What Eagles need to do to get offense going

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What Eagles need to do to get offense going

There’s a relatively simple explanation as to why the Eagles’ offense struggled in the last two games of the regular season, and the issue happens to be easily correctable, too. In the words of the immortal Allen Iverson, “We talkin’ ‘bout practice.”

Eagles coach Doug Pederson went with a lighter practice schedule over the final two weeks of the regular season, which is understandable. The team was coming off of three straight road games, including a full week in Los Angeles. A single win or Vikings loss during that span was enough to clinch the top playoff seed in the NFC. They were smack dab in the middle of the holiday season.

Most of all, the players needed the rest. But the result of reducing the intensity at practice – and practicing less overall – was evident during an ugly 19-10 win over the Raiders and an even uglier 6-0 loss to the Cowboys. Fortunately, the Eagles think there’s an obvious solution.

“The biggest thing that we need to do and this team needs offensively especially is we need to practice,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said Sunday postgame. “The last two weeks, we’ve tried to get some rest in and to get guys’ legs back, and I think that’s important, but toning down the reps and taking away from some of the physical things, we have to get back after that.

“This will be a good week to be able to get back out there, put some pads on, really go through things full speed, and that’s what we need right now offensively.”

Could it really be that easy? The Eagles’ struggles over the last two games were largely a product of not practicing as hard or as much? And the fix to all their problems is more and better practices?

“We need to get back to what we’ve been doing the whole season,” Kelce said. “Everybody is very vocal in saying that, including the coaches.

“It’s great to be fresh now. I’m glad that we did it. I’m glad that everybody’s legs are back. Now we need to hit the ground running, improve and get this thing corrected offensively.”

It’s not inconceivable. The Eagles held fewer traditional practices than normal the last two weeks – and abbreviated sessions at that – opting in favor of more walkthroughs, which are shorter and move at roughly half the speed. Less practice means less time to work on the game plan for the upcoming opponent, while a walkthrough makes it virtually impossible to simulate timing at all.

The Eagles weren’t focused on getting sharp for matchups with the Raiders or Cowboys, and it showed. Shifting the emphasis back to winning, as opposed to healing up and resting, can make a world of difference.

“That could help us a lot, and it needs to help us out a lot,” said Eagles tight end Brent Celek. “We haven’t played that well these last two weeks, so we have to get out there, we have to rep this stuff, and we have to get right.”

Practice reps and a chance to work on timing are especially important for somebody like Eagles quarterback Nick Foles.

Only three weeks ago, Foles was the backup. He didn’t have the luxury of working on his rapport with the Eagles’ receivers on a regular basis. He wasn’t getting the reps with the playbook or the game plan all week the way the starter would. Now Foles has been thrust into action, and aside from one game against the Giants, he still hasn’t been preparing in the usual manner an NFL quarterback would.

With the Eagles set to open the divisional round of the playoffs against either the Saints, Panthers or Falcons, Foles and the offense have two full weeks to get back in gear.

“Preparation builds confidence,” Foles said. “In anything you do, you prepare. Hey, you go into a test, what do you do? You study. You prepare. You’re confident going in and you do well. Same thing with football.

“We won’t know who we’re playing, but you can go back and analyze yourself fundamentally and work on that. Then once we know and we get into our normal prep week, you prepare for the game like you always do and we get ready to roll.”

Pederson revealed the Eagles will practice on Wednesday and Thursday during the Eagles’ bye week, when other teams might choose not to practice at all. Then the Eagles will get back to their normal schedule ahead of their playoff game next Saturday.

Just to make sure they’re ready to go for the franchise’s first postseason game since 2013, the Eagles will hold some of their practices in full pads as well. NFL teams will only practice in pads a limited number of times during the season, but Pederson said this decision came at the request of his veteran leaders.

“This is something the players want,” Pederson said Monday. “It’s not a punishment thing, it’s not coming directly from me, it’s what the players want. I listen to my guys, and I think they understand there’s a sense of physicality that we have to get back to.

“There’s a sense over the course of a few weeks when you’ve been in shells – pad level begins to rise, intensity sometimes can be minimized – so you get back into pads, it sort of refocuses the guys a little bit. It’s not like we’re going to tackle, and it’s not a training camp-type practice, but the fact of just having them on, banging around on one another but still protecting one another, I think can be a nice asset for us.”

While the Eagles’ offense has been the bulk of the concern the last two weeks, the defense expects to reap the benefits of the increased practice intensity as well.

“It’s important that we get back to some of the basics,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said Sunday. “Not do anything crazy, but I definitely think it’s an opportunity for us to get better as a team and that’s where the focus needs to be.”

The question that lingers is whether they are able to relocate that same intensity from earlier this season. But considering what’s on the line with the calendar rolling over to January – a loss next Saturday would end the Eagles’ season – it shouldn’t be too difficult to get in the right mindset.

“All these guys have to understand this is it,’” Celek said. “This opportunity may not come for anybody again, so let’s step it up, let’s have a great two weeks of practice, and let’s get ready.”

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."