Good morning, Eagles fans. The Eagles improved to 10-1 with a 31-3 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday, and they might win the NFC East before they play again. (If Dallas loses Thursday night, the Eagles will be division champs.)
This is a Monday edition of Early Birds, which comes to you five days a week. 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 Bears had one of the best running attacks in the league … before facing the Eagles
It was clear last week that the Eagles' defensive game plan would be to stop Chicago's run and force Mitchell Trubisky to beat them. But it would have been difficult to envision them playing as well as they did, even though they entered the game with the top-ranked rushing defense. The Bears gained only 6 rushing yards on 14 carries, and they got -6 yards from their running backs. They entered the game fifth in the NFL with 131.8 yards per game. The run defense was the key to the win. It starts with Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan, who form perhaps the best defensive tackle duo in the NFL. It shows why statistics can be misleading when judging their value. There's no individual statistic that demonstrates how good those two are against the run, but they wrecked the Bears offense. Jim Schwartz says the goal is to make the opponent one-dimensional each week. So far this season, the strategy has worked. They have not allowed a 100-yard rusher all year. Better quarterbacks could give the Eagles a difficult test, but good luck trying to run on this defense.
The Eagles' celebrations after touchdowns and turnovers were a big talking point after the game. The players enjoy doing them and the fans seem to enjoy watching them, so there shouldn't be an issue. "We work hard so we feel like the least we can do is have fun out there," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "It gets the crowd involved and excited. That permeates throughout the whole team." Doug Pederson said the players need to get off the field quickly to avoid a penalty, and he has a point there — during the electric slide, it looked like the Eagles were ready to run a play. And after one of the post-touchdown celebrations, they were trying to rush the extra point. But no flag, so no harm. Like most things, the fun lasts only as long as the Eagles are winning. "It's obviously more fun when you're winning." Smith said. "You're on the opposite side of it and you're losing. And you don't want to be watching guys dance around or whatever and there's only one way to stop that — win."
It's hard to find fault in the Eagles when they're 10-1 and on a nine-game winning streak. But the next two weeks will be a litmus test for the Eagles. Seattle is 7-4 and that's a tough place to play — especially in December. The Rams showed they should be taken seriously by beating New Orleans to get to 8-3. After those two games, you won't be able to say the Eagles had an easy schedule. I think the Eagles split them, which should be good enough. If they go 2-0, they're a juggernaut. If they go 0-2, you wonder whether their record was inflated by poor opponents. "We've got a unique set of challenges coming up, but it's just a one-week-at-a-time, one-game-at-a-time mentality," Pederson said. "That's what this team has embraced all season long."
What you need to know about the Eagles
In other years, a 28-point win would be the pinnacle of the season. For the Eagles this year, it's become the standard.
Alshon Jeffery showed the Bears what they're missing and made some more money in the process, Jeff McLane writes.
The run defense excelled on Sunday, Les Bowen writes, but they were hoping to hold the Bears to negative rushing yards.
Carson Wentz is close to rewriting the Eagles' record books, Paul Domowitch says.
This could be the final time Chris Long and Kyle Long play each other, and Bob Ford documented the meeting and the relationship.
Zach Ertz became the Eagles' first 100-yard receiver this season and was dressed to impress afterwards, Marcus Hayes writes.
The Eagles are playing like a super team, says David Murphy. He compares them to other teams who've had this type of start to a season.
LeGarrette Blount's fumble was a blemish on his day, and other notes on Shelton Gibson and the celebrations can be found in this notebook.
Check out all the photos from the game.
Hayes gave five quick observations when the game ended.
Beau Allen and Trey Burton were both inactive on Sunday.
As Chris Long's career winds down, he's taking advantage of the NFL platform to show he's more than a football player.
A big part of the Eagles' success is the lack of divas, McLane writes.
A fun story by Ford about Kamu Grugier-Hill and Grugier-Hill's girlfriend serving as his kicking coach.
3 Questions With | Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox
Zach Berman: It's the fourth straight win by more than 20 points. How do you explain this week-to-week dominance?
Fletcher Cox: "Just playing together, all three units. Special teams, offense, and defense. We're sticking together and know nobody is going to come in here and lay down and give us a win. We have to continue to build on things we do during the week and take it out on Sunday."
Zach Berman: What did you do to stop their running game?
Fletcher Cox: "We knew last week we had some leakage in the running game, and we wanted to get it fixed. We were all mad that we had a running back even close to 100 yards. We were all upset about it. We knew what we had to do to fix that. That's to come out this week and do what we do best — be aggressive in the run game and get after the quarterback on the third down."
Zach Berman: Do you think the next two games will show where you guys are in the NFC?
Fletcher Cox: "Yeah, we have to go out and stay focused, stay hungry, and live in the moment — like we've been doing week in and week out."
Elsewhere in the NFL
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is under scrutiny for the way he's playing without Ezekiel Elliott. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]
Washington QB Kirk Cousins' future with the team will be in the spotlight during the coming week and he answers how long he wants to play. [Washington Post]
The Giants could lose CB Janoris Jenkins for the season because of an ankle injury. [New York Post]
The Eagles showed the Bears why a change in philosophy might be needed. [Chicago Sun-Times]
The Eagles play the Seahawks next week, and Seattle put the 49ers away in the second half Sunday. [Seattle Times]
From the mailbag
Not necessarily. You play who's on your schedule, and I think the Eagles are a good team regardless of the strength of schedule. But the next two weeks will certainly be a test. We'll know more about the Eagles after road games in Seattle and Los Angeles. Frankly, if you should be worried about anything, it's not the quality of teams they've played — it's the quality of quarterbacks. I'm fascinated to see how Russell Wilson does against the Eagles. Other than Cam Newton and Kirk Cousins, the Eagles have seen a lot of mediocre/poor quarterbacks. Most of the teams in the playoffs have dangerous quarterbacks.
I don't think the "starter" matters much, but the amount of carries do. And the Eagles have gone with LeGarrette Blount more than Jay Ajayi the last two games. Blount had 15 carries on Sunday, and Ajayi had five. The explanation last week was that the Eagles were playing an up-tempo offense and didn't substitute as much. I asked Doug Pederson why Blount was his running back of choice on Sunday. Here's what he said: "A lot of it came down to the style of defense the Bears ran this afternoon. They got into a little bit of a five-man front with a five-down, really a sixth guy being the linebacker. We had several run schemes again in the game plan like we normally do, and the ones [we used] were a little more conducive for him to run sort of downhill at them and attack them that way, so he was obviously the back of choice."
Howie Roseman certainly deserves credit for building this roster, but Carson Wentz is the most important person in the building. It all starts with the quarterback. He has his hands on the ball every play. He's playing at such a high level and gives the Eagles a chance every week. A team needs more than a quarterback, but the quarterback is most important. So if you're asking whose statue should be bigger, I'd say a Wentz statue. But Roseman's done an admirable job rebuilding this roster the last two years. He had a plan, and he executed it well. No general manager hits on every decision, but he's hit on his big decisions. The biggest of all was Wentz.