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.”