The Super Bowl champion Eagles are 3-4 this season because, in part, they aren't practicing like Super Bowl champions. So said the head coach and two veteran players.
Consider both coaches and players culpable.
Doug Pederson on Monday implied that the Eagles are entering games after shoddy preparation sessions, that they had seldom been able to "win the week." That implication was overshadowed by Pederson's prickly, defensive behavior after his team, on Sunday, choked away a second fourth-quarter lead in four games. Given the nature of Pederson's bombshell, it warranted corroboration.
That corroboration came Tuesday, from center Jason Kelce and left guard Stefen Wisniewski. On the record. For attribution. With anecdotal support.
"Before the Vikings game, we did a third-down drill," Kelce said. "We had, like, three offsides in a four-play period, and a false start. Then we had, like, five or six false starts in that game."
Actually, the Eagles committed three false starts and two illegal formations in that loss three games ago, but all presnap penalties reflect the same amount of inexcusable unpreparedness. The Eagles rank sixth in presnap penalties, with 19. That's more than 37 percent of the Eagles' 51 total penalties, and the 51 penalties tie them for fifth-most in the league.
Eagles practices are closed to reporters, but Kelce acknowledged that game-day mistakes are presaged by midweek miscues.
"There's usually a correlation between how well you practice, how well you work during the week, to Sunday," Kelce said. "The more you can eliminate the gross errors in practice, the more success you'll have on game day."
"For the most part we practice pretty well, but there's definitely some things we've got to clean up. That's kind of the way we're playing," Wisniewski said. "You can't afford to make too many mistakes and win in the NFL. A few small mistakes are going to get you."
Pederson realizes this. That's why he was so forthcoming Monday, after his team blew a 17-point lead to the Panthers — a game in which they scored only those 17 paltry points, seven fewer than the league average.
"We got to make sure we win the game during the week, right?" Pederson said Monday. "If you win the game on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, chances are you're going to win the game on Sunday. That's where it starts. It begins with our preparation. …
"You do that in practice during the week — make every play during practice. If you're going to make a mistake, make it during the week so you can get it corrected."
Clearly, some of the midweek "gross errors" aren't getting corrected. Seriously: Four presnap penalties in one drill? How many presnap penalties to do you think Bill Belichick allows in a practice? Don't guess "four." Maybe four in a week. Maybe four in a season.
If this sounds like a coaching problem, it is, to an extent. When offensive coordinator Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo took promotions with other teams this winter, Pederson replaced them with assistants Mike Groh and Press Taylor, respectively. Groh and Taylor had never held their current level of jobs in the NFL. The Eagles are averaging 22.0 points per game this season, 22nd in the league and nearly seven points fewer than last season, when they ranked third.
If this sounds like a player problem, it is, to an extent. The Eagles have largely the same roster as last year but have played with an astounding degree of disarray, to Pederson's dismay.
"There's an expectation," he said Monday. "I talk a lot about holding guys accountable."
Wednesday, when Pederson was asked directly if he sensed that his team was ill-prepared for the past two games, he hedged from his harsher stance on Monday.
"I haven't. In fact, I thought in the last couple weeks our practices and the preparation has been really good. Guys have been focused. Guys have been detailed," he said.
Neither Kelce nor Wisniewski indicated that practices were appreciably sharper in the weeks after the Vikings loss Oct. 7.
Pederson did concede Wednesday that the "scout" team, the second-string players who mimic the next opponent, could be sharper: "I think if there is one area, I encourage the 'look' squads to make it as challenging as possible during the week so it's not as easy in practice. I want to make it hard in practice so it becomes less difficult in the game."
So, it means backups aren't particularly focused, either.
Look, it's not as though the Eagles are stumbling through drills like Keystone Kops while Pederson and his lieutenants sip daiquiris and listen to Jimmy Buffett.
They're not the Giants, for Pete's sake. They've been plagued by lineup changes, most of them precipitated by injuries: at safety, defensive end, defensive tackle, left tackle, wide receiver, and running back.
They were plagued by instability and injury last season. They won the Super Bowl.
Pederson believes that less might be more; less material to learn, less time spent learning it.
"Maybe we got to scale back just a little bit," Pederson said Monday, sounding more desperate with every syllable. "I'm just brainstorming here. Maybe, offensively, we scale back the amount of plays we have in. Maybe I scale back in practice. Whatever I can do to keep the guys fresh and energized and jazzed going into games."
That might not be necessary.
"We're really close," Kelce insisted.