Good morning. The Eagles have their last practice at 11:50 a.m. today before Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints. Doug Pederson's news conference is at 10:30 a.m. The Eagles will release their final injury report after practice. Pay attention to the practice status of Lane Johnson and Haloti Ngata, and also whether the Eagles will put Tim Jernigan and Richard Rodgers on the active roster.
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
Six keys for the Eagles against the Saints
Score early – and often
The Eagles' lack of scoring this season has been well-documented this week, and it needs to be rectified if the Eagles have any chance of beating New Orleans. The Eagles are averaging 22 points per game this season and have topped 23 points just twice this season. New Orleans leads the NFL with 36.7 points per game and topped 50 last week. The Eagles need to play closer to the Saints' average. They're not going to win a defensive slugfest. They need to keep up in points with the Saints. That will require a fast start. The Eagles' 21 points in the first quarters of games this season are the fewest in the NFL. New Orleans averages 19 points in the first halves of games this season. Good luck trying to come back from a big deficit against them. If Cameron Johnston is punting often on Sunday, the Eagles are going to lose.
Find out about Josh Adams
Doug Pederson said the Eagles will use Josh Adams more going forward. Pederson has a chance to back it up this week. Adams has been the Eagles' most productive running back since Jay Ajayi's injury, albeit with a limited sample size. The rookie from Notre Dame has potential, and the Eagles can learn more about him this weekend. The Saints have the NFL's top rushing defense, keeping opponents to 80.1 yards per game. Offenses are taking their third-fewest amount of rushing attempts against them, too. The Eagles won't win this game entirely on the ground, but a good running game can help Carson Wentz get the play-action working and would help keep the Saints offense off the field. The best chance of a good running game, at least at this point, is by using Adams.
Be stout in the red zone
The Eagles aren't going to stop Drew Brees and the Saints offense. The Saints will move the ball, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara will make plays, and they'll get in the red zone. That's where the Eagles must lock the Saints down, though. Jim Schwartz's most-important statistic is scoring defense, and a big way to limit scoring is to force field goals instead of touchdowns. The Eagles kept opponents out of the end zone on almost 56 percent of red zone visits this season, which ranks No. 4 in the NFL. The Saints are scoring touchdowns on 72 percent of their red zone trips. This will be a key matchup to watch on Sunday.
Trust Sidney Jones
There's been intrigue about Sidney Jones ever since the Eagles drafted him in the second round last season, but he has yet to start as an outside cornerback for the Eagles. That should change against the Saints. Jones, who will play for the first time in a month, will be the Eagles' top cornerback on Sunday. He'll be used on the outside. He'll spend time on Michael Thomas, who moves around the formation. It's a major test for Jones, but this is why he's here. The Eagles spent a valuable draft pick on Jones and waited for him to recover. Jones has the talent to be a top cornerback. He's been limited to a slot cornerback this year. He can show his all-around ability on Sunday.
Which quarterback plays better?
It's not often that Carson Wentz is overshadowed by the opposing quarterback, but this is one of those rare weeks. Brees, a future Hall of Famer, might also win the MVP this season. He has only one interception and doesn't throw many incompletions, either. The Eagles are carried by Wentz, whose statistics trump even last season's MVP-caliber campaign. But Wentz has committed too many turnovers (fumbles more than interceptions) and hasn't been able to finish late in games. Eagles fans should feel confident most weeks that Wentz will outplay the opposing quarterback. That's harder to do this week. If it happens, though, it could mean the Eagles pull off the upset.
Embrace the underdog role
Speaking of pulling off the upset, the Eagles are underdogs for the first time this season. As players in the locker room have said this week, that is when the team thrives. I don't think the "nobody-believes-in-us" card works after winning the Super Bowl, but it's true that the Cowboys loss changed the feelings about this team more than any other point this season. They are underdogs – at least for this week – and they'll try to use that to their advantage.
What you need to know about the Eagles
Sidney Jones is back, and could have a bigger role.
Have you wondered why Michael Bennett's shoulder pads are so small? Les Bowen lets you know in this fun read.
Jeff McLane looked at the film to break down the Eagles offense and find out what's wrong.
Paul Domowitch gives an Eagles-Saints scouting report.
Doug Pederson won a bet with Sean Payton, allowing the Eagles to wear green jerseys, Katie McInerney writes.
Ed Barkowitz takes a look at the Eagles' underdog status.
Visitor’s guide | New Orleans with Mike Wallace
Before road games, I'll catch up with a player familiar with the city the Eagles are visiting to give fans insight on what to do and where to eat. This week, it's Mike Wallace, who grew up in New Orleans:
"They should eat. Anywhere. You can't go wrong. Me personally, I like Drago's. I'll tell you where they should check out: All the fans should check out my homeboy, he has a restaurant, it's called Morrow's. …Fish, steaks, pastas – whatever you want, they're cooking it up. It's great, too. They should check it out. It's a hot spot. Tell them to mention my name, he's going to give them a discount. …It's going to be some great food.
"You have to visit Bourbon [Street]. Get you a Hurricane or something like that. I don't promote drinking, but if you do, then go on to Bourbon and have a good time. It's always fun.
"Got to go to French Quarter. When you go to French Quarter, you're going to see a lot of little kids with a lot of talent. So you're liable to see kids playing drums, dancing… It's going to be lit. You should definitely check out the French Quarter."
From the mailbag
Yes, Tim Jernigan has a good shot of playing this week. Doug Pederson sounded optimistic. Jernigan is at practice every day. He hasn't spoken to reporters yet, so hopefully there's more clarity this afternoon. The Eagles haven't made a roster move yet with Ronald Darby because they're waiting to see on their roster options. Jernigan would provide a big boost to the defensive line. Even if he's not at the level of last season, the Eagles need help at defensive tackle and he can win one-on-ones.
No, I don't think the Eagles win this game. I predicted the Saints before the season and I haven't seen anything from either team that convinced me to change that opinion in this game. New Orleans is too hot, they're too balanced, and they're playing at home. The Eagles aren't consistent enough and have too many injuries. With a star quarterback, the Eagles are capable of putting up a big offensive game and pulling off the upset. But I wouldn't bet on the Eagles to win this game. (Of course, that's sometimes when they're at their best.)
I'm not counting them out yet, because I still think they can win the NFC East – even if they lose this weekend. They need to win out in the division games. I think Washington is beatable, but the Eagles have no margin for error. If they win their four division games, the Eagles would have at least eight wins and Washington would have at least five losses. So then the question is whether the Eagles and Washington could tie for the same overall record. I think the Eagles can finish 9-7 this season, if I'm being generous – I don't think they'll get to 10 or 11 wins – so that means they'll need Washington to lose two other games. It's possible; Washington is a home underdog this weekend against Houston. Then the Cowboys could also be a factor, so watch out for them.
The Eagles haven't yet shown they can be consistent enough to win all the division games. If I was forced to pick today, I'd say no because there's too much ground to cover and I don't know if they'll get enough wins. But I wouldn't make that pick today because I still think the Eagles have a legitimate shot. I'll have a much better idea on the morning Dec. 3. And if the Eagles can turn Week 17 into an NFC East championship, I think they make it.