Good morning, Eagles fans. This is the Eagles' seventh day on the West Coast, and they'll have their final full practice before Sunday's game against the Rams. The Eagles can clinch the NFC East title with a win or Dallas loss. They're expecting many Philadelphia fans to join them in California for the game. Are you one of them? Please share your stories and travel experiences. You're reading the Friday 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
Zach Berman: You have experience against the Rams in recent years from the NFC West. What's different about them this season?
Torrey Smith: "To me, the Rams have always had a Super Bowl-caliber defense. The offense has always kind of been playing catch-up. Right now, that's not the case. They're balling on both sides of the ball. They're a very dangerous team, very talented. They're playing very well."
Zach Berman: Earlier in the year, you said we'd need to wait until late in the season to start believing which teams are good. What do you see now?
Torrey Smith: "You're going to see it. Look at the playoff contenders all around the league. We still technically haven't clinched yet. But you look at all the people at the top, it's a bunch of teams with two or three losses in the NFC. You look on the AFC side, it's teams with like six losses — so it's like a handful of teams battling for it. This is the time that you wait for in the season where it gets exciting for everyone. For us, we're lucky we handled business early in the year that we're in a pretty good position going forward."
Zach Berman: What can the veteran players the Eagles added this season provide this time of year?
Torrey Smith: "Just the experience. Pushing the tempo, knowing you don't let up. You grind harder this time of year. Everything picks up. For us, that's just what it is this time of year. Watch the way LeGarrette's practicing, myself, we know we have to bring it each and every day. … We have a great mix of veterans and young guys. We have to ramp it up and know this is the time to step it up. It's no time to relax."
I actually think Brandon Graham has been an effective pass rusher. His sacks are up (he has a career-high 8.5) and his pressure stats are also among the best at the position. He moves inside on some passing downs to get more pass rushers on the field. It allows the Eagles to use another defensive end in the lineup, and Graham is skilled enough as an interior rusher to make it work. I actually like when they do it. It's not good for Tim Jernigan's production, but it benefits the defense.
Keep waiting. You're going to see more Jay Ajayi (No. 36) late in the season; you saw hints last Sunday when he played 41 percent of the offensive snaps. I'd expect his role to grow on third downs. But the Eagles will still keep LeGarrette Blount (No. 29) and Corey Clement (No. 30) involved. This won't be a situation like the Rams, where Todd Gurley has 65 percent of the carries this season. I even asked offensive coordinator Frank Reich this week why he prefers a committee. "I suppose there are pros and cons," he said. "But like anything, you play the cards and the hand that you have, and the hand that we've been playing has been working for us, where it keeps them fresh. I feel like we've built in enough rhythm for them at times. I'm sure every back always wants more carries, but so far it's been working pretty well for us."