Good morning. The Eagles practice at 1:20 p.m. today for their second session leading up to Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints. They practiced indoors on Wednesday to prepare for the crowd noise this weekend. Pay attention to the injury status of Lane Johnson, Sidney Jones, Tim Jernigan, and Haloti Ngata at practice.
— Zach Berman
Nobody in the Eagles locker room expected to be 4-5 after nine games. Doug Pederson met with his team leaders during their weekly leadership council meeting on Wednesday to get a gauge on how the team is feeling at this point in the season. And they don't view the team's plight as a dead end.
"There is level a frustration, but listen, we're very close," Pederson said. "We're so close in a lot of areas."
Pederson cited statistics that suggest the Eagles' offensive output is comparable to last season. Of course, he was selective in his argument. There are areas in which the Eagles are clearly lacking – points per game is the most obvious – and accumulating yards only matters if they result in points.
But Pederson focused on two areas that he believes most contribute to the team's record.
"The difference is creating turnovers on defense and then scoring in the red zone," Pederson said. "That's kind of what's staring at us right in the face. Time of possession is good, all those things we look at. Red zone defense has been good throughout the season. We have to finish better, and we have to score more points."
Pederson is correct in pointing out these areas. The Eagles have only seven takeaways this season, which rank No. 28 in the NFL. Their scoring is a major problem, with 22 points per game ranking 21st in the NFL. And the best way for them to fix it would be to improve first quarter scoring. They have 21 points in the first quarter this season. That's the worst in the NFL.
The Saints have the NFL's highest-scoring offense with 36.7 points per game, presenting a major challenge for the Eagles defense. The defense has carried the Eagles in wins this season, when opponents are scoring 14.75 points per game. Good luck doing that against the Saints.
"You can't go in there expecting them not to score points or not to make plays," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Red zone defense is going to be at a premium because they'll probably move the ball, make plays. But when they get in the red zone, we've got to be able to be stingy.
"I think taking the ball away is going to be a huge emphasis – you've got to be able to steal possessions. But at the end of the day, you've got to go compete. They've got to some great players that are good in space and can win matchups and we're going to have to have guys that hold up and win for us to have some success."
The Eagles are hoping they have Sidney Jones back in the lineup and Tim Jernigan at defensive tackle for the first time this season. They're going to need all the help they can get. Look for Jones to play outside cornerback if he's back, with Avonte Maddox playing the slot in the nickel.
Alshon Jeffery isn't the most loquacious player in the Eagles locker room, but Jeffery is a big basketball follower who likes to attend 76ers games when he can. He's a Chicago Bulls fan who got to know the Bulls when he played in Chicago. So Jeffery is a good person to ask about Jimmy Butler, the newest Sixer.
"Me and Jimmy go back to being in Chicago," Jeffery said Wednesday. "I know Jimmy, just hanging out with him. I actually saw him this offseason."
Jeffery didn't want to assess the trade, but he said he'll attend Butler's games across the street. He also thinks Butler will fit in well in the city they now share.
"I think he's got the attitude [for Philly]," Jeffery said. "He's going to play hard. Jimmy's going to love Philly, Philly's going to love Jimmy."
It's a question that's come up often this year, and there's no tangible way to measure how the loss of Frank Reich is affecting the Eagles because he wasn't calling plays. He helped with the game plan and he coordinated the offense, but it was still Doug Pederson's finger on the button, so to speak. I think what the Eagles lost was a respected coach and confidant for Pederson who could be a dissenting voice.
Considering I've said the offensive production is the biggest issue this year, it would be foolish for me to suggest that the absence of the offensive coordinator isn't a factor. I don't believe it's as big of a factor as others do, though. I still think it comes down the play-caller and the players.