Good morning. The Eagles practice at 1:10 p.m. today or the first time this week. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has a 10:45 a.m. press conference and Mike Groh speaks at 12:05 p.m. Nick Foles' press conference was postponed to today, too.
This is Thursday’s edition of the Early Birds newsletter. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
Doug Pederson on Carson Wentz: ‘He’s our guy’
With Nick Foles as the starting quarterback while the stress fracture in Carson Wentz’s back heals, there has been debate outside the NovaCare Complex about the Eagles’ future at quarterback. Not so much inside the facility, though. (Check out Marcus Hayes’ column.) Although Pederson maintains consistent dialogue with Wentz, he also doesn’t believe he needs to go out of his way to continue emphasizing what the organization has already made clear.
“He understands. He knows the situation he’s in,” Pederson said. “He’s trying to get healthy. But at the same time, I want him to understand that, hey, he’s our guy. He’s the guy we drafted and moving forward, he’s our quarterback. I don’t have to sit there and keep encouraging -- he knows that."
Wentz is able to be around the team more this season than during his injury last year. He remains in the quarterbacks meeting room and active on the sideline. Pederson said Wentz is still “a leader" on the Eagles.
“I know it has to be hard on him not being out there, but at the same time, he’s supporting Nick and the guys and doing whatever he can to keep everybody engaged,” Pederson said.
Confidence in Nate Sudfeld
When Nick Foles went to the sideline while recovering from a vicious hit to his ribs on Sunday, Nate Sudfeld entered the game against the Texans.
Sudfeld threw an incomplete pass on his lone play. It was his only snap of the season. But the hit showed that Sudfeld, who is in his second year with the Eagles, is one play away from being the Eagles' top quarterback. That was the case after Wentz’s injury last year, too.
Pederson said he has “a lot of confidence” in Sudfeld. “He’s smart. He throws the ball well. He’s accurate. You see him in practice with obviously going against our defense and some of the throws he makes. He was calm in that situation. He was calm on Sunday. Didn’t know if he was going to go one play or the next four or five plays. ... I have a lot of confidence in him if he had to play.”
Sudfeld was drafted by Washington in 2016. He was cut before the 2017 season because Washington needed the roster spot and hoped to sign him to the practice squad, but Sudfeld decided to come to Philadelphia instead. (Sudfeld could have helped Washington this year when it lost its top two quarterbacks to injuries.) With Foles likely playing elsewhere next season, Sudfeld could be Wentz’s backup in 2019.
‘Highs and lows with Big V’
Speaking of backups, the Eagles needed Halapoulivaati Vaitai to replace Jason Peters on Sunday after Peters left the game following five plays. Vaitai’s blocking was inconsistent, albeit with a tough assignment. He was also flagged for a holding penalty that nullified a touchdown.
“I thought there were some highs and lows with Big V,” Pederson said. “He had a tough task. We know [Jadeveon] Clowney is a tremendous football player and he’s very active, and we knew that going in. Big V has been one of the kind of anchors for that offensive line with all the different moving parts that we’ve had all season, and whether he’s playing left or right tackle, to come in that early in that football game, it’s a credit to him, again. … I think as the game went on, though, he did settle down and played a little bit better as the game went on.”
Vaitai, who started in the Super Bowl last year, has played 32 percent of the offensive snaps this season as a swing tackle. He’ll likely go back to the bench on Sunday against Washington because Jason Peters is expected to play.
What you need to know about the Eagles
Brandon Graham has spent his whole career with the Eagles. His final Eagles game might be Sunday, as Les Bowen writes.
Mike Wallace is back on the active roster and ready to contribute if the Eagles make the postseason, Paul Domowitch writes.
Nick Foles is not the long-term answer for the Eagles, Marcus Hayes writes.
From the mailbag ...
You commented in today’s article that on defense players are ‘flying around’ … and that they are tackling better because they are swarming to the ball. Why weren’t they doing that earlier in the season? What changed? Why is the defense suddenly better with less talented players on the field? -- Jeff. via email
Good question. Part of it, frankly, might be pride. The Eagles were embarrassed in New Orleans, and that was a wake-up call. They also simplified some of the calls in the Giants game, which allowed them to play faster. Younger players have become more comfortable playing with each other with more experience. And players/teams sometimes simply have better games or hot/cold streaks. But I think pride had a lot to do with it. They knew they weren’t playing well enough.
Here’s Jim Schwartz discussing this topic on Nov. 13 -- before the Eagles-Saints game:
“I think a lot of tackling goes to positioning, it goes to playing fast, playing confident. I think first when you look at tackling you generally go there. I don’t think we’ve looked as fast and as swarming on defense. I think here’s what happened. I think a lot of times last year we would miss the same number of tackles, but we were just flying around so fast and guys were covering each other up. I think that we got a lot of new faces and they’re all sort of working their way through playing off of the other guy. And there is something to that sort of communication like offensive line, knowing what the other guy’s going to do. I think we’ve got some work to do there.“There are zero good defenses in the NFL that aren’t good tackling defenses, and Sunday night we were not a good tackling defense.”