Good morning and Happy (early) Thanksgiving. The Eagles begin practicing today at 1:20 p.m. for Sunday's game against the New York Giants. Doug Pederson has a 10:45 a.m. news conference and Carson Wentz also will meet with reporters.
There will not be an Early Birds newsletter on Thanksgiving, but a fresh newsletter previewing Sunday's game will hit your inbox on Friday morning.
— Zach Berman
When Jordan Hicks was lost for the season last year, Nigel Bradham's role changed on defense. Bradham became the defensive signal-caller and took over Hicks' duties in the nickel and dime defenses. With Hicks considered "week-to-week" because of a calf injury, Bradham could take on those responsibilities again on Sunday and for however long Hicks is absent.
"Yeah, you'll probably see him in some similar roles," said defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who praised Bradham throughout last season for the way Bradham stepped into the new roles.
Bradham had a standout 2017 campaign, although he hasn't made the same amount of plays this year. When asked to evaluate Bradham's play, Schwartz said Bradham is "4-6," which is the team's record. That's become Schwartz's standard response for discussing a player's performance.
The Eagles will also use Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry in more packages. Schwartz had both players prepared for more playing time when Bradham missed the Week 1 game because of a suspension. Gerry will likely be the middle linebacker in the base defense with Hicks out. Grugier-Hill, who is the starting weak-side linebacker, will have more responsibilities in sub packages.
"We'll sort of cover it up with a couple different guys probably similar to what we did in the opener," Schwartz said. "Nate Gerry is a guy that we trust. Has played some good football for us, particularly in the opener. He's had some challenges with injuries and stuff like that, but he's back. Probably get him a role. Kamu, LaRoy [Reynolds]. We have a lot of different guys that filled roles when Nigel was out in the opener and we're going to need them."
The Eagles continue to have a problem forcing turnovers. The linebackers are part of the reason. That's a position that should be around the ball often, but they haven't made enough game-changing plays this season.
"I think you have to let those plays come to you," Schwartz said."I think that's sort of where we are defensively also. You guys know I always talk about points allowed, and then turnovers. Obviously, the last game we weren't good on either of those. I did think we had a couple chances to make some interceptions in that game. We just didn't make the play. There were a couple times where when the ball was thrown based on the coverage, it was like, 'Okay, this one'– I'm not talking about the linebackers, but there were a couple times we had a chance to get stops or get takeaways and didn't really happen for us."
It remains perplexing that an offense with Carson Wentz at quarterback and the weapons the Eagles have are stuck at 20.5 points per game and could only muster seven points on Sunday. I've written in this space often this season that the offense is the biggest problem. It's now Thanksgiving week, and the offensive struggles are even more blatant. So the question to Mike Groh was simple: How does he, as offensive coordinator, explain the scoring problems?
"That's a good question. We haven't gotten the production we want," Groh said. "Everybody has talked about it. It's documented. We haven't got off to the starts that we want in the games and we haven't been as efficient in the red zone as we were. Everybody compares us to last year. Every season is new. Every team is different. Right now, we all know that we have to do better. If the season is going to turn around, then we got to get these things fixed."
The comparison to last season is apt, though, because the Eagles have many of the same players. There are a few different faces at wide receiver and running back, but the core of the offense remains. Yet they're so much worse. The Rams-Chiefs shootout on Monday brought that to light. Last season, the Eagles could hang with opponents in those games. They won the Super Bowl that way. They could have played in one of those games on Sunday against the Saints. Instead, they could muster only seven points. It's a major problem.
"It's a simple question but it's probably a complicated answer, because it's not just one thing. It's not just one person. It's all of us," Groh said. "I said this last week: We all have to do better, and that's down in and down out. Until that happens, we're going to see inconsistency of performance. But you see when we're really rolling, like we had one drive the other day, we have been able to put two or three good drives together a game, but we haven't been able to sustain that consistency of performance. We know that that's what we're searching for and that's what we're working for. "
When the score was out of hand on Sunday, Doug Pederson did not consider putting Nick Foles in the game so Carson Wentz could go the sideline and just regroup to see the game from a different perspective. (The question was not posed to Pederson as a suggestion to bench Wentz, but just to give him that break.)
"I wouldn't do that," Pederson said. "I think you continue to work through it. Because there is adversity that comes through each game, obviously. But I don't consider that at all."
Pederson said the only possibility he would consider would be to pull Wentz at the end of the game to protect him from injury. Pederson didn't do that on Sunday against the Saints with the Eagles trailing by 41 points, though.
Surprisingly, yes. They're heavy favorites against the Giants this weekend (6 points by some oddsmakers) in a line that surprised me. I think this will be a tough game for the Eagles, and with the Giants winning two in a row and the Eagles losing two in a row, I didn't expect such a big spread. If the Eagles win, my guess is they'll be home favorites next week against Washington, too. After that, they'll likely be underdogs at Dallas and then at Los Angeles no matter what. The Texans game depends on where the Eagles are at that point of the season. If they can win a few games and they remain in the mix, my guess is they're home favorites. Week 17 against Washington, who knows? That could be a quasi-NFC East championship game. If the Eagles are out of it by then, they'll almost surely be underdogs unless Washington benches its starters.