Good morning, Eagles fans. On the Eagles' ride down the Jersey Turnpike last night after a suspenseful win over the Giants, the New England Patriots beat the Pittsburgh Steelers to make the Eagles the only 12-win team in the NFL. The Eagles have an extra day to rest before hosting the Oakland Raiders on Christmas night, and a win then would clinch the No. 1 seed. They can also clinch the No. 1 seed if the Minnesota Vikings lose at the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night. You're reading the Monday edition of Early Birds. It's free for anyone to sign up here to receive in your inbox every weekday. 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
The Eagles are 12-2 and will rest during the first weekend in January. Start there, because any complaints about the way they played in Sunday's 34-29 win over the New York Giants should be understood within the context that they drove home Sunday evening with a win and there's a good chance that they won't play a true road game again this season.
But it clearly wasn't their most impressive showing. I agree with Doug Pederson's postgame message to the team that they "can't play like this and win in the postseason." The secondary was the biggest problem, and it looked similar to the second half of the Week 3 game against the Giants, with Eli Manning and the Giants offense beating the Eagles defense with slants and sluggos (slant-and-go patterns). Even though Manning dropped back 58 times, the Eagles cannot give up 434 yards through the air — especially against the Giants' skill players — with gains of 67 and 57 yards. I don't think they need a drastic overhaul. You should hope this is just a bad matchup — Manning's two best games this season have come against the Eagles — but the concern should be what would happen when playing against Drew Brees in January, or another quarterback who can get rid of the ball quickly. Jim Schwartz speaks on Tuesday. I'm curious to hear what he says about this game and fixing it going forward.
On the other side, you should be pleased with how Nick Foles played. The four touchdowns will get the attention. The zero interceptions impressed me most. He had some poor passes, but he didn't really have poor decisions. That's a plus. It was a clean game from Foles, and the Eagles need that from him more than anything. As for the statistics, I expected Foles to have a good outing against the Giants. Maybe it's unfair to Foles, but I thought unless he really struggled during these final three games, there likely won't be any major revelations about him. The Giants, Raiders and Cowboys are all bottom-of-the-pack pass defenses. He's good enough to put up numbers against those teams. Five of the top 10 pass defenses are potential NFC playoff teams. Those will be tougher matchups for Foles.
The blocked field goal, blocked extra point, and blocked punt should also be a source of encouragement. The Eagles likely don't win that game without them. The two blocked kicks took four points off the board and led to the Giants later going for a two-point conversion, which they missed. The blocked punt put the Eagles in field position for a touchdown. Those types of plays can change games. In the postseason, a game could be decided with a special teams play — one way or the other. The Eagles have been inconsistent at times on special teams this season, but if they can get production from that unit in January, it could swing a close game in the Eagles' favor.
Overall, there's reason for Eagles fans to be pleased this week. They return home, where they're undefeated, to play a 6-8 Raiders team for a chance to clinch the No. 1 seed. There were ugly parts of Sunday's game, but those breakdowns are easier to digest after a win. The Eagles will have time to try to clean up their issues without the pressure of losing ground in the playoff race. They'll be heavy favorites against the Raiders and could soon look ahead to January 13-14. It's Dec. 18, and those dates are already set for the Eagles. That's a rare feat.
Zach Berman: You started and played the whole game. How do you think it went?
Chance Warmack: "There's always room for improvement. I just wanted to stay in the game and focus on my job and be consistent as much as I possibly can to stay in the game. I need to watch the film and correct what I need to correct, but it felt good to be out there and playing. I felt good, like riding a bike. Getting better off that."
Zach Berman: Did you play better than last week?
Chance Warmack: "Oh, for sure. Definitely. No matter good, bad, ugly, you can't give up. You've got to keep going. It's the NFL. You're going to get beat. But what defines you as a player is what you do after that. …Are you going to watch film and get better, or are you going to put your head down? That's me. I don't care how bad I get beat, I'm going to keep coming. That's my motto: 'Keep coming, keep fighting, keep playing.'"
Zach Berman: Did it help not rotating?
Chance Warmack: "I can't use that as an excuse. I'm the kind of the guy that whatever happens in the game, I've got to take that on, learn from that and get better. Whatever the situation is, accept that and keep moving. That's it."
I wouldn't be worried about middle linebacker. I've said it before, but the Eagles don't play in the base defense that often. That's a role player. Joe Walker or Najee Goode are not going to inspire much confidence, but most of the time, the Eagles have two linebackers on the field. Those linebackers are Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks. If something were to happen to one of them, that would be more of a concern. The Eagles are clearly better with Jordan Hicks, but the conversation when Hicks was healthy was that there was an odd linebacker out.
I don't think you see Rasul Douglas playing the slot — he's more of an outside cornerback. If Patrick Robinson cannot play because of a concussion, perhaps they play Douglas on the outside in the nickel and try Jalen Mills in the slot. But I'm not sure they'd go that route unless that wanted to experiment. More than likely, you'll see Malcolm Jenkins in the slot and Corey Graham on the field. However, Douglas would be active. Frankly, I'd have Douglas active over Shelton Gibson regardless of Robinson's status.