Good morning, Eagles fans, and hope you had a wonderful holiday, one in which the most contentious topic around the dinner table was the Eagles’ postseason chances (much better than politics!). As the Early Birds newsletter returns after a two-day holiday break, the Eagles are two days away from their regular-season finale against the 4-11 Giants at MetLife Stadium.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Thursday their opponent’s record isn’t indicative of how the New York team is playing right now. A healthy Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley had record days last week, and I’m sure they’d love to ruin the Eagles’ playoff hopes. Below, I have more on what Giants coach Pat Shurmur had to say about the possibility of playing the spoiler role.
Speaking of players’ health, Eagles tight end Zach Ertz hasn’t practiced since playing through a fractured rib in Sunday’s 17-9 win over the Cowboys. On Thursday’s injury report, he was listed as having a back injury, too. But Pederson said he hoped running back Jordan Howard (shoulder) would be cleared within the day.
If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. 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 @erinK_mccarthy.
— Erin McCarthy (email@example.com)
Once on the Eagles sideline, Pat Shurmur preps for Giants’ final game
Pat Shurmur has experience hyping players up for a Week 17 Eagles-Giants game that has no postseason ramifications for his locker room.
Four years ago, he was doing so in Philadelphia, as interim head coach of a 6-9 team whose head coach, Chip Kelly, had been fired just days earlier. In that game, Shurmur implemented some subtle changes to the offense, and quarterback Sam Bradford led the team to a 35-30 victory at MetLife Stadium.
At 4:25 p.m. Sunday, Shurmur hopes to cap another season with a win in an Eagles-Giants matchup on the same field. But this time, he’s on the side of the home team.
How does Shurmur get players motivated for this kind of a game? He taps in to their innate competitiveness, he said Thursday on a conference call.
“Coaches and players, in all situations, are very prideful,” he said. "We all have a finite career, whether it’s playing or coaching, so you want to make the most of every opportunity. That’s sort of how I look at it.”
Recently, his players have seemed to look at it that way, too. After a nine-game losing streak, the Giants have won two straight — albeit to the 4-11 Dolphins and the 3-12 Redskins.
On Sunday, rookie quarterback Daniel Jones returned from an ankle injury and put up 352 passing yards and five touchdowns, while running back Saquon Barkley proved he was back to his old self with a 279-total-yard performance.
Shurmur said he wasn’t surprised by the recent results.
“Our team has fought hard all season, really," he said. “We unfortunately haven’t found a way to to win games or make enough plays."
“It’s been pretty well documented: we have a very, very, very young team,” he added. "The more games you play, the more you get better.”
The Giants lost to the Eagles in overtime in Week 14, Shurmur pointed out, but then beat the Redskins in overtime last Sunday. It’s a testament, the coach said, to what can be gained from game-day experience.
“There’s a lot to be learned from battling through a season like we’ve had," he said.
The Giants’ final test, of course, will be these 8-7 Eagles — who, as you’re probably well aware, are playing for the NFC East. If the Eagles lose and the Cowboys beat the Redskins, the up-and-down season will be over for the team and its fans.
And if the Giants win ... well, they finish the season 5-11, and Shurmur has a slightly stronger argument for keeping his job. Maybe.
The second-year coach said the possibility of spoiling the Eagles’ playoff chances isn’t what’s driving him and his team.
“What’s important is we go out and battle and put in a winning performance on the field,” he said. "For our fans, we want to go out and help them have an enjoyable day and watch their team win.”
Shurmur is familiar with the organization he must beat in order to make that happen. He began his NFL career in Philadelphia, serving as an assistant under Andy Reid from 1999 to 2008. He returned in 2013, spending three seasons as offensive coordinator (and then head coach for the aforementioned 2015 season finale against the Giants).
He called the injured Ertz “one of my favorite guys when I worked and coached in Philadelphia," and left tackle Jason Peters “a warrior” who’s “played at such a high level for so long.”
While Shurmur didn’t get to know Carson Wentz during his time in Philly, the coach said he has great respect for the quarterback’s “gritty style."
Over the past couple weeks, Shurmur said, he hasn’t seem much change in the signal caller or the rest of the team.
“It’s the same team, more or less," he said of the Eagles. “We’re probably more different.”
When the Eagles last played the Giants earlier this month, the less mobile Eli Manning was filling in at quarterback as Jones sat out with the ankle injury. Since then, there also has been turnover in the secondary.
Shurmur stressed improvement on both sides of the ball, and said his players still have plenty of motivation.
“You’re always trying to win your last game," Shurmur said. "For us, we know this is our last game.”
What you need to know about the Eagles
If Zach Ertz is sidelined Sunday with rib and back injuries, Dallas Goedert will play a bigger role. Les Bowen expounds on the possibility of Goedert going solo for the first time.
In other injury news: If running back Jordan Howard returns Sunday, don’t expect to see less of rookie Miles Sanders. Les Bowen and EJ Smith have more in their daily notebook.
While the Eagles have placed 11 players on injured reserve this season, they’ve actually seen a decrease in total number of games missed by injured players. Jeff McLane has more.
EJ Smith writes about one of the Eagles’ latest practice-squad call-ups, wide receiver Deontay Burnett. How does Carson Wentz get Burnett and other new wideouts up to speed so quickly?
Columnist Marcus Hayes has the scoop on how a padded practice before the last Giants game helped set the tone and spark the Eagles’ three-game winning streak.
Paul Domowitch argues that cornerback Sidney Jones deserves to start against the Giants after stellar performances recently.
Domo also has your complete Eagles-Giants scouting report, and the New York team has the advantage in the “intangibles” category.
Who’s going to win, Eagles or Giants? Our beat writers make their predictions.
From the mailbag
Assuming the Eagles win on Sunday, who would be your preferred first-round playoff opponent and why? — @dannmaal via Twitter
Hey, Dan. Thanks so much for continuing to answer our mailbag requests with some great questions. Seriously, what would the Early Birds newsletter writers do without you? You are much appreciated.
Anyway, as reporters, we root for good story lines, not Eagles wins (we also occasionally cross our fingers for no overtime so we can make deadline). But, if you’re asking which team would be a more beatable opponent for the Eagles in a potential wild-card game at Lincoln Financial Field, I’d go with the San Francisco 49ers over the Seattle Seahawks.
If you’ll recall, the Eagles lost ugly to the Seahawks, 17-9, back in Week 12, and that was against Russell Wilson and his offense on a bad day. I think the elusive Wilson is more of a threat to the Eagles’ up-and-down defense, which includes a shaky secondary.
While San Francisco’s defense is outstanding, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has never played in the playoffs before, and I think the Eagles could take advantage of that inexperience.