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Why the Eagles wear a ski mask; no déjà vu for Nick Foles; why Birds didn’t practice | Early Birds

Keys for the Eagles on Sunday, links to all our coverage, and much more.

Eagles free safety Corey Graham wears a mask with his teammates after intercepting the football agains the Los Angeles Rams in the third-quarter on Sunday, December 16, 2018 in Los Angeles.
Eagles free safety Corey Graham wears a mask with his teammates after intercepting the football agains the Los Angeles Rams in the third-quarter on Sunday, December 16, 2018 in Los Angeles.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI

Good morning. The Eagles have their first practice of the week today at 1:10 p.m. as Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans approaches. Pay attention to the status of linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, who are expected to be on the field at least on a limited basis.

This is a Thursday 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

What’s with the ski mask?

You might have seen the Eagles defensive backs wearing a ski mask in recent weeks. It hasn’t caught on quite like a German shepherd mask, but it has significance in the secondary room.

“Where we are right now, if we want to continue to go play, we’ve got to go take it,” Malcolm Jenkins said on Sunday. “So for us, it’s kind of our season where we’re going to go steal everything we’ve got -- whether it’s the ball, whether it’s the game, our chance to go play in the postseason, we’ve got to go take it. So that’s kind of what that ski mask is doing. For us, it’s bringing back that energy, having fun. Guys are enthusiastic about it and contributing. There’s so many different people making plays.”

Jenkins said injured cornerback Jalen Mills championed the idea. It has caught on. And it’s working, too -- the Eagles were allergic to takeaways earlier in the season, but they’ve come alive in recent weeks. Five of the Eagles’ nine interceptions this season have come in the last four games. Three of their six fumble recoveries have come during that time, too.

No déjà vu for Nick Foles

If Nick Foles playing meaningful December football for the Eagles seems like déjà vu to you, it doesn’t seem that way to him. Foles emphasized that this is a “totally different scenario” than last season. The Eagles were atop the NFL when Foles took over last year. They already clinched the division title and needed one win for a bye and another win for the No. 1 seed.

This year, the Eagles are clawing just to make the playoffs. Foles can do everything right and the season can still end in Week 17.

“It’s a different moment,” Foles said. “If you start thinking that way, you’re going to get lost in it all.”

So the story might be written that Foles is coming to the rescue again. Foles, though, doesn’t view it that way and isn’t ready to chip into that narrative.

“Blocking all that out,” Foles said. “I know it’s going to be a story. It’s a different team, different year.”

Why the Eagles didn’t practice

The Eagles have scaled back their practice schedule this week, holding a walk-through on Wednesday and having their first full practice on Thursday. They’ve been given an extra off day the last two weeks. This was Doug Pederson’s decision -- not something that the players requested. And it sounds like the players appreciate it.

“Go back two weeks ago against the Cowboys, the defense was on the field for 95-plus plays, long road trip,” Pederson said. “Had another long road trip coming back from L.A., got back early Monday morning. For me, I need to make sure our guys are as fresh as they can be this time of the year going into the game. I just wanted to make sure that we have more of the mental preparation down today. That's why I backed off just a little bit and we'll do two extended, longer walk-throughs than we've done in the past. We can still get a lot of work done. We'll still have our meeting schedule and all that. Still want to make sure our guys are fresh for Sunday.”

I can understand what Pederson is doing. The injury report is loaded. The key players have taken a lot of snaps. They just had four long flights, and it takes the body time to recover from those. This is another example of how Pederson’s pulse of the locker room is helpful.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Nick Foles is calm and staying in the moment, Paul Domowitch writes.

  2. The Eagles don’t have first-time Pro Bowlers. Rather, they have established players “stacking” Pro Bowls. Plus, Malcolm Jenkins reacts to being excluded from the Pro Bowl.

  3. Marcus Hayes is proud of the Eagles' Pro Bowlers.

  4. What’s making Avonte Maddox so productive? Jeff McLane breaks down the film.

  5. Listen to the latest Birds' Eye View podcast, which includes discussions about the Pro Bowl, injuries, and more.

From the mailbag...

To me, the story of this season, besides the injuries, is that the Eagles will have a big win, will feel they've turned the corner, then come up with a disappointing loss. What is to prevent them from doing that this time as well returning to the Linc (No Fortress this year) to play the AFC 2nd Seed Texans?

- Stuart

I don’t disagree with you. The Eagles seem to play their best when they’re being counted out. They said before the season to “embrace the target,” but for some reason, that doesn’t work with them. I asked Doug Pederson if he found this to be the case, and he said that “a team can put sort of a heightened awareness, I think, when your back’s against the wall a little bit more.”

So how does he channel that when they’re not necessarily being counted out?

“ I just tell them we're still counted out,” Pederson joked.

Pederson then said the players know the situation they’re in and “what we need to get done.” Sunday will show whether they respond.