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Is Bryce Harper to blame for Eagles’ three straight road games? | Early Birds

It's the second time in three years the Eagles have to play three straight road games.

The Phillies' signing of Bryce Harper might've played a role in the NFL's decision to send the Eagles on the road for three straight weeks, beginning Sunday.
The Phillies' signing of Bryce Harper might've played a role in the NFL's decision to send the Eagles on the road for three straight weeks, beginning Sunday.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Good morning, everyone. With Sunday’s easy 31-6 win over the bad-awful Jets, the Eagles improved their record to 3-2 and find themselves in a tie for first place in the NFC East with the Cowboys, who lost for the second straight week. The Eagles will face the Cowboys in a big prime-time division battle in Dallas in two weeks. But first, they must travel to Minnesota on Sunday to play the 3-2 Vikings.

The Eagles’ offensive and defensive coordinators, Mike Groh and Jim Schwartz, will hold their weekly news conferences on Tuesday. Schwartz will get to beat his chest over his unit’s 10-sack performance,. Groh will get to explain why Carson Wentz has failed to throw for more than 190 yards in the last two games.

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 @pdomo.

— Paul Domowitch (

See you in November, Doug

For the second time in three years, the NFL has the Eagles playing three straight games on the road. The fun starts Sunday in Minneapolis against the 3-2 Vikings.

After that, they’ve got to travel to Dallas for an important Sunday night division game against the Cowboys, followed by a trip to Buffalo to play the 4-1 Bills.

They won’t return to the Linc until Nov. 3 when they play the first of three straight home games against the Bears.

Because of the many factors that need to be considered in formulating the NFL schedule, it’s not unusual for two or three teams to wind up playing three straight road games during a season. Three teams -- the Rams, Ravens and Saints -- all had to do it last season.

But the Eagles are the only team that got stuck doing it this year. And it comes just two years after the last time they had to play three in a row on the road. So, naturally, more than a few people at NovaCare Way are a little miffed.

Two years ago, the Eagles were one of five teams that played three straight games on the road. But they were partially to blame for that. At their own request, they asked to play back-to-back December games on the West coast against the Seahawks and the Rams, so that they wouldn’t have to make separate trips across the country. That was followed by a division game against the Giants in the Meadowlands, which, while a road game, is only a 90-minute bus ride from Lincoln Financial Field.

That said, the Eagles were shocked this spring when the schedule came out and it included three straight road games in October.

“I mean, when we’re finding out about it [in mid-April], there’s not anything we can do about it,’’ Eagles president Don Smolenski said Sunday following his team’s 31-6 win over the Jets. “I got the news just a few hours before it was announced, so there’s really nothing that could be done. It kind of is what it is.’’

One of the interesting twists here is that the Phillies’ signing of Bryce Harper might be the reason — or at least part of the reason — for why the Eagles are being forced to play on the road the next three weeks.

Shortly before the schedule came out last spring, the man in charge of putting it together, NFL senior vice president of broadcasting and media operations Howard Katz, told NBC Sports’ Peter King that, while the league typically ignores “stadium blocks’’ — scheduling conflicts with the local baseball team — it might be difficult to do that with the Eagles this year because of the soaring popularity of the Phillies following the signing of Bryce Harper, and the likelihood of a deep October-November playoff run by the Phils.

“We usually ignore the Phillies when it comes to stadium blocks [with the Eagles],’’ Katz told King. “But I don’t think we can this year.’’

The Phillies, of course, ended up being a major disappointment this season. And instead of being in the playoffs, they’re spending October trying to decide whether to get rid of their manager.

Smolenski said he spoke to Katz about his comments to King after the schedule came out.

“Howard said that when he said that, he was just using it as an example of one of many, many things that are factored [into making a schedule],’’ Smolenski said.

“Baseball [conflicts] factor into it. But the reality is we can play the same day as the Phillies. Howard knows that. It’s something they prefer not to happen. But it’s not really why [this three-game road trip] happened.’’

Prior to 2017, the last time the Eagles had to play three straight road games was 2013. Before that, they did it in 2006. Before that, 1998 and 1999.

“The truth is, the league is very aware of the competitive disadvantage [playing three straight games on the road] creates, and tries hard to avoid this kind of thing,’’ former Eagles president Joe Banner told The Inquirer last week. “But every year, there usually are a couple of teams this happens to.

“When it happened to us [in 2006], we called the league and made sure they knew we weren’t happy. We made sure they knew we noticed. And we made sure that they knew that our expectation was that this wasn’t going to happen again for a number of years. That’s why it’s surprising that it’s happened in two of the last three years.’’

The NFL declined to comment on the Eagles playing three straight road games for the second time in two years. But it’s pretty clear that the 2017 three-game road tour wasn’t given a lot of consideration when Katz made up this year’s schedule.

Going forward, though, it should be a different story.

“Let’s just say that some conversations were held at the highest level, so that we should not have to play three in a row on the road for some time,’’ Smolenski said.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. At his day-after news conference, Doug Pederson said he expects cornerback Sidney Jones to play Sunday against the Vikings, Les Bowen reports

  2. Jeff McLane runs down the 10 things he learned from the Eagles’ lopsided win over the Jets.

  3. My five reasons why the Eagles beat the Jets, and none of them are that the Jets are a really bad football team.

  4. What, if anything, can we take from the defense’s 10-sack performance against the Jets?

  5. The Eagles are facing a dangerous opponent this week in the Vikings, Bob Ford says.

  6. Marcus Hayes wonders whether Derek Barnett, with three personal fouls in the first five games, is on his way to becoming the next Vontaze Burfict.

From the mailbag

From Twitter: Isn’t the Birds’ biggest risk at defensive end? Acquiring a DE at trade deadline is necessary, as an injury to Barnett or Graham would be a bigger loss than a starter at almost any other position, and to be effective, needs impactful rotators. — @jim_wise

Domo: I’m pretty sure the Eagles are exploring all trade possibilities at both defensive end and defensive tackle, as well as cornerback. The Eagles should get Jalen Mills back in a couple of weeks, and Cre’Von LeBlanc is eligible to come off injured reserve after these three upcoming road games. But given Sidney Jones’ cranky hamstring and the uncertainty over when Ronald Darby might be returning, cornerback still is, in my mind, their top trade-deadline need.

Jim Schwartz moved Brandon Graham inside a lot in sub-packages Sunday, much like he did with him in 2017 and with Michael Bennett last year. All three of Graham’s sacks against the Jets came when he lined up inside. But using Graham a lot inside means somebody has to fill in for him on the edge opposite Derek Barnett. Schwartz is hoping it can be Josh Sweat. Sweat is gaining confidence the more he plays and has looked good the last two weeks. I think Daeshon Hall could help them on passing downs, but the Eagles coaches don’t seem to share my opinion, judging by how little he plays.

You’re right, though. They’re not very deep up front. Trading away Bennett might’ve been Howie Roseman’s biggest offseason mistake. They’re an injury to Graham or Barnett or, God forbid, Fletcher Cox, away from a pass-rushing catastrophe. They definitely need to add another pass-rusher, whether it be an older one-year rental or, even better, somebody younger.

Figuring the Eagles

Jim Schwartz isn’t a big fan of blitzing. But the Eagles defensive coordinator unleashed the hounds Sunday against the Jets and their young quarterback, Luke Falk. The Eagles blitzed on 16 of 36 pass plays, or 44.4 percent. In their first four games, the Eagles had blitzed on just 33 of 175 pass plays, or 18.8 percent.