The Eagles passed on practicing outdoors while November temperatures reached into the 60s leading up to Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks. They changed their routine to practice in their indoor facility, a confined space with speakers emitting earsplitting sounds that can turn a special-teams drill into a rock concert.
The intention was to simulate what the Eagles will experience at CenturyLink Field. At Thursday's practice, Eagles coach Doug Pederson estimated that the sound reached 100 decibels. (A level of 137.6 decibels has been recorded at CenturyLink.)
Noise is just one of the challenges the Eagles encounter traveling cross-country to face one of the NFL's best teams in one of the NFL's most difficult venues. The road has not been a friendly place for the Eagles and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz this season. They have lost four consecutive games away from home. If they're going to extend this season beyond New Year's Day, it's likely going to require winning on the road.
"We're going to have to win in the trenches again, be smart in the passing game, take what's there," Wentz said. "We've got to protect the football. We have to limit our penalties. We had too many in the last game that we have to clean up. We've just got to play a very sound football game."
What Wentz outlined is a basic formula for how the Eagles can remain competitive in Seattle even though the Seahawks are favored by nearly a touchdown. There is much that would go into a potential victory, but a good place to start is the start.
In three of the Eagles' four losses, they spotted opponents a 14-0 lead. Playing from behind is not an ideal situation for an Eagles offense that is not particularly explosive, and for a team that safety Malcolm Jenkins said needs to embrace "boring football."
The Eagles scored the first touchdown in four of their five wins this season. They allowed the first touchdown in all four losses.
"I think when you are on the road, you try to press just a little bit," Pederson said. "You try to get that quick, early lead, try to take the crowd out of the game. You maybe do some things that are uncharacteristic of what you do at home, and we just can't do that. We've got to stick to the game plan. We've got to approach it much like a home game and trust the players, trust the plan."
That game plan must include a commitment to the run, even though the Seahawks limit opposing rushers to 3.5 yards per carry. Running back Ryan Mathews, who rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns last week, averages nearly six more carries in wins than in losses. That's not just the function of winding the clock late in games, but also an offense that can get imbalanced when the Eagles are trailing.
"You go up against a team that's this good against the run in their home place, and you still have expectations to run the ball efficiently, run it enough to win," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "That looks different from game to game. But. . .we've got it going with the mind-set that we can run the ball effectively against this group."
The Eagles also must avoid turnovers. The Seahawks have 34 more takeaways than giveaways at home since 2012. Jenkins, an eight-year pro who has lost in two career visits to Seattle, said that the Seahawks approach the game believing the defense will make a play, and it can feast on a mistake.
"It's going to come down to who makes the first mistake or the last mistake," Jenkins said. "And it's always on their side because they have the crowd, they have the momentum. It's a tough place to go because you have to be patient. You've got to come with the mentality that it'll be a four-quarter fight that might be three yards and a cloud of dust. You have to be comfortable in that situation."
The crowd noise is why the Eagles practiced inside this past week to work on their silent snap count, which Pederson said Wentz does well. The Eagles do not limit their regular pre-snap cadences on the road. But even at home last week, the Eagles were flagged for five delay-of-game penalties and two false starts. In practice Thursday, Pederson said tackles Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Jason Peters both had false starts, which is why the Eagles made sure to continue practicing indoors.
"I think the biggest thing is you need to communicate a lot," Wentz said. "You need to overcommunicate. You need to work on hand signals, both with the O-linemen and the receivers. But those are things we've done already. We've done those in Chicago, we've done those in Washington. Obviously, it'll be louder. But at the same time, as long as you kind of have that set in stone, I don't think it'll be too big of an effect."
The crowd is quieter when the Seahawks have the ball, but the key could be the Eagles' defensive line. The offensive line is the Seahawks' weakness, and the defensive line is supposed to be the Eagles' strength. Controlling the line of scrimmage will be imperative on defense. But with quarterback Russell Wilson's ability to extend plays - especially now that his knee is getting healthier - a potential mismatch against Seattle's offensive tackles might not be enough.
"It's not just a matter of beating the offensive linemen," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Now it's a matter of chasing the quarterback and getting the quarterback on the ground and holding up in coverage. It puts a lot of pressure on your coverage. The ball is not coming out quick, so we've got to do a good job of covering, and to be able to exploit those kind of matchups."
Eagles safety Rodney McLeod, who spent his first four NFL seasons with the St. Louis Rams, has twice left Seattle with a victory. He echoed Jenkins about needing to be physical and patient against the Seahawks, and he also noted that an opponent cannot be intimidated.
The success of the Seahawks, their style of play, and their home-field advantage can give them an edge before a team even sets foot on the field - especially if that team has a rookie quarterback who never experienced it. The only way the Eagles can be the first team to leave Seattle with a win this year is by sticking to their formula.
"They want to be the bully," McLeod said. "You've got to stand toe-to-toe."