With top record and time off, Eagles' next focus is to not feel themselves

With top record and time off, Eagles' next focus is to not feel themselves

The whole country saw Thursday night what we've all suspected here in Philly the last few weeks.

The Eagles are for real.

About 15 million people nationwide watched the Eagles topple the Panthers 28-23 Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium in a battle of 4-1 teams.

National TV games have a way of altering the conversation about a player or a team, and the Eagles know that with a four-game winning streak, a 5-1 record and a signature prime-time win on the road over a playoff-caliber team, the perception of the Eagles is changing.

“Now you’re going to have bandwagon people who are going to jump on and say, ‘Yeah, you’re for real," safety Corey Graham said. "But it doesn’t really matter to us.

"As long as the guys in this room continue to fight and continue to do what we need to do, we’re all right with that. We’re going to get more respect, but that comes with more responsibility. We’ve got to go out there and make sure we’re ready to play every week."

The mood in the Eagles' locker room as they embarked on their mini-bye — four days off and 10 days without a game — was confidence and swagger but also a great deal of perspective and caution.

They know they're good. But they also know there's a long way to go, and a 5-1 record in mid-October won't mean anything if they don't keep winning.

You never really know, but this sure doesn't seem like a team that's going to let a little success get to its head.

“Coach (Doug) Pederson always tells us, block out distractions," safety Rodney McLeod said. "Can’t listen to what’s going outside in the world, just be focused on next game and what we have in this locker room and being committed to one another, and I think that’s what we’re going to do."

That said, it doesn't mean they're not going to enjoy the show they put on Thursday night for a national TV audience.

"Oh yeah," McLeod said. "Every primetime game, you want to go out there and represent not only yourself but your team. We’re here to put the league on notice, man, and I think this was a good game to do that. 

"It was versus a good team, on the road, short week, and we stepped up to the plate."

This is the 10th time in franchise history the Eagles have been 5-1 or better after six games. They were 6-0 in 1981 and 2004, and they've also been 5-1 in 1949, 1950, 1960, 1961, 1979, 1980 and 2014.

And all that is with four games on the road — the Eagles are already 3-1 away from the Linc after winning just one road game last year. The Eagles' next three games — against the Redskins, 49ers and Broncos — are all at home.

Only three of their 10 remaining opponents currently have a winning record: the 3-1 Broncos, 3-2 Seahawks and 3-2 Rams.

Doug Pederson, now 12-10 as an NFL head coach, said it's not easy to keep his team grounded and focused coming off such an emotional win and with four consecutive wins.

"It's tough," he said. "It's a fine line because the players are going to read and they're going to listen to all the media outlets on TV and stuff and just hear how people are talking about them and saying how good and how great they are. 

"But (we have) to keep it real, too. That comes from me. Yeah, we're winning these games, but there is a lot to fix, a lot to correct, as well. It's never perfect."

Chris Long and Malcolm Jenkins, two veterans with Super Bowl rings, both cautioned their teammates against buying into the hype.

They've both been to the top, but they also know how tenuous that grip on the upper echelon of the NFL is.

"I think a lot of us have anticipated us having success," Jenkins said. "The biggest thing is handling that success and being able to stay goal-oriented and being able to stay focused on the day and the task at hand and one week at a time and not listen to all the things people are projecting onto us.

"And the only way to get through that adversity is to be present in the moment. … That’s up to the leaders on the team to combat all of the praise and hoopla that will come with it. I’ve been on teams that have handled success well and teams that have handled success poorly, and I don’t intend to let that slip."

Long, who won a Super Bowl with the Patriots last year, also preached caution.

“We’ll see if we’re special," he said. "I don’t want to say we’re special yet. We’re six games in, we’ve got a long way to go. Special teams sustain this kind of performance as the weather gets colder and real football starts in November and December. We’ve got to set ourselves up for that."

This is a team that hasn't been in the playoffs since 2013, hasn't won a playoff game since 2008 and hasn't even had a winning season since 2014.

So 5-1 is heady stuff. 

"We don’t listen to the noise," Alshon Jeffery said. "We believe in each other. We’re the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s a new year. We’re just getting started."

NFL fines Carson Wentz for low hit on DeMarcus Lawrence

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NFL fines Carson Wentz for low hit on DeMarcus Lawrence

Carson Wentz helped the Eagles pick up another big win last Sunday, but his wallet is a little lighter after it. 

Wentz was fined $9,115 for a low hit on Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence in the fourth quarter Sunday. 

The low block came after Zach Ertz fumbled the ball before he crossed the goal line on a two-point conversion attempt. The Cowboys recovered the ball and started to return it the other way. Wentz was trying to tackle Justin Durant, who was returning the ball, but Lawrence got in his way and the Eagles' quarterback went low. 

The Eagles went for two-point conversions after all four of their second-half touchdowns because kicker Jake Elliott was concussed. This was the only one they didn't convert. 

Eagles' run defense faces toughest test yet vs. Bears' attack

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Eagles' run defense faces toughest test yet vs. Bears' attack

The Eagles may boast the No. 1 run defense in the NFL these days, but that ranking will be put to the test Sunday by the Chicago Bears (see matchups to watch).

“If we can’t stop the run, it’s going to be a long day,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said this week. “Let’s not get that mistaken.”

Few teams are as committed to the ground attack as the Bears, and even fewer are more productive. Since rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky became the starter in Week 5, Chicago ranks seventh in the league in rushing attempts. For the entire 2017 season, the offense is fifth with 131.8 rushing yards per game.

The Eagles are limiting opponents to nearly half that total at 71.0 yards per game. They’ve also faced only a smattering of backfields as talented as Chicago’s, if any. Plus, many offenses have abandoned the run — a strategy the Bears aren’t likely to attempt regardless of the score.

“We know they’re going to run the football,” Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “They even run the football a lot of times on third-and-long. It’s something they’re going to do.

“There’s a reason why they’re fifth in the league in rushing.”

Given the nature of their passing attack, the Bears’ best shot at pulling off an upset at Lincoln Financial Field is to keep the Eagles' offense on the sideline.

“Even if it’s not getting you a whole lot," Jenkins said, "if you can slowly move the chains and control the game, I think that’s something that they’ll continue to do.”

Trubisky, selected with the second-overall pick in the draft, has begun making strides in recent weeks. He completed 60.0 percent of his passes and avoided throwing an interception in each of the last two games, both one-possession losses. In fact, the Bears haven’t lost any of Trubisky’s six starts by more than eight points, and are 2-4 since he’s taken over.

Trubisky wasn’t asked to throw the ball much in those two victories, either — a combined total of 23 pass attempts. Instead, Chicago was able to lean on running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.

“It’s kind of like a thunder and lightning situation," Bradham said, "kind of what we had here at the beginning of the season with (LeGarrette Blount) and (Darren Sproles).”

Howard is the workhorse back and is often overlooked as one of the NFL’s bright, young stars due to the quality of his team. The 23-year-old was the runner-up to the rushing champion as a rookie in 2016 with 1,313 yards. Ten games into his second season, he’s up to 841 yards with a 4.4 average and five touchdowns.

A fourth-round pick from FCS school North Carolina AT&T in 2017, Cohen has immediately emerged as one of the league’s scariest change-of-pace/receiving backs. The 5-foot-6, 181-pound ball carrier has 537 total yards from scrimmage and leads the team with 33 receptions.

The duo is featured prominently in just about everything the Bears do on offense.

“They put both backs on the field at the same time a little bit, too,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “Sometimes it's two-back sets, sometimes it's one.

“Traditionally there's a fullback back there in two-back sets, but not so much with the Bears. They can put two guys back there. It spreads you a little bit thin. You have to be very assignment-sound. It'll test us in the run game.”

Cohen, in particular, has caused defenses some problems because, much like Sproles for the Eagles, he can line up all over the formation. Some teams have even opted to roll coverages to his area of the field, though that might be as much about Chicago’s dearth of receivers as it is respect for the 22-year-old.

Whatever the case, Jenkins doesn’t expect the Eagles to roll coverages, adding that’s not something they’ve done all season. Regardless, with three run or pass plays of 35 yards or more this season, Cohen is a home run threat — although the Eagles aren't giving up many home runs (see story).

“He’s definitely a matchup issue, and they put him all over the place,” Jenkins said. “He’s at receiver, he’s in the backfield, he’s in the slot. Everybody is going to have to hold up. Whether he’s on a linebacker or a safety or a corner, we’ve seen him make plays at every position.

“He’s running post routes on corners and making the play. Then they’re able to line up and run the ball at pretty much anybody, so we’ll have our hands full with that.”

Howard is a threat to rip off long gains on the ground as well, with three runs of 50 and over. Then Trubisky is capable of taking off, too, with 163 yards rushing.

“His ability to make plays with his legs has been a positive,” Jenkins said. “He’s a mobile guy. When all else fails, he can escape the pocket and extend the play.

“Whether it’s scrambling for a first down, or scrambling to get somebody open, that’s always tough on the defense.”

Up until last week, it was beginning to look like there may not have been a running game in the league that the Eagles needed to fear. Then the Dallas Cowboys posted 112 yards last Sunday — tied for the most the Eagles have allowed all season and the most since Week 2. And Dallas was without All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is suspended.

Then again, if the Bears are only able to muster 112 yards rushing this week, the Eagles might consider that a victory in itself.

To put those numbers in perspective, exactly half of the league is allowing more than 112.0 yards rushing per game this season. In other words, the Bears are probably going to have to fare a lot better than that to knock off the Eagles.

“I think we set that bar awful high,” Schwartz said. “Some people might get a pat on the back for that.

“It's a tribute to the players in the locker room that that's a poor performance for them, and they consider it a poor performance.”