History favors the Eagles on Thursday against the Giants. It’s the Doug Pederson way. | Mike Sielski
The Eagles are 5-0 on Thursday nights under Pederson, and they tend to rise to the occasion when their season is on the brink.
The Eagles are 5-0 on Thursday Night Football games during Doug Pederson’s four-plus years as head coach, but in his household, that blemish-free record has somehow become an easy excuse for Jeannie Pederson to bust her husband’s chops. An NFL team gets half as much time to prepare to play on a Thursday as it does to play on a Sunday, and it doesn’t seem to make much sense that the Eagles would be so much better under those circumstances.
“My wife tells me all the time, ‘You can put a game plan together in a day and go win on Thursday night. Why can’t you do that for a Sunday game?’ ” Pederson said Monday. “She kind of kids me a little that way.”
She’s asking a good question, actually, cutting to the core of the quality that, really, has defined his tenure: Just when it looks like the Eagles are dangling off the ledge, they pull themselves back and keep scaling the mountain.
In 2017, they lost Carson Wentz and won the Super Bowl. In 2018, they lost Wentz again, this time when they were 6-7, then went into Los Angeles and upset the Rams, the first of four straight victories that advanced them to within a whisper of another NFC championship game. Last year, they were 1-2 entering a Thursday night game in Green Bay against an unbeaten Packers team, which they won. Then they were 5-7 and, to have any realistic chance of making the playoffs, needed to win their final four regular-season games, which they did.
Now they’re 1-4-1, and they’re ravaged by injuries, and there’s a fair debate to be had about how talented their roster was in the first place, even with all their prospective starters healthy.
But the strange and, for the Eagles, potentially wondrous part of their schedule and this NFL season is that they have three intradivisional games ahead, starting against the 1-5 Giants, and that division is so terrible that it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Eagles win, say, two of those three games. That’s less an expression of confidence in the Eagles, of course, than it is a condemnation of the Giants without Saquan Barkley, the Cowboys without Dak Prescott, and the Washington team without a name.
“You just understand it’s the NFC East, right?” Pederson said. “Everything’s still kind of up for grabs. We’re just trying to figure out how to win a game and how to get guys healthy to play. It does give you a sense of, you kind of get rid of the past and focus on the next opponent. That’s kind of what today’s about, what tomorrow’s about, and obviously playing Thursday night at home gives everybody a little excitement.”
Pederson’s players haven’t quit on him in the past, and there’s little reason to think that they will now. There are enough of them who have been around long enough to remember that recent history and infuse the locker room with the belief that this season isn’t already shot to pieces: Wentz, Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham, Rodney McLeod, more.
“They’re the guys I lean on in times like this to rally the troops, to bring the young guys along,” Pederson said. “Some of these young guys have had a lot of success: college, go back to high school. Now they’re faced with a little adversity, or maybe it is an injury or something of that nature. This is where veteran players who have been through it, as recently as the last couple of seasons with us, know how to deal with it, know how to handle it, know how to pull these guys along.”
In a counterintuitive way, a shorter week might be a benefit to the Eagles, because it forces Pederson, the coaches, and the players, particularly the most inexperienced ones, to keep things as simple as possible.
“It’s more of a narrow focus,” he said. “It’s all about mental preparation over the physical.”
That’s the good part, because physically, it’s getting more difficult for the Eagles to stack up to any opponent. Miles Sanders, Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson, Jack Driscoll: It will be a mild shock if any of them plays against the Giants, and if DeSean Jackson finally does return to the lineup, it will be a mild shock if he doesn’t get hurt again.
The Eagles' spirit is willing, but the flesh is having a tough time pass-blocking for Wentz. What they have going for them is that the game is on Thursday night, and their season might just be on the brink, and there’s something about those circumstances that brings out the best in a Doug Pederson team.
Why? Who knows? If the man’s wife can’t explain it, maybe there’s no explanation to be had.