DOUG PEDERSON'S theme coming out of Sunday's loss to the Giants was that he needed to be mindful to not ask too much from rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, and that Wentz needed to stop trying to do too much.
That will be a tough task, with the Eagles hosting Matt Ryan's 6-3 Atlanta Falcons and the NFL's most prolific offense on Sunday.
This isn't a game the 4-4 Eagles are likely to win with some field goals, a special-teams or defensive touchdown, and a little luck. Wentz will have to prove he belongs on the same field with Ryan, as unfair a matchup as that might be right now.
"He's going to have to continue to make the plays that are there to be made, but, at the same time, I think your run game becomes a little more important in games like this," Eagles coach Pederson said Wednesday. "They're playing extremely well. So, any time you can sort of play keep-away, time of possession and things like that can help you."
"We try not to put too much pressure on ourselves," Wentz said, when asked whether he thought he needed to be especially productive Sunday. "We realize they're a good offense, but we think we have a pretty dang good defense here. We realize we've just got to do our jobs. It's the same thing every week . . . go out and execute, and, as you've seen, we've been in every one of these ballgames. We've just got to learn how to finish, and keep executing."
Ryan, 31, from Exton and Penn Charter, is having his best season, with 23 touchdown passes and four interceptions, and a 69.6 percent completion rate. His 2,980 passing yards lead the league. His 119 passer rating is second to Tom Brady (133.9), who's played only four games. The Falcons are averaging an NFL-best 33.9 points per game.
Pederson, Ryan and Wentz all talked to one degree or another about experience Wednesday. Ryan detailed how he made adjustments to his mechanics and his thinking this past offseason - the offseason between his eighth and ninth seasons. Wentz is between his eighth and ninth career starts, as he tries to learn how to avoid throwing multiple early interceptions, something he has been guilty of in two of the last three games.
"They're all kind of situational," said Wentz, who has thrown five picks total, four in the first quarters of the Vikings and Giants games. The first quarter is the only quarter in which the Eagles are being outscored by opponents. "A couple of 'em have been third downs. I don't think (there's a common thread)."
Is he coming out too fired up, overthrowing?
"I don't think so," said Wentz, who is 177-for-275, 64.4 percent, with nine touchdowns and the five interceptions and an 87.7 passer rating. "I'm a pretty calm-demeanored guy. I'm very confident out there. I'm very excited and I love the game. I'm passionate about it, but, at the same time, I'm calm when I need to be, and I don't think that's any of the reason those interceptions have happened early."
Asked what he has gleaned from losing four games in which he had the ball late with a chance to win or tie, Wentz said: "We, all around here, are kind of sick to our stomach where we're at right now with just all these close games. It's frustrating to not finish."
Later, to another question, he said: "You try and learn a little bit from everything, every situation, good or bad, all these games, the biggest thing we all take away is just (be better), late in games. I keep saying, I sound like a broken record, but it's just executing and finishing down to the wire, some third-down moments, know when to take sacks at times, know when the play's not there . . . If we're not learning, we're just going to keep repeating those mistakes."
Wentz's passer rating was over 100 in three of his first four starts, but it hasn't reached that mark since. The Eagles averaged 29 points per game those first four games but have averaged 21.75 points in their past four games.
"As an offense, we came out obviously pretty hot. I think we were doing some good things," Wentz said. "I think we struggle with consistency. I think that's something that we've got to be better with, we've got to be better with our details. Consistency and not shooting ourselves in the foot - whether it's interceptions, fumbles, penalties. I think we've had a little bit of everything in some of these losses that we've just got to clean up."
Falcons coach Dan Quinn said on a conference call that Ryan worked last summer on his balance, his footwork, and on some specific routes with Julio Jones and other receivers, where Ryan thought he needed work. Ryan's 21 touchdown passes in 2015 were his lowest total since his rookie year, his 16 interceptions his second-highest total ever.
Ryan has talked about learning to throw to spots, which he was asked to explain on a conference call Wednesday.
"It's better recognition of coverages, first and foremost," he said. "The longer you play, you know what certain coverages look like. Teams do such a good job of disguising and making it difficult on you. Recognition of spots and knowing what spots look like in certain coverages, and how to attack it, I think that's the No. 1 thing.
"And then you gotta trust what you see. You do all the presnap work that you can, and the studying during the week and the offseason to understand how defenses work and all those kinds of things, but when it comes time for the game, you've got to trust what you see. We've done a pretty good job of that this year."
Again, this is a quarterback in his ninth season. The kind of intuitive recognition he was talking about still seems considerably down the line for Wentz.
Pederson was asked Wednesday what he thinks Wentz has learned in his first NFL half-season. Pederson referenced some of the things everyone talks about with a rookie - the speed of the game, how dramatically things change week to week, how demanding the sport is.
"I think, too, he's learning situational football a little bit, where maybe in college, you don't have to consider as much of that, where here it's everything. It can really, really affect you offensively," he said.