles practiced Wednesday. The participation on Thursday shows his improvement. Foles said he will wear a little extra protection around his ribs on Sunday, but pay attention to how he handles a hit to that area.