Good morning. Hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. The Eagles practice at 11:50 a.m. today before Sunday's game against the New York Giants. Doug Pederson's news conference is at 10:30 a.m. The NFC East standings became more crowded at the top after Dallas' win over Washington yesterday. Both teams are 6-5. If the Eagles win Sunday, they would be one game back with two games against Washington and one game against the Cowboys.
This is a Friday 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
Five keys for the Eagles against the Giants
Survive with this secondary
There's no one way to sugarcoat what's happening in the Eagles' secondary right now. They are depleted, and they might play Sunday without their five cornerbacks on the opening day roster, not to mention a starting safety. Unless Jalen Mills, Rasul Douglas, Sidney Jones, or Avonte Maddox can recover this week (they all have missed practice this week), the Eagles' cornerbacks on Sunday will be Chandon Sullivan, De'Vante Bausby, and Cre'von LeBlanc. Their safeties other than Malcolm Jenkins will be Corey Graham, Tre Sullivan, and Deiondre' Hall. It's as bad as a position group has been hit in my time covering the Eagles. But as defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said, "they don't start you with extra points in the beginning of the game and you don't get any gold stars for performing with fill-in players or backup players, just like nobody grades you on a curve if you stay 100 percent healthy." This is what the Eagles have; they'll need to make it work. Of course, it doesn't help when Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram are on the other side, with Eli Manning coming off a few good games. The Eagles need their pass rush more than even before, and their young cornerbacks must put up a respectable effort. But if the pass rushers can pressure Eli Manning like they did earlier this season, it will make a difference. They have the advantage at the line of scrimmage.
Where’s the run defense?
Believe it or not, the Eagles were the NFL's top-ranked run defense last season. They prided themselves on making opponents one-dimensional. Saquon Barkley rushed for 130 yards in Week 6, and the group has been even more porous in recent weeks. They are allowing 4.7 yards per carry this season. The Eagles are expected to play this game without Jordan Hicks, too, making it even more of a challenge. (Then again, Tim Jernigan will be back at defensive tackle.) The run defense has been a major point of emphasis from Schwartz this week. Barkley has been as impressive as advertised as a rookie, and the Giants will rely on him against this Eagles run defense. Barkley's topped 20 carries during the past two weeks, both Giants wins. If the Eagles fail to contain him, it might be another Giants win.
Wentz must rebound
In this space last week, it said Carson Wentz needed to go toe-to-toe with Drew Brees. It didn't happen in the worst performance of Wentz's career. He must rebound on Sunday for the Eagles to have a chance. When the Eagles were on a two-game losing streak heading into the previous Giants game, Wentz had his best game of the season. The same can happen on Sunday. I keep thinking about two years ago, when the Packers came into Philadelphia on Thanksgiving weekend with a 4-6 record. Aaron Rodgers said then that the Packers could run the table. They did – because of Rodgers. Wentz hasn't made any bold declarations, but if the Eagles make the postseason, it will take Wentz playing like a star quarterback.
"I feel a lot of expectations on myself, and I hold myself to high expectations," Wentz said. "And what we put out last week, what I put out last week, was not good enough. It's definitely not good enough. I don't want to put undue pressure or added pressure on my shoulders. I try to not avoid those things, but as the quarterback and one of the leaders of this team, I realize I definitely got to be better to get this thing going."
Don’t abandon the run
Nothing seemed to work against the Saints – except handing the ball to Josh Adams. He's been the Eagles' leading rusher the past three games, and he's producing with 6.1 yards per carry. Problem is, the Eagles aren't giving him the ball enough. Think about last week, when Adams carried the ball on the first play of the game and then didn't carry the ball again until the second quarter when the Eagles trailed by 17 points. I'm not writing the Eagles must have a run-first offense, because this is a passing league and Wentz is a franchise player. But the Eagles cannot abandon the run. It will help them get into more manageable third downs, especially if Adams continues to run like he did. Mike Groh said the Eagles can run more when they can get more plays. How about getting more plays by running more?
What happened to homefield advantage?
The Eagles were so tough at home during Doug Pederson's first two seasons with the Eagles, but they've had little advantage this season, losing three consecutive home games. Pederson always emphasizes winning at home and winning the division. Sunday is a chance to do both of those. The Eagles were 15-3 at home in Pederson's first two seasons, including the playoffs. If they lose on Sunday, they best they can finish is .500 at home. This is the start of a two-game homestand, it's close to a must-win game for the Eagles, and their leader had pointed comments at the team's demeanor in the last game. If there was ever a time for an impassioned home win, it's this weekend.
What you need to know about the Eagles
When the Eagles last played the Giants, Corey Clement didn't want Howie Roseman to trade for a running back. The Eagles didn't — but it's Josh Adams and not Clement who emerged as the top running back.
Who's playing cornerback for the Eagles? Les Bowen offers an in-depth look.
Jeff McLane looked at the film to break down who Malcolm Jenkins might have been talking about.
Paul Domowitch gives an Eagles-Giants scouting report.
How will Carson Wentz rebound from the worst game of his career?
The run defense will be in focus on Sunday, Bob Ford writes.
From the mailbag
Why hasn't Duce Staley been a bigger part of the game-planning and in-game play calling? Last off-season, when he was bypassed for the O.C. job, all we heard was that he was qualified to be a head coach, and certainly a coordinator, but the new title of "assistant head coach" would carry additional duties….Have you noticed any increased role for Duce? Is he involved at all in the pre-game meetings with Pederson, Groh, and Taylor? And if not, why not? The way things are going, with Doug completely unable to come up with a creative, productive offensive strategy, isn't it time to shake things up a bit and let Duce show what he can do? – Amy
As assistant head coach, Duce Staley is said to have opportunities to address the team. The entire offensive staff helps put together the game plan, but Staley doesn't have formal game-planning or game-calling duties. He was bypassed for the offensive coordinator job and the Eagles are having offensive problems this year, so it's worthwhile examining what went into that decision. I can tell you, from what I understood back in the spring, Doug Pederson liked Mike Groh and his quarterback background. I respect Staley and think he can be a good coach, but I don't think his input would be the cure-all with this offense. Bottom line, Pederson needs to do a better job as a play-caller – especially early in the games – and the players must make plays. They need to stop operating as if plays are thisclose to working. The plays either work or they don't. There can be nuance in evaluating them, but not in the result. An incompletion is an incompletion, no matter how close it was to a big play. A sack is a sack, even if the rest of the play was schemed well. There's no column for what the play could have been.
No, I don't believe so. Last year's stretch was more than a few good games, and he's shown enough talent and promise during his first three seasons to feel confident he doesn't stink and is a high-level quarterback. With that said, it's not certain he's an elite quarterback. There's an assumption that he'll be in that Brady/Brees/Rodgers tier, and few crack that category – it's hard to even reach that Ben Roethlisberger class of quarterback. That's what remains to be seen. How good will he be? A top 3-5 quarterback? A top 6-10 quarterback? Wentz has the tools, he has the work ethic, he has the intelligence and personality to be an elite quarterback. He was an MVP candidate in Year 2 and he's still so early in his career. But there's a difference between being Matt Ryan and being Aaron Rodgers, right? (And by the way, there's nothing wrong with having Ryan's success.) But to answer your question, he certainly doesn't stink. He had a bad game. I wouldn't overreact.
I don't believe Pederson lost the locker room, but I also don't know if Pederson has galvanized this group the way he did last season. That's hard to do, of course; winning the Super Bowl is a special accomplishment and difficult to replicate. I kept writing that every team and every locker room is different, and that's been apparent this season. They respond differently each season as dynamics change. But I don't think the locker room has lost faith in Pederson, nor should they. This is not a matter of players quitting on Pederson.