Frozen tundra alters Eagles' practice plans

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Frozen tundra alters Eagles' practice plans

It's supposed to be business as usual for the Eagles in Week 17 — aside from the special circumstances that led to practice being held at Lincoln Financial Field on Friday.

In a surprise twist ahead of a "meaningless" game against the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday, the Eagles announced practice had been moved to the Linc on Friday morning. The reason, coach Doug Pederson revealed during his media availability, was the practice fields at the NovaCare Complex were frozen.

“Just want to be outside," Pederson said. "(Lincoln Financial Field) is heated, is warm. The field out here is a little bit frozen, so I just want to make sure we get a chance to be outside.”

The Delaware Valley has been locked into a sustained period of freezing temperatures for days, with a high of 26 degrees forecasted for Friday. It was 22 degrees around 11:50, when practice got underway and felt much colder on the field.

The temperatures weren't an issue for the Eagles the past two days, as walkthroughs were held inside the practice bubble at the team facility. Pederson said plans to go to the Linc began coming together on Thursday as he considered the logistics of moving outdoors.

"Actually woke up yesterday and thought about it," Pederson said. "It's easy. The stadium is right there. You get four busses, you get coaches and players, and let's go. It's as easy as that.

“(Director of Grounds) Tony Leonard and our field crew do a great job of preparing the field for us. It's not covered at this time, so it's a great opportunity to be outside and get some good work in.”

While the Eagles will hold practices at the Linc during training camp for fans to attend, it's never been done in season. The practice was also closed to the public, and media was ushered back up the tunnel after five minutes.

Pederson made the call to practice outside even though the outcome of Sunday's game is irrelevant. The Eagles have already clinched the top playoff seed in the NFC, while the Cowboys were eliminated from postseason contention.

If Pederson decided to hold practice in the bubble again, nobody would've thought twice. Instead, he made the unprecedented call to go down the street.

“I just think it's important that you get outside," Pederson said. "It's great to be outside in the fresh air. Sunny day, the wind's not blowing. It's a little chilly, but it's a great opportunity to get some good work in.”

While the outcome might not matter, Pederson has insisted he's treating the game with the same importance as any other during the regular season. Though many starters are not expected to play the full 60 minutes, the Eagles are trying not to alter their mentality too much.

“I'm not using the term 'preseason' with our guys," Pederson said. "It's still a regular-season football game, the Dallas Cowboys.”

One way to maintain that edge is to prepare for the elements. The high temp forecasted for Sunday, when the Eagles host the Cowboys at 1 p.m., is 22 degrees, with a low of eight.

By just being himself, Doug Pederson has had masterful year

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By just being himself, Doug Pederson has had masterful year

Bill Belichick didn’t win a playoff game until his fourth year as an NFL head coach and didn’t reach a conference title game until his seventh year.

Don Shula didn’t win a playoff game until his sixth year as a head coach.

It took Dick Vermeil four years to win a playoff game, Dan Reeves six years, Tom Landry eight.

Heck, Pete Carroll didn’t reach a conference title game until his third head coaching stop, and Marv Levy didn’t even get to the playoffs until his eighth year as a head coach.

Just a little context.

Pederson has been magnificent this year, and out of everybody we talk about who’s played a role in the Eagles' success — from Carson Wentz to Nick Foles, Howie Roseman to Joe Douglas, Fletcher Cox to Malcolm Jenkins, Jim Schwartz to John DiFillippo, Jason Kelce to Alshon Jeffery — Pederson is the common thread that’s tied all of it together.

We saw last year that Pederson had a rare ability to keep a team together when faced with adversity. Whether it was the whole Sam Bradford situation before the season, Lane Johnson’s suspension, a couple arrests, two players publicly speaking out about mental health, or just keeping the thing on the rails after three straight late-season ugly losses, Pederson won over his players by confronting each issue openly and professionally and treating his players like grown men.

By the time the team training camp ended this past summer, Pederson had earned the respect of the veterans by preaching discipline without being over the top about it and by constantly keeping the lines of communication open with his players. 

Here’s a young, inexperienced coach who had a long but undistinguished playing career and no real track record or resume as a head coach trying to convince a locker room of Super Bowl winners and all-pros that he knows what he’s doing.

But he did that. Just by being himself. Tough, smart, open, honest.

And once you get guys like Malcolm Jenkins, Jason Peters, LeGarrette Blount and Alshon Jeffery to buy in, the younger guys just fall in line. 

And that might be the biggest challenge any head coach faces. Getting guys to believe in his message. To believe in him.

But Pederson has tremendous instincts when dealing with people, a real natural, honest way of getting his point across, and it enabled him to seamlessly win over the locker room. 

Once that happened, this team was built to withstand whatever challenge it faced. To withstand whatever roadblocks stood in its way.

And as it turned out, there were plenty of them. 

We don't have to run down the littany of season-ending injuries the Eagles faced, but what this team has accomplished without its MVP quarterback, its Hall of Fame left tackle, its best linebacker, its all-pro returner and its top special teamer is nothing less than astonishing.

Nick Foles is their quarterback and they're in the NFC Championship Game.

Think about the last month.

They came from behind in Los Angeles to beat the Rams after Wentz got hurt. They beat the Giants on the road. They beat the Raiders to clinch No. 1 seed. They "upset" the Falcons in a conference semifinal playoff game. 

For this football team to be one home win away from the Super Bowl after all it has been through speaks volumes about Pederson. He's guided this franchise through adversity that would have crushed some locker rooms, and he's done it in his second year as a head coach above the high school level.

Pederson found a way to get 53 guys to believe in themselves even when very few other people did. And they returned the favor by consistently playing smart, physical, disciplined football for him no matter who the opponent, no matter what the score, no matter how long that Injured Reserve list grew.

This has been a masterful year for Pederson, and anybody who can't see that just isn't looking very hard.

Why lack of touches for Jay Ajayi after 1st quarter?

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Why lack of touches for Jay Ajayi after 1st quarter?

Jay Ajayi wasn't hurt Saturday night. So why did he barely play after a huge first quarter?

Ajayi dominated the first quarter of the Eagles' 15-10 playoff win over the Falcons at the Linc with seven carries for 49 yards. But after a one-yard carry a minute into the second quarter, he didn't touch the ball again until the third quarter.

After his hot start, he didn't even get on the field on the Eagles' last two drives of the first half.

LeGarrette Blount actually had more carries than Ajayi after the first quarter, but netted only 19 yards on nine attempts, although he did score the Eagles' only touchdown from a yard out in the second quarter.

Ajayi never got into a rhythm after his long layoff. He had eight carries for five yards after the first quarter and finished with 15 carries for 54 yards along with four catches for 44 yards, including a 32-yard catch and run that was the Eagles' longest offensive play of the game.

Head coach Doug Pederson said Monday he just wanted to get Blount some work. He also said he likes to go hurry-up after long plays and was unable to sub Ajayi while the offense was going with tempo. But there weren't any plays longer than 15 yards while Ajayi sat.

Pederson said the decision on which back to use rests with him and not running backs coach Duce Staley.

“I ultimately control the personnel," he said. "Duce doesn’t sub them. I’m the one calling the plays, so I call for those guys in particular situations, and a couple times when we broke off a long run or a pass particularly — it’s a good time to go a little tempo. So whoever the back is at the time on the field, I just kept him in there.

"And [Blount] was heating up a little bit and we wanted to get him going as well and it’s just the way it went."

Ajayi had 35 of the 86 net yards on the Eagles' only touchdown drive of the game.

After that second-quarter TD drive, the Eagles ran 15 times for 17 yards, not including three Nick Foles kneel-downs.  

Pederson said all the backs know all the plays, but he just prefers different backs depending on what the Eagles are doing offensively. 

Of the Eagles’ 67 offensive plays, Ajayi played 29, Blount 20, Corey Clement 16 and Kenjon Barner one (see Snap Counts).

"The way it is set up is by design, by scheme design, a particular back might be good at a certain run scheme so we put that back in for that particular play," he said.