Merrill Reese will be at the stadium Sunday with his partner Mike Quick to broadcast his – drumroll, please – 44th Eagles season opener. Only thing is, it won’t be at the stadium where the Eagles are going to be playing.
While the team will be down at FedEx Field taking on the Washington Football Team, Reese and Quick will be doing the game from a suite at empty Lincoln Financial Field. It will be the first Eagles game Reese has physically missed since he became the team’s radio voice 44 years ago.
Such is NFL life during a COVID pandemic.
“I’m just so happy to be back doing football that I don’t feel my excitement level could be any different,” Reese said. “I can’t wait. I really can’t wait. I’m excited.”
Reese and Quick won’t be broadcasting any of the Eagles' road games on-site this season. They won’t be making the team’s Week 4 trip to San Francisco. They won’t be at Heinz Field for the Week 5 game against the Steelers.
It’s going to kill Reese not to be at historic Lambeau Field for Eagles-Packers on December 6.
But there’s nothing he’s going to miss about not being down at FedEx on Sunday.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, I will miss not being on the road this year,” Reese admitted. “I mean, I love traveling with the team. I love capturing the feeling of an away stadium [for the listeners]. I love Lambeau Field. I even love when I’m in Dallas in that big place and all that goes on there.”
And then there’s FedEx.
“For this game, [not being there] is a blessing,” Reese said.
"[The visiting team radio booth] is down low in the corner of the end zone. The fans are up high enough to call us names. It’s difficult to see the scoreboard because of an overhead above the booth. When the teams cross the 50-yard line, I can’t tell if they picked up six yards or 16.
“I’ve never left that stadium feeling like I did a good job. So I will have a far better vantage point with the big monitors and the TV feed we’ll have at the Linc than I would have down at that stadium. Otherwise, I will regret [not going to road games]. But this is one week that I won’t.”
Reese and Quick will be broadcasting both home and road games from a suite at the Linc rather than their regular booth because the radio booth is much smaller and makes social distancing problematic.
Quick and Reese will be six feet apart in the suite. Plexiglass will separate Reese from his spotter, Bill Werndl. Statistician Terry Small will sit in a row behind Reese and Quick. Joe McPeak, the longtime producer of the Eagles' radio broadcasts, will also sit behind them.
There will be two giant television monitors in the suite to provide them with different camera angles of the game down in D.C.
“In our regular booth, Terry would have a grid and hold up statistics to me,” Reese said. "And Joe would hand us cards with the drop-ins and out-cues, like “we’ll be back with the scores around the league” and those kinds of things. This year, all of that will now come up to us on a screen."
The NFL is pumping in crowd noise to all of the league’s television and radio broadcasts. Reese and Quick will hear it in their headsets and it will be heard on the broadcast.
NFL Films has put together natural sounds from 30 of the league’s 32 stadiums over the last four years. They’ve created sound groups that are authentic to each stadium. An audio engineer in each stadium will basically score the game as it’s going on.
“They’ll have different reactions for different things that will happen,” Reese said. “I’m told a one-yard touchdown plunge in the first quarter will get somewhat less reaction than a 90-yard run with the game on the line.”
– The Eagles had 43 touchdown drives last year. Just six were four plays or less. Seventeen, or 39.5%, were nine plays or more. When the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017, 11 of their 47 TD drives were four plays or less. Just 12, or 25.5%, were nine plays or more.
– In the Eagles' two wins over Washington last season, Carson Wentz had a 153.9 third-down passer rating. He completed 18 of 23 third-down attempts, averaged 11.4 yards per attempt and threw four touchdown passes, including 51- and 53-yarders to DeSean Jackson in Week 1, both on third-and-10 plays. The Eagles converted 22 of 33 third-down attempts (66.7%) against Washington last season.
– In the Eagles' Week 1 win over Washington last year, they used 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) 54.9% of the time. In their Week 14 win, without Jackson, Alshon Jeffery or Nelson Agholor, they played 11 personnel just 16.4% of the time.
– The Eagles ran 71.7% of their plays out of shotgun last season. That’s less than the previous year when 77.8% of their plays were out of shotgun. Only 105 of 650 total pass plays were run from under center (16.1%). But 207 of 454 run plays (45.6%) were from under center.
Somebody asked Darius Slay Thursday whether he’s going to be shadowing Washington wide receiver Terry McLaurin on Sunday.
The Eagles cornerback gave one of those that’s-for-me-to-know-and-you-to-find-out replies.
“Whatever the game plan needs to be is what it needs to be,” he said. “If I need to be there [on McLaurin] I’m going to be there. Whatever the coach designs up, I’m going to get to work and do it.”
It will be a major shock Sunday if Slay isn’t spending most of the afternoon with McLaurin, who torched the Eagles' secondary twice last season as a third-round rookie. He caught five passes for 125 yards and a touchdown in a Week 1 Washington loss, then had five more catches for 130 yards and a TD in a Week 15 loss.
The Eagles' inability to neutralize the other team’s best wideout was a major problem last season. Ten different wideouts notched 100-plus receiving yards against the Eagles. Ten. Including McLaurin twice.
Slay’s ability to matchup against the other team’s top wideout was why the Eagles traded for the 29-year-old cornerback and gave him a three-year, $50 million contract extension, even though he is coming off what was not one of his better seasons.
“Darius Slay is legit,” NBC Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth said. "He didn’t have a great year last year. He had a good year not a great one. But he is a guy who can take away that No. 1 receiver.
“He’s going to give [Eagles defensive coordinator] Jim Schwartz some options that maybe he hasn’t had in the past. They’ve had sort of equal cornerbacks. They didn’t have that Stefan Gilmore type back there that could be that guy. Darius Slay is used to being that guy.”
Daryl Johnston knows firsthand the benefit of having a corner who can go mano-a-mano with the other team’s No. 1 receiver. Johnston, a Fox Sports analyst who will do Sunday’s Eagles-Washington game, spent 11 years as a fullback for the Dallas Cowboys, including five as a teammate of Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders.
“It’s always a huge advantage for a defense when they have somebody with that ability,” Johnston said this week in a telephone interview. “We had that with Deion. There have been a few other guys over the years I’ve seen that have had that ability to travel, but not many.”
The Eagles' pass defense wasn’t very good last season and general manager Howie Roseman knew it. That’s why he brought in Slay and slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman. That’s why he signed defensive tackle Javon Hargrave.
The Eagles finished 19th in passing yards allowed and opponent passer rating. They finished 22nd in touchdown passes allowed (27) and 23rd in interceptions (11).
“It helps greatly when you have a guy [like Slay] who is willing to accept a challenge like that and can play at the level Darius Slay can play,” said CBS analyst Charles Davis. "Now, I don’t think he played at that level last year. But I think a lot went into that.
"He had been there [in Detroit] for a while. He obviously wasn’t happy with his situation there. Now he’s gone to a place where he feels like, ‘Hey, they want me. They respect me.’
"Typically, we do see players who still have it in the tank – and I’m sure he does – they make a nice little jump that first year somewhere else. Or they get back to being who they were. That doesn’t solve all of their problems. But the way Jim Schwartz plays, he wants that front group to rush 'em, and he wants the back guys to cover.