Get ready to learn a lot about these Eagles

Get ready to learn a lot about these Eagles

We'll learn a lot about this Eagles team over the next few weeks and into the playoffs. 

This week we've already learned a little. 

It would be pretty understandable if the Eagles didn't have a very good week at practice. After all, they're down an MVP now. The team has overcome injuries to several key players throughout the season, but this is decidedly different. This time it was Carson Wentz. 

"It's tough," head coach Doug Pederson said Friday. "It's tough when you lose your starter. But the guys have really responded well offensively around Nick (Foles). And he's jumped in and commanded the huddle." 

There were probably a few downtrodden faces moping about through the NovaCare Complex this week. Really, it would be strange if there weren't. It's a lot, overcoming the loss of a guy like Wentz. But the way the Birds have handled this week should be encouraging for fans who were ready to pack it in and cancel Christmas. 

The overall excitement and cheerful attitude have come from Pederson. He won't let his players be depressed. And then it comes from Foles; as a veteran, he's taken over with confidence, which rubs off. 

Still, it's a pretty natural response for other guys to feel the need to step up when a key contributor like Wentz goes down. That's a good thing. The thing the Eagles have to make sure doesn't happen is guys trying to do too much. Pederson admitted there's a little bit of a fine line. 

"At the end of the day, I don't want guys to go above and beyond what they've been doing to help us win games," Pederson said. "They don't have to do anything more than just their job and their responsibility in whatever their role is in the game plan. That goes for Nick. It's been a while since he's been out there playing and you don't want him to press. You want to let the game unfold in front of you. The guys around him, I think as a team there's going to be that sense of rally. Let's support him, but let's support everybody." 

Several members of the Eagles' defense said this week that they don't feel any extra pressure going forward without Wentz. Again, it would be understandable if they did. Wentz was such a dynamic player this season that he could make up for mistakes. This team probably lost some leash when it comes to playing mistake-free football. 

But the Eagles' defensive players can't try to fill in for Wentz. They have to just play their role. 

"It's about everybody trusting the guy next to him and doing your job, not trying to do anything out of the ordinary," cornerback Jalen Mills said. "Not trying to be a superhero. Just go out there and do your job."

Pederson is happy his team already clinched the NFC East, but a win this weekend would earn a first-round bye. If the Eagles win and the Vikings lose this weekend, they can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. 

As of Friday, Pederson said he hadn't thought about if he'd rest starters in the season finale if things are already wrapped up. 

"You just have to stay the course, stay consistent," Pederson said of his message to the team. "We know what's ahead of us, we know what's in front of us. We still control a lot."

Lane Johnson using underdog status to raise money for Philly schools


Lane Johnson using underdog status to raise money for Philly schools

How do you turn being a home underdog into a good thing? Use it as motivation to win a football game.

How do you turn being a home underdog into a great thing? Raise money for Philadelphia schools and win football games. That’s what Lane Johnson is doing.

After the nation doubted the Eagles against the Falcons, Johnson and Chris Long donned dog masks after divisional round win, embracing the role of underdogs. Now, Johnson has his own T-shirt and is raising money. A lot of it, too.

Shirts can be purchased at lj65.shop for just $18 and Johnson tweeted that more than 3,000 have already been sold.

Hopefully, the home dogs continue to eat this weekend against the Vikings.

Game-winning stand just another play for Eagles' defense

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Game-winning stand just another play for Eagles' defense

There were no special instructions. No extraordinary measures taken. Not much was said. Not much needed to be said.

The game was on the line. The season was on the line. For the Eagles' defense, it was just another play. The stakes were just incredibly high.

It was 4th-and-goal for the Falcons at the Eagles' 2-yard-line in the final seconds Saturday.

Give up a touchdown, and the season's over. Stop the Falcons and you're one game closer to the Super Bowl.

"Our guys, we don't do a whole lot," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Our guys know what to do, and they have downloaded that software enough that it's a little bit automatic for them.

"We also didn't change. We don't surprise the players. What we practiced in our red-zone period is what we played."

The Falcons had already driven from their own 24-yard-line down to the 2-yard-line.

Their quarterback, Matt Ryan, has the fourth-highest passer rating in NFL postseason history, behind Jeff Hostetler and Hall of Famers Kurt Warner and Bart Starr.

That's what the Eagles' defense was up against.

"At that point, you sort of have to trust the players and the players have to trust the scheme," Schwartz said. "I think you saw a combination of both of those. We didn't feel the need to blitz. Played coverage, played good technique."

The clock showed 1:05.

Ryan’s two favorite receivers, Julio Jones and Mohamad Sanu, both lined up on the right side of the formation, Jones outside with Jalen Mills on him and Sanu in the slot with Malcolm Jenkins covering him in a battle of North Jersey natives.

Ryan took the shotgun snap from center Alex Mack at the 7-yard-line and immediately rolled to his right, retreating to the 10 as he neared the sideline.

Nigel Bradham, lined up as the left linebacker, trampled blocking tight end Levine Tollolo, who had his hands full with Brandon Graham, and ran around guard Wes Schweitzer, giving him an angle on Ryan. 

Meanwhile, Vinny Curry, after getting cut blocked to the ground by Falcons running back Tevin Coleman, quickly bounced back up and began pursuing from Ryan’s left. 

Ryan pumped once toward Sanu, who was covered by Jenkins. He quickly looked left but saw only Curry closing in. Thanks to the pressure, he had to quickly backpedal back to the 14-yard-line and finally was forced to unload that lob toward Jones at the right sideline in the end zone.

At that point, it was up to Mills, who had Jones blanketed, and the rest is history.

The ball went through Jones’ hands, his feet came down out of bounds anyway, and after an agonizing moment looking for flags, the play was over.

"A lot gets made of what Jalen did, rightfully so," Schwartz said. "You're talking about a Pro Bowl, All-Pro receiver, 1-on-1. But Malcolm playing the seven route to Sanu and Rodney (McLeod’s) ability to help him leverage that, that was because he's looking for Julio Jones first.

"Julio slips, he's looking for Sanu, nowhere to go and now he has to re-rack that thing and by then, Nigel is closing down on him and everything else.

"If Malcolm doesn't get that route that he covered, if he doesn't get that covered, nobody's talking about Jalen Mills right now."

Mills was physical with Jones but not physical enough to draw a flag. Schwartz said Mills has made huge strides this year with his technique, and on the biggest play of his life, his technique was perfect.

"It's one thing to have confidence, but that's just not the sole requirement for the position," Schwartz said.

"There's a lot of technique that goes along with playing, and I think if you look at that last play, he did a great job of staying square. Meaning his shoulders were perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.

"What the receiver there is trying to do is get you turned so he can come back for the ball. He could never get Jalen turned."

Mills is 23 years old, a second-year pro, a former seventh-round pick, a first-year starter.

To think that he made one of the most historic plays in Eagles postseason history is remarkable.

"I think every player makes a big jump from year one to year two, as far as knowledge of scheme and knowledge of opponents and things like that," Schwartz said.

"(Defensive backs coach Cory) Undlin and Jalen have worked really hard. He's haunted the hallways quite a bit, even on off days this year, just trying to improve his technique. It hasn't been by chance that his technique has gotten better. It's a lot of hard work that's gone into it from a coaching standpoint and from a player's standpoint."

The bottom line is that this defense has played tremendous football all year.

And with the season on the line, everybody simply went out and did their job. Nothing more, nothing less.

"I just think a part of our success is our guys just understand what's asked of them in the schemes," Schwartz said.

"They communicate well. We don't make a lot of mistakes, mental mistakes, and I think that makes it hard to drive the ball on us.

"When you get into those situations where is it's closed quarters and you don't have to defend deep balls, our guys have a good understanding of what opponents are going to do. I was proud of them on that play."