Eagles

Doug Pederson at his best when facing challenges — on and off field

Doug Pederson at his best when facing challenges — on and off field

When I think about how the Eagles will respond to Sunday's loss and the abrupt loss of their status as consensus GREATEST TEAM ON EARTH, I think back to last year and everything the Eagles dealt with.
 
Legal issues for Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff and Nigel Bradham. Sam Bradford going AWOL for two weeks of minicamp. The Bradford trade and Carson Wentz's sudden ascent from third-stringer to the starting lineup eight days before the opener. Lane Johnson's suspension. A mid-season five-game losing streak. Brandon Brooks missing a couple games with what he later revealed was extreme stress.
 
It was a lot for an NFL rookie head coach to deal with, and the one thing you kept noticing was that Doug Pederson always found ways to keep the thing on the rails and navigate his team through every challenge it faced.
 
Whatever chaos was swirling around the Eagles last year, you never saw things snowball. You never saw things get out of control. Pederson continually demonstrated a knack for dealing with whatever issues arose around the football team, and by the end of the season, they were playing pretty good football.
 
That's a unique skill and just as important for a head football coach as calling plays, making substitutions or challenging bad calls.
 
All those little mini-dramas can take a toll on a football team, but it seemed like with each one, the bond in the Eagles' locker room grew stronger, as did the respect the players have for Pederson.
 
All of which is why I'm not all too worried right now.
 
What this team went through last year has a lot to do with the success it's experiencing this year, and I don't think that's going to change.
 
The Eagles lost a football game Sunday for the first time since Week 2, and we've got to keep this in perspective.
 
They lost. Sometimes teams lose.
 
The Seahawks have the best home record in the NFL over the last six years. They've lost eight home games with Russell Wilson at quarterback since 2012. Yes, two of them were in November, but it's not the end of the world losing to an elite football team and Hall of Fame QB in a really tough stadium after nine straight wins.
 
Big picture?
 
Nobody in the NFL has a better record than the Eagles. And for a franchise that's been around for 84 years, they've had a better record after 12 games only three times.
 
No, they no longer control their own playoff destiny. They could conceivably win out and still have to travel to Minneapolis for the NFC Championship Game. (And if that happens, Case Keenum is not beating this team … but that's another story.)
 
But when you step back and take stock, this football team is sitting here 10-2 with four games left. Last time they lost? They won their next nine.
 
There are worse places to be than first place in the NFC East sharing the best record in football with one loss since Phillies season ended.
 
And if the Eagles haven't demonstrated over the past two seasons their ability to respond positively when faced with a little adversity, I don't know what else they have to do.
 
Teams lose games. Teams bounce back. This one is really good at it.
 
I don't think any of us had any idea what the Eagles were getting when they hired Pederson, but he's definitely got his finger on the pulse of the team in a very powerful way.
 
He gives the players leeway but trusts them to do the right thing, and they respect him for it. If they tell him practice is too hard, he adjusts. He leans on his assistants. He involves everybody in the organization. He listens.
 
This is as strong a locker room as I've seen, and Pederson is a big reason for it. It's a bunch of guys with a chip on their shoulder. Late-round picks. Undrafted dudes. Guys released by other teams.
 
They're hungry and they are unselfish and they are determined and want to win. They love to work hard, they love playing for Doug, and one loss isn't going to change any of them.
 
If anything, it will motivate them even more.
 
That loss Sunday night in Seattle doesn't change the fact that the Eagles are still one of the NFL's best teams.  
 
It does put into focus a few things they need to work on.
 
They have to protect the ball at the goal-line. They have to find their offensive rhythm earlier. They have to avoid the defensive breakdowns that led to the Seahawks' big plays. They have to adjust when they realize an opposing quarterback recognizes a zero-blitz is coming. Big V needs to play better. Doug has to stay aggressive.
 
The Rams are very good, and playing back-to-back games on the West Coast isn't easy. Nobody is going to hand home-field advantage to the Eagles.
 
There are a lot of challenges facing this team right now, but facing challenges is something they've proven to be very good at.

Eagles Stay or Go — A few easy choices for once

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USA Today Images

Eagles Stay or Go — A few easy choices for once

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Mack Hollins
Roob: Hollins wasn't really a factor later in the season, once Torrey Smith got going, but he did show early in the year what kind of player he can be, notably with that 64-yard TD catch in the second Redskins game. Depending on what the Eagles do about Smith, Hollins should be either the Eagles' third or fourth receiver this fall. Either way, he'll be here, and I expect him to make a big jump in Year 2.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Hollins caught just 16 passes as a rookie and it seemed like he just never started producing the way he seems capable of. Even when Smith struggled, Hollins got more playing time and didn't produce. The good news is he's still young and plays a role on special teams. The Eagles will probably bolster their receiving corps in some way, but if they don't, Hollins will have a shot at starting if Smith is gone next season. 

Verdict: STAYS

Alshon Jeffery
Roob: Jeffery really played better than his stats this year. He made every big catch, caught every big third-down pass, made huge plays in the end zone. Jeffery was a star receiver without a star receiver's stats. His unselfish attitude carried over to the rest of the receivers and throughout the roster. And he did it all with a rotator cuff injury that required post-season surgery. Can't wait to see what Alshon can do healthy.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Jeffery didn't put up eye-popping numbers during the regular season, but if you needed any proof he's a No. 1 receiver, go back and watch Super Bowl LII, when he made that ridiculous catch in the end zone for a huge touchdown. The good thing about Jeffery is he really doesn't care at all about his numbers. There are a lot of diva receivers in the NFL, but Jeffery clearly isn't one of them. All he cared about last year was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and he certainly helped get the Eagles there. 

Verdict: STAYS

Malcolm Jenkins
Roob: Jenkins has so many roles on and off the field — community activist, NFLPA organizer, locker room leader — it's easy to forget just how good a player he is. Jenkins has been here four years and has had four very solid, very consistent, very productive seasons. He made his second Pro Bowl this year and joined Bill Bradley (3) and Dawk (7) as only the third Eagles safety since 1960 to make multiple Pro Bowls. Jenkins is signed to a cap-friendly deal through 2020 and should be an Eagle for many years to come.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: As important as Jenkins is to the Eagles as a safety and defensive back, you could make a legitimate argument that he's even more important to the team as a leader and man. There's a reason he became the guy to follow up Doug Pederson's postgame speeches. He isn't just the leader of the defense; he's the leader of the entire team. And on the field, he's still playing at a really high, Pro Bowl caliber level. He's 30 now but is still signed through 2020 and maybe outside of Fletcher Cox is the Eagles' most important defensive player. 

Verdict: STAYS

Eagles Stay or Go — 2 young linebackers

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USA Today Images

Eagles Stay or Go — 2 young linebackers

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Darrell Greene
Roob: The Hall of Fame cornerback is now 58 years old and 21 years removed from his last Pro Bowl season with the Redskins. Oh wait … wrong Darrell Green. This is Darrell GREENE, and he's a 6-foot-3, 320-pound guard out of San Diego State who's been on the Eagles' practice squad most of the last two years. The Eagles liked Greene enough to keep him around the last couple years, and unless they see something in Chance Warmack that I missed, Greene has a chance to stick around as a young O-line prospect.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Greene has been around now for the last two seasons. He was without a team for most of 2017; the Eagles didn't bring him back to the practice squad until December. The offensive guard had some real potential coming out of San Diego State, and the Eagles paid him a lot of guaranteed money to sign as an undrafted free agent before 2016. But he's never really impressed them enough to stick around for good. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Hicks
Roob: With Hicks, it's always about durability, not ability. Hicks has played more than half a season only once in his three NFL seasons, and since he's under contract for 2018 with a modest $2.068 million cap figure, he's obviously not going anywhere. The question is what the Eagles do with him after 2018 when he's due to become a free agent. Hicks can play. We all know that. He needs to prove this year that he can stay healthy in order to get a big-money deal a year from now.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Losing Hicks was a problem in 2017 and his absence started showing up late in the season. He's a big-time playmaker. It's a shame he got hurt last year because if he didn't, he'd be in line for a payday. For now, he'll be back in the final year of his four-year rookie contract until he can prove he's the same player he was pre-injury. 

Verdict: STAYS

Kamu Grugier-Hill
Roob: Grugier-Hill must be Howie Roseman's dream. He's signed at the minimum through 2019 but is an awfully valuable member of the roster — a reserve linebacker and emergency kicker and maybe the team's best special teamer. Kamu's not going anywhere.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He really doesn't play at all as a linebacker, but Grugier-Hill has become one of the best special teams players in the NFL and had a real chance to be named a Pro Bowler in 2017. He led the team in special teams tackles with 19 last season. He's still young, cheap and is a big part of Dave Fipp's group. 

Verdict: STAYS