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.”

Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

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Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

In the latest edition of Eagle Eye, Derrick Gunn and Barrett Brooks discuss Darren Sproles' upcoming retirement. Does it put the Eagles in an awkward position on game days? Why do players care so much about their ratings in Madden? Also, Barrett shares how he decided on his jersey numbers throughout his football career?

1:00 - Derrick is back! What did he do with his time off?
5:30 - Barrett spent time with his grandson ... who ate pancakes with ketchup.
10:00 - Darren Sproles says 2018 will be his final year.
15:00 - Why do players care so much about their Madden ratings?
19:30 - If you can script your career, how would you want to retire?
22:30 - How did Barrett decide on his jersey numbers?

Subscribe and rate Eagle Eye: Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Stitcher / Spotify / Art19

Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

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Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

One thing Andy Reid was spot on about during his long tenure with the Eagles was the importance of building around both lines. 

Big Red always made the offensive and defensive lines a priority, and during the Eagles’ stretch of deep playoff runs — from 2000 through 2009 — the O-line was anchored by guys like Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Jermane Mayberry and Todd Herremans and the D-line by Corey Simon, Trent Cole, Mike Patterson and Hugh Douglas.

During that 10-year stretch, the Eagles had the most wins in the NFC and the third-most wins in the NFL, and the one constant during that stretch was solid line play. 

Donovan McNabb was very good when healthy most of those seasons, and the Eagles always had good running backs and corners, but the heart of those teams was up front.

Just look at how Big Red drafted. Eight of his 11 first-round picks were linemen. After taking McNabb in 1999, all six of Reid's picks in the first half of the first round were linemen.

They obviously didn’t all work out, but Reid was committed to both lines, and Howie Roseman, then a young, rising personnel executive, was paying attention.

The Eagles have done a lot of things differently in the five years since Reid's final season here, but one thing Doug Pederson and Roseman believe in is building around the lines, and it sure paid off last year.

According to figures on salary cap website Spotrac, the Eagles in 2017 were the only team ranked among the top five in the NFL in both offensive line and defensive line spending.

And the only team that had a parade in February.

And they’re only going to spend more this year.

The Eagles will spend 22.36 percent of their 2018 cap money on the offensive line, fourth most in the league, and 28.84 percent to the defensive line, fifth most.

That’s more than half their 2018 payroll on the big guys up front.

The Jets — sixth in O-line spending, 10th in D-line — are the only other team in the top 10 in both.

Seven of the Eagles’ 10 highest-paid players last year were linemen, as are eight of their 13 projected highest-paid players in 2018.

And five of those guys — Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jason Kelce, Vinny Curry and Jason Peters — are actually holdovers from the Reid era.

Think of them as Reid’s parting gifts to the 2017 championship team.

Creating a Super Bowl roster was a complicated process for Roseman, and to be able to make this sort of financial commitment to the two lines means you just don’t have much money left for everything else. 

The only way to make that work is to build with cheap labor elsewhere. 

And that means younger players on bargain-basement rookie contracts, cheap but productive quarterbacks and low-round picks and undrafted players with cheapo contracts excelling.

It means drafting well and making exceptional free-agent decisions without overspending.

It’s a crazy juggling act, and Roseman juggled all those things magnificentely last year.

In fact, according to Spotrac’s data, the two lines are the Eagles' only positional groups ranked even among the top 15 in the NFL.

The secondary and QB positions rank 16th in cap allocations, tight end 18th, running back 21st, wide receiver 27th, linebacker 31st and special teams 32nd.

These numbers are all based on the 53 highest-paid players currently under contract, so they will change slightly once the final roster is set, but they won’t change much.

The Eagles were very good in a lot of areas last year — really, in every area — but their offensive line was the best in football and the best in Eagles history, and the defensive line was easily one of the two- or three-best in football.

Everything the Eagles did, everything they accomplished, started up front.

Put Peters back on the O-line and add Haloti Ngata and Michael Bennett to the D-line with an increased role for Derek Barnett, and both lines could conceivably be even better this year.

It’s going to get harder for Roseman to keep paying the Eagles’ linemen the way he has. Once Carson Wentz signs his next contract, the Eagles’ entire salary cap balance will change. 

Those $25 million annual cap hits for one guy have a tendency to make roster decisions way more challenging.

So it will be tricky for the Eagles to re-sign Graham. He wants a fortune, and he deserves a fortune. 

But even if Roseman can’t get that done, Barnett has three more years on his rookie deal, and that’s the key to making this whole thing work. 

You can’t re-sign everybody, so if you want to remain elite, you have to draft well so you can replace the people you invariably lose.

You lose Patrick Robinson, you have Sidney Jones waiting. You lose LeGarrette Blount, there’s Corey Clement ready to go. You lose Mychal Kendricks, you hope a Nate Gerry can contribute. Trey Burton leaves, and Dallas Goedert is cheaper and better.

You get what you pay for. And the Eagles right now are paying for the best in the business.

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