Eagles

Extra emphasis on special teams bails Eagles out

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Extra emphasis on special teams bails Eagles out

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Eagles blocked three kicks Sunday, and they needed every one of them to secure a 34-29 victory over the New York Giants (see breakdown).

Derek Barnett blocked an extra point in the first quarter, a play that wound up putting the Giants behind the eight ball for the rest of the game. Kamu Grugier-Hill blocked a punt in the second quarter, which led to an Eagles touchdown. Then in the fourth quarter, Malcolm Jenkins blocked a field goal that could have given New York the lead.

It was, by far, the Eagles' best special teams performance of the season to date, one in which the unit had been preparing for all week.

"All week we knew we could do things here, pick apart them here," Grugier-Hill said, "so we went in with a really good plan and we executed."

It could've been the game plan devised by special teams coordinator Dave Fipp, or the hard work of the players in the film room and on the practice field (see Roob's observations). Or, as Barnett suggests, it might've been the Eagles finally playing to their capabilities.

“We executed," Barnett said. "That's about it. There's nothing else behind it.”

The Eagles' special teams had been uncharacteristically poor over the previous five contests. At one point, the coverage units allowed a kick or punt return of 39 yards or more in three straight games. But the biggest miscue of all came last week in Los Angeles — a blocked punt that nearly helped swing the outcome in the Rams' favor.

For a franchise that has routinely fielded some of the best special teams units in the league, the performance was unacceptable.

“Our standard is higher," Grugier-Hill said. "The last three or four years, we've been the top special teams in the league, so to have those down weeks, we've been really putting emphasis on everyone elevating their game and doing better.”

The emphasis paid off. The Eagles made a bit of history, becoming the first NFL team to block an extra point, a field goal and a punt in the same game since the Buffalo Bills did it in 1991.

More importantly, the Eagles were able to swing the momentum in their favor time and time again, and ultimately, they pick up the win as a result.

"We knew from some things that we saw on tape that we had a couple guys that we could attack," Jenkins said.

In addition to the game plan, the Eagles shored up their special teams this week with the re-signing of Bryan Braman. Furthermore, the Giants aren't exactly known for fielding in a quality unit in any phase of the kicking game.

The Eagles had a plan. They had the personnel in place. They were up against inferior competition.

But it all came back to execution (see report card).

“Just getting off the rock, playing physical, not stopping and just keep on going forward," Barnett said. "Schematically? I don't know the answer. That's a coach question. Whatever they do, we do up front, and if everybody executes it — it's all 11 of us, not just one — if we all execute, we'll get the outcome we want.”

Braman, who signed Tuesday and was back in action for the first time since 2016, gave a similar evaluation.

"Everybody comes off the ball like they're the ones that are going to be able to block it," Braman said, "and the scheme and everything ended up paying off."

The Eagles' stellar special teams performance also happened to be timely, as it was the first game without injured starting quarterback Carson Wentz.

Coming down the stretch, the club will be counting on contributions from all three phases to overcome the loss of a leader and an MVP-caliber player.

On Sunday, special teams held up their end of the bargain and then some.

“When a starter like Carson goes down, everyone needs to elevate their game," Grugier-Hill said. "It's not just defense, it's defense or even offensive guys, they need to individually pick up their game.”

Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

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Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

When Doug Pederson said back in July that the 2017 Eagles "probably have more talent" than the Super Bowl Packers teams of the 1990s that Pederson played on, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

Millions of eyebrows maybe.
 
The Eagles? Who hadn't won a playoff game since 2008 and were coming off a 7-9 record in Pederson's first season?
 
More talented than a team that went to the playoffs virtually every year from the early 1990s through the mid-2000s behind Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Reggie White and reached back-to-back Super Bowls in 1996 and 1997, winning one?
 
"I look back on my time in Green Bay as a player when we were making those playoff runs, those Super Bowl runs there," Pederson said on July 17.
 
"And do we have as much talent on this team than we did then? We probably have more talent, right?"
 
Seriously, Doug?
 
Six months later, Pederson's comments — which seemed so ridiculous at the time — don't seem so ridiculous, do they?
 
Because here are those 2017 Eagles, sitting 13-3 with a playoff win over the Falcons in the books and a berth Sunday in the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings despite a rash of injuries to some of their best players.
 
The Eagles haven't lost a game with postseason implications since Carson Wentz was lost for the season, and they're one home win from reaching their third Super Bowl.
 
Pederson, who had two stints backing up Brett Favre with the Packers — from 1996 through 1998 and 2001 through 2004 — was reminded of his comments Friday before practice.
 
"I don't have a crystal ball, obviously, and it's hard to predict," he said. "You'd love to sit here and go, 'Yeah, in the summer, (I thought we were) going to be 13-3 and win the NFC East.' You'd love to be in that situation, or 16-0, or whatever it might be.
 
"I did have a feeling back then when I made that statement that we could be, we had the potential to be a good football team because of the way we've practiced and the talent that we brought to the roster and the progression of Carson in his second year.
 
"And then defensively, the front, the way they performed, and the back end, I saw a lot of the same similarities. So you just have that gut feeling when I made that statement."
 
Back in July, when Pederson made those comments comparing the Eagles to the Packers, he tempered them by saying talent isn't always enough. It takes much more for a team to have success.
 
"I (said) it takes great coaching, teaching, mentoring to also have our guys prepared each week to be in this position," Pederson said. "So all of that has kind of culminated. I think you look back on it and you go, 'Wow, maybe it was a true type of thing.'
 
"But we just keep doing our jobs, keep doing what we've been coached to do. Players play what they can do and what's in their control, and we're here today."

Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

Veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) is the only Eagles player listed as questionable for this week's game. Everyone else on the 53-man roster is expected to be available. 

Ellerbe, 32, missed practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday and Friday. 

The Eagles' starting MIKE linebacker was also listed as questionable last week and was able to play, so expect him to be good to go. After all, this is the NFC Championship Game. There's no resting for anything else. 

In Minnesota, wide receiver Adam Thielen (lower back) and safety Andrew Sendejo (concussion) are both listed as questionable. 

Thielen, the Vikings' top receiver, missed Wednesday's practice and was limited on Thursday and Friday. Just like Ellerbe, there's no saving him for next week. 

Sendejo was limited on Wednesday and Thursday, was a full participant on Friday, but is still technically in the NFL's concussion protocol. He'll need to clear that before he's able to play, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he's optimistic Sendejo will be able to play. 

Meanwhile, third defensive tackle, Shamar Stephen (knee/ankle), missed practice all week and has been ruled out. While Stephen isn't a starter, he played just under 40 percent of the Vikings' snaps this season, so missing him is still a loss.

After practicing indoors on Wednesday and Thursday, the Eagles loaded up on buses and spent their Friday practice outside at Lincoln Financial Field. Head coach Doug Pederson likes to get his guys outside for at least one day per week. 

The Eagles will have a walkthrough on Saturday before they'll be back at the Linc for Sunday's 6:40 p.m. kickoff in the NFC Championship Game.