It has been an eventful week in Eagles land. The coach (sort of) guaranteed a victory. A starter was cut. And an anonymous Eagles player/source, cited by the Worldwide Leader in anonymous sources, criticized the team for not acquiring cornerback Jalen Ramsey and the offense for being overly complex.
Considering the Eagles just came off a dreadful loss and have a divisional showdown with the Cowboys looming Sunday, it’s almost par for the course. But with the season seemingly at a precipice, you could almost feel the tremors at the NovaCare Complex.
And in the middle of it all, fortifying the walls, was Doug Pederson.
His declaration Monday that the Eagles would beat Dallas and the release of linebacker Zach Brown the next day were clearly messages meant to rattle the players. But Pederson had to take the opposite approach later in the week when anonymous quotes apparently breached the locker room.
“Yeah, you don’t like to have anonymous guys,” Pederson said Friday. “At the same time, I hate to say it, but we’re kind of focused on the Cowboys right now.”
While the content of the quotes, particularly the ones on the offense, don’t make much sense when given context, the fact that someone spoke anonymously should be of utmost concern.
And that it was the same ESPN reporter who last year cited an Eagles source saying that the offense ran too often through tight end Zach Ertz creates natural speculation – internet sleuths had targeted one prominent wide receiver -- as to who may be the informer.
“Same person said I was getting the ball too much last year,” Ertz said. “I mean, I don’t know if it was the same source, but theoretically [it’s the same person]. And now we’re not checking the ball down enough or whatever it is.”
On Wednesday, a day after the Jaguars traded Ramsey to the Rams, the ESPN reporter wrote on Twitter that an “Eagles player” told her, “We dropped the ball.” A day later, the same reporter went on TV and said an “Eagles source” had this to say about the offense:
We need to make bleep simpler. Sometimes we need to just handle what is manageable. Even Peyton Manning knew when to check it down.
“I’m not a smart guy and I can figure out the offense,” Pederson joked. “It’s not that complicated.”
Quarterback Carson Wentz’s deep-passing numbers aren’t good this season. He’s 9 of 29 for 341 yards, with three touchdowns and interceptions apiece on passes that have traveled over 20 yards. But he’s tied for ninth in deep-pass percentage out of 19 quarterbacks with more than 140 attempts, and only one other has had a higher percentage of dropped passes on 20-plus throws.
The problem isn’t that the Eagles are throwing too many long balls, it’s that they’re not being completed, whether it’s the receiver’s fault or Wentz’s or the absence of field-stretching specialist DeSean Jackson.
“I’ve never heard this one before,” Pederson said. “We’re not throwing it deep enough, and now we’re not throwing it short enough. I don’t know. I don’t get it.”
Pederson said Friday morning that he hadn’t addressed the anonymous quotes with his team, but it’s likely he will at some point, perhaps during Saturday night’s last meeting before the game. The Eagles have been besieged by caustic anonymous quotes over the last year.
There were the comments about Ertz last November, which had basically been debunked by his career-high catch ratio. And then there was a PhillyVoice.com story in January, based solely on anonymous sources and quotes, that painted Wentz as selfish and uncompromising last season.
“It’s just more frustrating, regardless of the substance of the quote, it’s just the comments coming out from an anonymous quote-unquote player, whoever it may be,” Ertz said. “There’s nothing you can really do about it. It’s not like you can call anyone out, because it’s anonymous.”
That hasn’t stopped some players from privately coming to conclusions. The same has happened with internet sleuths who have a found a trail of interactions between the ESPN reporter and receiver Alshon Jeffery.
“There’s a lot of people who know a lot of people in the locker room,” Jeffery said Friday when asked about the connection. “I know a lot of reporters.”
So, Jeffery was asked directly, it wasn’t you behind the quotes?
“What are we talking about?” he answered.
The comments were then paraphrased for him.
“Sounds like a story is being written to me,” Jeffery said. “I’m focused on the Cowboys.”
And then, one last time, he was asked directly if he was the source of the quotes.
“Nah, I feel like the only game we really lost was this last one,” Jeffery said.
Receiver Nelson Agholor, who didn’t have a public relationship with the reporter, issued a stronger denial.
“I will tell you on the record that’s not something I mess with,” Agholor said. “I don’t mess with that. You feel me? That’s one thing that needs to be known. ... That’s not how I do business. That’s out of my character.”
Linebacker Zach Brown had caught fire for his comments on the record last week when he told reporters that Kirk Cousins was “probably the weakest part” of the Vikings offense. The quarterback, of course, would light up Brown and the Eagles defense on the way to a 38-20 win.
Brown, it should be noted, had also been the subject of specific reporting by the ESPN reporter. But he was cut Tuesday before the anonymous quotes were made public. Pederson, meanwhile, said that Brown’s Cousins comments had nothing to do with his release.
But they were likely among the final straws, including his substandard play, that led to the ousting of a starter. Pederson was also likely sending a missive to a 3-3 team that may need a jolt. The Eagles last waived a player of similar stature three years ago – albeit under different circumstances – when receiver Josh Huff was arrested on gun and marijuana charges.
They were 4-3 at the time and had just come off an overtime loss in Dallas. The Eagles, though, would lose six of their next seven on the way to missing the playoffs. They would win their last three, an early show of resiliency that has marked Pederson’s squads.
But losing can fracture even the closest of locker rooms.
“These guys really -- things get thrown at them all the time,” Pederson said. “It’s kind of funny, because we play a game. We play a sport. We’re all judged and critiqued on this sport that we play and coach.
“It seems like everything is about the negative with players or with coaches and there is not enough positive.”