Eagles can’t let bye week dull their edge against Cowboys
Teams don't always come roaring out of bye weeks, recharged and refreshed. Sometimes the break in routine causes a break in focus.
Just like last season, the Eagles are coming out of their bye against the Dallas Cowboys, though last year's Nov. 19 contest was played in Arlington, Texas, not at Lincoln Financial Field, where the teams will face off Sunday night.
The Eagles came in 8-1, on a seven-game winning streak, and the Cowboys came in 5-4, but it was an uphill Eagles battle through the first half. Dallas made it to halftime with a 9-7 lead, before the Eagles lurched into gear and blasted their way to a 37-9 victory.
Two years ago, the bye definitely had a momentum-killing effect. In Doug Pederson's and Carson Wentz's first season, the Eagles started 3-0. The bye arrived in Week 4, and in Week 5, the Birds went to Detroit and blew a late lead for a loss, largely thanks to a Ryan Mathews fumble. They would lose eight of their next 10 games.
Eagles right guard Brandon Brooks said that even though the physical break of the bye is necessary and welcome, "the biggest thing is, mentally you can't take a break … . You've got to come in prepared" when the bye ends.
The team wore pads Wednesday for its first full practice after the bye, as a way of getting everyone out of cruise control and down to business.
In such a physical, demanding sport, you might think everyone would benefit greatly from a bye week, but this season, teams are 8-6 coming out of the bye, according to Teamrankings.com. Dallas lost at home Monday night, 28-14, to Tennessee, in that situation, though the Titans also were coming off their bye.
"We've kind of had a little bit of a history of starting slow after a bye or an extended break, so we're really trying to emphasize starting fast this week," tight end Zach Ertz said. "It starts well before Sunday … . We always want to be on the attack, we don't want to be playing from behind. Our team is not a team that's meant to play from behind; our team is meant to play with a lead."
Wentz said the danger of coming out of a break out of rhythm is "something we've already talked about and emphasized … . Coming out swinging right away on Sunday will be big for us."
This is pretty close to a must-win game for the favored Eagles, who will face New Orleans next week in the Superdome. Through their first-half stumbles and missteps, the Eagles have relied on the overall weakness of the NFC East, but if you can't come out of a week of rest and win a home game against 3-5 Dallas, the weakness of other teams are unlikely to matter.
The NFL is all about routine and repetition. Bye weeks, necessary though they might be, break those routines.
"That time off can be really relaxing," defensive end Chris Long said. "A lot of the football season and getting into the grind is just getting used to being uncomfortable and being uncomfortably busy and tired. Then, you get all that energy back [from a week of rest], we need to use it for the right reason."
Still, last week seemed to be an excellent time for the 4-4 defending Super Bowl champs to take a break. They were at the midpoint of their season, coming off a win in London over the Jaguars. They were banged up. Though Darren Sproles' return this week turned out to be a mirage, the extra week of rest seems to have given right tackle Lane Johnson a shot at playing Sunday night, two weeks after suffering an MCL sprain. Safety Corey Graham seems poised to return from a hamstring injury suffered Oct. 7 against the Vikings.
"The bye week was great," Wentz said. "Really, for the entire team, it came at a perfect time. Middle of the season — you couldn't ask for a better bye week than that."
This was especially true for the quarterback, who spent the short post-Super Bowl offseason rehabbing his knee injury and getting married. Last week, he went back to North Dakota, met up with his friend Mike Trout, and, judging from his social media photos, emptied the sky of ducks.
"To be able to get away, refresh my mind … . The rehab and everything that's been going on last offseason, this was a big break for me, both physically and mentally," Wentz said.
The back-to-work week was enlivened by the addition of receiver Golden Tate, who arrived at the Oct. 30 trade deadline.
"Played him in college, and he just killed us," said Ertz, who was at Stanford when Tate was at Notre Dame. "He's a guy that when you get him in space, he can [turn] a 5-yard gain into an 80-yard gain. That's something we've kind of been lacking on offense."
Long enjoyed his first two-sack game in London since 2012, but the 33-year-old was glad to take a break.
"This was perfect," he said. "Older guys like myself, having that full week off really helps. It's a good time to have it."
Rookie tight end Dallas Goedert is only 23, but he said he felt pretty good about his first NFL bye week. He went to see the football team of his alma mater, Britton-Hecla (South Dakota) High, in a playoff game (the Braves lost).
"I got to do a little bit of everything," Goedert said. But he added that his first practice back "was a lot more fun than I expected it to be. A bye week's nice, but you just miss football, you miss playing the game. So it's good to be back; you can only have so much time off."
If the Eagles get hot in the second half, they have a shot at a second bye week – during the Wild Card playoff round, which was quite important last season in winning the franchise's first Super Bowl.
The week after the NFL bye this season:
Winners: Steelers, Titans, Seahawks, Chargers, Lions, Saints, Falcons and Panthers.
Losers: Packers, Redskins, Buccaneers, Raiders, Cowboys and Bears.
The Eagles’ last five post-bye-week games:
Nov. 19, 2017: Won at Dallas, 37-9.
Oct. 9, 2016: Lost at Detroit, 24-23.
Nov. 8, 2015: Won at Dallas, 33-27, in overtime.
Oct. 26, 2014: Lost at Arizona, 24-20.
Dec. 1, 2013: Won at Arizona, 24-21.