Eagles Wake-Up Call: A Surprising New Challenge
Entering the season, the questions were endless about the Eagles. How will the rookie quarterback play? How will the new head coach lead? Will the defense be as good as expected?
Through three games, all of the preseason question marks have been firmly rebuked by the team with the best point differential in the NFL. Now, there’s a new, surprising question mark few saw coming just a couple of weeks ago: How will the Eagles handle so much success so soon?
“We just have to approach it the same, one day at a time. That’s the way this business goes,” Doug Pederson said. “You are on top of the world one minute, and you can be at the bottom of the heap the next. Just got to keep things even-keeled and can’t get too high, can’t get too low. Approach it the same. You can’t substitute for hard work. That pays off on Sundays. We just have to stay the course. Again, a lot of football left.”
Historically, the Eagles are already in pretty good shape to make the playoffs. In fact, stats suggest they should make a deep post-season run. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the other four teams who have won their first three games in the past decade by at least 15 points have reached the Super Bowl.
But between a rookie quarterback who still hasn’t turned the ball over and a defense that has allowed less than seven points per game, 2016 has already proven to be an unusual season.
“The biggest thing is complacency. You think you’ve arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that’s when you get beat,” Pederson said. “It’s my job not to let that creep in. I’ve got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they’re going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are. But next Monday, I’m going to tell them, ‘Hey, we’re back to work. We’re 0-0. This is game one and let’s go.’
“That’s just the way it has to be. You are building for one ultimate goal and that’s a few weeks down the road. That’s what you are trying to get to. But you can’t get there unless you take care of the next opponent. It’s my job to keep them focused that way.”
With the early bye week, Pederson’s message to his team was simple: Get away. He doesn’t want them focusing too much on football during their off week, and he wants them rejuvenated for the last 13 games of the season.
A big reason for the Eagles’ undefeated mark, of course, is the surprising success of Carson Wentz. The 23-year-old quarterback is the first player in NFL history with at least 100 pass attempts, 60 completions, five touchdowns and zero interceptions in his first three career games. So far, Wentz has made doubters who questioned his readiness after playing FCS football for just a year and a half look foolish. Now, Pederson isn’t worried about how the guy who won five National Championships in college will handle his early success.
“He’s going to be fine. It’s the number one challenge for all of us. I speak for myself, too, when I say that we’ve got to stay humble through this whole thing,” Pederson said. “That’s just things that I’ve learned over my career as a player, as a coach at this level. 22 years in the National Football League, you’ve seen a lot of ball. You have been on teams that have started fast; you have been on teams that started slow. It’s just how you stay the course.
“I think (Wentz) gets it, personally, by just being around him. We’ll definitely have those conversations, not only this week, but just as we go. It’s my job to shelter him from all the outside noise [and] from people pulling on his time. The bottom line is we’ve got to keep the main thing the main thing and that’s football. He’s done a great job so far and I expect the same going forward.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
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WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Carson Wentz and Jordan Matthews have developed a quick chemistry with each other on and off the field, writes Zach Berman of the Inquirer.
Matthews has been impressed with Wentz’s “swagger” – the receiver didn’t expect Wentz to have so much, although the rookie didn’t know whether he should take that as a compliment or an insult.
“He wears an arm sleeve – I’m like, ‘Where did you find that?’ ” Matthews said. “He’s got swagger to him. He’s got a bounce to him.”
The on-field chemistry came even though Matthews and Wentz missed most of the summer. But their injuries also allowed them to work together. Matthews caught passes from Wentz in a workout before the third preseason game that proved important for both players.
“The one thing that Carson and Jordan did, even while they were sort of down in preseason, is they worked together,” coach Doug Pederson said. “They threw routes together. They worked out together. So they maintained that chemistry that they needed.”
Wentz’s work ethic helped endear him to Matthews, who has a reputation for devoted film study and extra work on the Jugs machine. Matthews ate breakfast at the team hotel at 8 a.m. Sunday when he saw Wentz on his way to watch more film.
“Everybody is thinking that it is a crazy thing, but that is his standard,” Matthews said. “I tell people all of the time that you have to work hard until hard work is your standard. So I looked at it like, ‘This guy is working hard.’ No. If he doesn’t do that, then he isn’t Carson Wentz anymore. That is who he is, and we are fortunate to have him.”
Andrew Kulp from CSNPhilly.com writes about the recent emergence of Brandon Graham.
This is only his second season as a full-time player in the NFL after injuries, then depth conspired to keep the 2010 first-round pick on the bench early in his career. Perhaps all he needed was an opportunity. The switch back to a 4-3 defense and wide-nine front no doubt helped rejuvenate Graham’s career as well, allowing him to move from outside linebacker back to his natural position at defensive end and focus on rushing the passer.
With Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith all rotating in at end, Graham is also being kept fresh. Last season, the Eagles lacked the quality reserves to provide many breathers for Barwin and Graham on the outside.
“It’s a great feeling because there’s no pressure to hurry up and get back out,” Graham said. “I feel like everybody is just as good and there’s no drop-off when we come out of there.
“It’s definitely going to help us later on in the year. It’s been helping now.”
There are all sorts of schematic reasons why Graham could finally be on his way to a breakout season. This will be his first full season as a starter at D-end in a 4-3, it’s the first time since 2012 he’s in a wide-nine and the defense no longer has to be worried about being exhausted by Chip Kelly‘s offense’s uptempo approach.
We’ll have more film analysis from the Eagles’ dominant win over the Steelers.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.