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The Eagles have Doug Pederson’s back, even if Jim Schwartz doesn’t

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The Eagles have Doug Pederson’s back, even if Jim Schwartz doesn’t

You don’t see too many coaches taking Gatorade showers in Week 1. After the week Doug Pederson endured, you can understand why some Eagles players probably felt he deserved it following the team’s 30-17 win in Washington on Sunday.

Pederson has never enjoyed tremendous support among Eagles fans or in the local media, even going to back to his lone season as the club’s starting quarterback. There were concerns regarding his credentials and speculation about his job security from the moment he was hired as head coach. To this day, it often seems as though every decision Pederson makes is at risk of being picked apart.

No need to shed a tear for Doug. Such is the life of many an authority figure in Philadelphia sports. However, the narrative took a turn for out of bounds last week when several anonymous sources suggested defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is actively angling for Pederson’s job.

Let’s back up for a moment. This all started when ex-NFL scout and general manager Mike Lombardi suggested Pederson might be the least qualified head coaching hire of the past 30 years. Most of Lombardi’s front-office career was spent with moribund franchises, and he’s out of the league now, so there was some debate as to whether Lombardi’s comments merited a larger platform. Naturally, reporters felt compelled to ask Pederson about those comments anyway, cementing Lombardi as a story.

When Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie decided to hold an impromptu press conference last week, many speculated it was specifically intended to discuss just this issue. When the question finally came up, Lurie was ready.

“I have a strong endorsement of Doug,” Lurie said. “Those comments, you guys call it ‘click bait’ or ‘hot takes.’ That's how I saw that.”

Pederson also dismissed Lombardi’s comments out of hand, as did many players, so the story seemed to be over. It was a ridiculous assertion anyway, because while the jury is still out on Pederson long-term, he proved qualified enough to lead the Eagles to seven wins in 2016 with a rookie quarterback and retooling roster. Most everybody was ready to move on and evaluate the coach’s performance, rather than debate his resume.

That is until one day before the start of the regular season, when Jeff McLane for The Philadelphia Inquirer was able to resuscitate the dead horse. According to McLane, an anonymous Eagles staffer indicated it is widely believed among the team’s assistant coaches that Schwartz is “trying to undercut” Pederson, while three anonymous players claim it’s “well-known in the locker room that Schwartz is waiting to usurp power.” No names on the record, besides Lombardi – who praised his buddy Schwartz – and only one quote from anybody inside the NovaCare Complex.

“He walks around the building like he thinks he’s the head coach,” one player said.

Honestly, there’s not a whole lot to that line. Schwartz is the visibly confident type, he’s been an NFL head coach before, and he essentially is the head coach of the Eagles' defense, with the same level of autonomy once afforded to Jim Johnson in that role. The idea that Schwartz walks around like he’s the head coach, well, he is a very influential figure in the organization, and he will likely be a head coach again in the future. Why should anybody be surprised?

As for the rest of the report, an Eagles staffer could be just about anybody, and there’s little context for the players’ reactions. Which is not to say the story is inaccurate or untrue, but if there is a power struggle on the coaching staff, many players don’t even want to hear about it.

“There was a lot of hoopla with the article that came out before the game, which was very unfortunate, that it came out the day before the game like that,” Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said postgame.

Whether Schwartz is scheming for Pederson’s job behind the scenes or not may be irrelevant. For one thing, the locker room has the head coach’s back. As long as the team continues winning, players almost certainly will continue to dismiss any innuendo out of hand.

“We love playing for Doug,” Ertz said. “We don’t care what outside people think. Guys love playing for him. We gave it our all for him. I love playing for Doug, that’s all I can speak for. He’s an amazing coach, he’s an amazing play-caller.”

That much couldn’t have been clearer Sunday. Despite any attempts from outside NovaCare to create internal strife and derail the Eagles’ season, the team won on Sunday. The Eagles went on the road, where they really struggled last season, went up against NFC East rival Washington, which owned a five-game winning streak in the series entering the game, and are now sitting at 1-0.

Whatever interoffice politics might be pitting Schwartz against Pederson, whatever anybody thinks about the man’s qualifications, that’s not what played out on the field. Both the Eagles' defense and special teams outplayed the Eagles' offense in Washington, yet it was Pederson that was wearing the Gatorade postgame.

“It's everything that I've been telling you guys,” Pederson said. “Just ask the players how they feel about me. I give this win to all the players in that locker room. They battled. They hung in there through adversity, and we pulled the game out.”

For what it’s worth, winning is good for everybody, while not winning typically isn’t good for anybody, in terms of job security. If Schwartz wants another head coaching job in the NFL, the best way to go about it is to be successful in his role. But after 25 years in the league, he probably already knows that.

Jerry Jones goes after Roger Goodell over Ezekiel Elliott suspension

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Jerry Jones goes after Roger Goodell over Ezekiel Elliott suspension

Jerry Jones, the NFL's most outspoken troll, just wants to watch the world burn.

After weeks of talk and escalation, the Cowboys' owner is ready to go to war with Roger Goodell and the league's other owners over Ezekiel Elliott's suspension.

According to an ESPN report, Jones threatened the commissioner on a conference call after Elliott's suspension was announced, saying, "I'm gonna come after you with everything I have. If you think (Patriots owner) Bob Kraft came after you hard, Bob Kraft is a p---y compared to what I'm going to do."

For weeks now, Jones has tried to disrupt talks of a contract extension for Goodell, promoted objectively bad pizza in the name of football, and landed himself in hot water with the other owners. So much so that there has reportedly been talk about removing Jones as the Cowboys' owner.

It's hard to pick a side here. Jones — the long-lost twin of Emperor Palpatine — and Goodell — a man with rulings more inconsistent than Pete Morelli. You don't really want to root for either of them, but it is fun to think about the extremely unlikely chance that Jones loses the Cowboys. 

Cowboys just another inferior opponent to Eagles

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USA Today Images

Cowboys just another inferior opponent to Eagles

It was only a few weeks ago when it appeared this first meeting between the Eagles and Dallas Cowboys was shaping up to be a battle for NFC East supremacy. Now that we’re here, the Cowboys are just trying to save their season, and the Eagles just want to take care of business against an inferior opponent.

That’s not a stretch. Are the Cowboys a good team? Well, they’re not bad, at least based on their 5-4 record. They certainly would be a lot better were it not for injuries and suspensions. But as the team is currently constructed right now, Dallas is not on the Eagles’ level.

Name one thing the Cowboys do better than the Eagles in 2017? That’s going to be a struggle, because aside from maybe punting, or maybe having a marginally superior pass rush, or maybe running the football before Ezekiel Elliott was sent packing, there’s really nowhere Dallas possesses an edge at this point.

Doesn’t mean the Cowboys won’t pose a threat to the Eagles or even win on Sunday night. It’s simply a difficult scenario to envision when we break down the matchup on paper.

QUARTERBACKS

We’re probably going to be having this debate for many years. One-and-a-half seasons certainly isn’t enough to settle it. That being said, there’s no question who’s playing better right now, as in ‘17. Carson Wentz might be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player through 10 weeks. Wentz has thrown for more yards (2,262 to 1,994), a higher yards per attempt (7.8 to 6.9), and found the end zone with greater frequency (23 to 21) – including rushing touchdowns – compared to Dak Prescott. The Eagles’ signal caller also has just one more turnover (7 to 6) and 26 fewer yards rushing (211 to 237). Ultimately, the stats are all pretty close, but Wentz also has the more important number over Prescott right now: Wins, eight to five.

Slight advantage: Eagles

RUNNING BACKS

It’s safe to say that any combination of Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith (not to be confused with Broncos great Rod Smith) is a massive drop-off from Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys simply can’t replace the explosive element Elliott brought to their offense, not with this collection of has-beens and one nobody, anyway. Not one of those ball carriers has the pure ability of a Jay Ajayi at this stage of their careers, and the Eagles wouldn’t swap LeGarrette Blount or Corey Clement with Dallas, either. Fun fact about the Cowboys backfield: The unit’s leading receiver is Smith with 38 yards.

Clear advantage: Eagles

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS

Zach Ertz is leads both teams with 43 receptions, 528 yards receiving and six touchdowns, and he even missed the Eagles’ last game. Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor are second and fourth, respectively, with 500 and 428 yards receiving, and tied for second with five touchdowns each. The Cowboys’ top receivers haven’t been as effective at getting down the field or in the red zone, though it’s a deep group. Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley are essentially possession receivers at this point, and even speedy Terrance Newman is averaging a career-worst 11.8 yards per catch. Dallas’ best deep threat has been Brice Butler this season with 10 receptions for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Otherwise, the vertical game has been nonexistent.

Advantage: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINE

In retrospect, the Cowboys’ issues this season were easy to see coming. The retirement of right tackle Doug Free started a game of musical chairs up front, while the departure of guard Ronald Leary in free agency hurt the unit’s depth. Going from guard to tackle has been an adjustment for La’el Collins, and whether at left guard or left tackle, Chaz Green has been an abject failure. Dallas needs Tyron Smith healthy and covering Prescott’s blind side for this to even have a prayer of working. Meanwhile, the Eagles’ O-line keeps on ticking despite losing Jason Peters, which is a credit to Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s development. Peters or no, this continues to look like the best unit in the league.

Advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE LINE AND LINEBACKERS

The Eagles may have the best front four in the NFL, or one of them at least, but don’t discount the Cowboys here. Dallas is tied for fifth with 29 sacks, and Demarcus Lawrence leads the league with 11.5. The defense isn’t great against the run – 4.3 yards per carry allowed is tied for 23rd – but Lawrence, David Irving and Tyrone Crawford can all get after the quarterback. Of course, it’s not as if the Eagles aren’t scary rushing the passer, with just four fewer sacks, plus Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and company boast the No. 1 run defense as well. Even if the lines are considered even, there’s going to be some separation at linebacker, as the Cowboys are without the heart soul of their defense, Sean Lee (hamstring).

Slight advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Despite a solid pass rush, teams have thrown on the Cowboys’ secondary. In terms of opponents’ quarterback rating, Dallas ranks 23rd (96.4). It’s a young backfield, with rookies Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods and Chidobe Awuzie – the latter returning from a hamstring injury – in outsized roles. The Eagles are young at corner themselves, with Ronald Darby finally back from an ankle and rejoining Jalen Mills, but have seasoned safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod over the top. The unit will give up some ground, coming in at 26th in terms of yards per game (249.4), yet is ninth in quarterback efficiency (81.2). Teams throw against this group because they have to, not because they want to.

Advantage: Eagles

SPECIAL TEAMS

At one point, Dan Bailey may have been the best kicker in the league, but he’s coming off his worst season as a pro and is now sidelined by a groin injury. That was the Cowboys’ primary strength on special teams. Now unreliable Mike Nugent is handling the kicking duties. Dallas punter Chris Jones has been pretty good at pinning opponents deep, which is nice, because he’s getting a lot more opportunities this year. The Eagles routinely grade among the top units in all phases, and will get the nod over most opponents, even if there is a Pro Bowl kicker.

Advantage: Eagles

COACHING

Jason Garrett is the reigning NFL Coach of the Year. He doesn’t call the plays. He doesn’t run the defense. Heck, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones probably decides when to call a timeout or throw the challenge flag. Yet, Garrett has hardware saying he’s the best. To his credit, there is a good staff in place around him, particularly defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. But as of now, Doug Pederson is well on his way to winning Coach of the Year in ’17, and will do it while actually running a team, nor are there any weak links on his staff. With an unconvincing 62-49 record, including playoffs, we’ll go ahead and chalk up Garrett’s 2016 campaign as an anomaly.

Advantage: Eagles

OVERALL

The Cowboys went 13-3 in the regular season in ‘16 on the strength of a dominant offensive line, punishing ground attack and well-coached defense. While the latter is still in place, even that aspect of the equation benefitted from ball-control offense. But Dallas’ line is an injury away from being in shambles, and the NFL’s reigning rushing champion is suspended. That leaves a young quarterback with aging weapons and adequate protection at best, and a defense that can rush the quarterback but does little else. Meanwhile, the Eagles have the best record in the league right now at 8-1, and they were firing on all cylinders heading into their bye. This is a week-to-week sport, so everything can change in the blink of an eye on Sunday night. Going in, however, there’s no denying which side is superior.

Distinct advantage: Eagles