Eagles' Doug Pederson looks to tighten up, in a laid-back locale
A week in the sun might not involve much fun for a dominant Eagles team gone sloppy.
COSTA MESA, Calif. — Here's guessing that when the Eagles settle in for their practice week at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, there won't be a lot of guys trying to imitate Mike Trout's batting stance, or pretending to be Danny Glover swooping around the outfield.
Sunday night's 24-10 loss at Seattle, and the acknowledgement by Eagles coach Doug Pederson that the team fell into some sloppy practice habits over the final few legs of its nine-game win streak, turned this week in the sun into a week under the microscope.
"We pride ourselves in our work, and getting our work done during the week. I feel strongly about, you win games during the week," Pederson said Monday afternoon, from a meeting-room lectern at the team hotel. "Sometimes things come up. As a coach, you're always maybe a little more nervous than you should be [about] the way we practice … Previous to the last two weeks, you didn't see the penalties, you didn't see the turnovers, you didn't see some of the negative things. … To me, that's a direct correlation of how we practice during the week. … We gotta get that erased this week."
Pederson and his staff will attempt that in a foreign environment, the team opting to stay on the West Coast as it prepares for Sunday's game at the Los Angeles Rams. Pederson acknowledged that it's "the first time we've ever done this," meaning, this group of players and coaches. The Buddy Ryan Eagles did it twice, in 1986 and 1989.
"The challenge is trying to eliminate distractions. … Try to keep the week as normal as possible for the guys, for the coaches. We've got a great setup here in the hotel," Pederson said. "Coaches have offices and work space to get the work done. Players have got everything they need right here – from treatment, rehab, doctors, medical facilities."
As the now-10-2 Eagles blew out opponents week after week, the narrative at first was that the blowouts were happening because the team was keeping such a tight focus. But four fumbles and 11 penalties against the listless Bears on Nov. 26 argued otherwise, despite the 31-3 final score. Two turnovers in Seattle, plus five first-half penalties and numerous other glitches, put Pederson in crackdown mode, as he and the Eagles prepare for the 9-3 Rams.
"Winning can kinda cover up or mask some things, some deficiencies, a little chink in your armor if there is any," Pederson said, continuing a theme he brought up Friday. "Coaches and players fall into the same boat sometimes. We need games where we get hit in the mouth, and we have to fight, battle and scratch. Sunday's game was one of those games.
"There's no substitute for the preparation, the hard work. … The guys have to know that, and it's my job to make sure they understand that … and hold everybody accountable. When I start seeing the same mistakes in ballgames that you kinda see during the week … we just gotta get back to just focusing in on all our jobs, and own that."
Developing story lines
*Dumbest penalty of the day: Alshon Jeffery's hold on the LeGarrette Blount run that would have netted a first down inside the 1, Eagles trailing 10-0. As Cris Collinsworth noted on the broadcast, Blount was running full steam, had already gained more than 10 yards, was going to have a first down inside the 5, regardless. Let the d-back go.
*Doug Pederson said something interesting Monday when he was asked whether he wished he'd been less conservative in the first half Sunday night, whether he wished maybe he'd tried to go downfield more, the way the Eagles did in the second half for 303 of their 348 passing yards.
Overall, the answer seemed to be that the Eagles knew the Seahawks and their fans would come out of the gate snorting fire, that they'd wanted to be a little conservative until the emotion died down. But Pederson also indicated that the one overthrow of Nelson Agholor on the Eagles' second series should not have been the only downfield shot of the half, and that Carson Wentz was checking down into all of those dink-and-dunk plays.
"We had other opportunities down the field, elected to go other places," Pederson said, before allowing that he might second-guess himself "maybe a play or two here and there."
But they were also getting off on the snap count relatively well. They were hittin' our quarterback. The noise was a little bit of a factor early on."
*Russell Wilson threw incomplete, usually under pressure, five times in a stretch of seven snaps during the 11-play touchdown drive that ended with the Seahawks taking a 17-3 lead. He completed one pass, for 12 yards, and Seattle gained 1 yard on a running play, in those seven snaps. So how did Seattle still have the ball for the 47-yard completion to the Eagles' 1 that set up its touchdown? Defensive holding, twice, first on Patrick Robinson, then on Corey Graham.
*Kenjon Barner confirmed that Wentz didn't really overthrow him on that fourth-and-3 attempt in the third quarter, during which Wentz was blasted by unblocked blitzing linebacker K.J. Wright. "When I jumped through the line I lost my balance, threw the timing of the play off," Barner said. "Carson made a throw. If I don't lose my balance, it's a walk-in touchdown. That's not on him. Carson did a great job all night, standing in there. … I just have to come through for him. That's the bottom line."
That you could be held to a three-and-out possession just once all evening, punt all of three times, and finish the game with only 10 points?
Marcus Smith, the Eagles' 2014 first-round pick who was cut last summer and picked up by the Seahawks, played 23 snaps against his former team, no tackles, one hurry of Carson Wentz. A year earlier, in the Eagles' loss at Seattle, Smith recorded the visitors' only sack of Russell Wilson.
Ostensibly, Doug Pederson's decision to punt, down 3-0, on fourth-and-1 at the Eagles' 47 on the team's first possession was a good one; Brandon Graham sacked Russell Wilson on the ensuing Seattle third down, the Seahawks' punt from the end zone only made it out to their 46, and the Eagles' offense started over.
But the way the game went after that, two things occur in hindsight:
The decision to punt gave off a whiff of excess caution; this seemed like the sort of situation where Pederson would go for it without a second thought most weeks. The Eagles haven't been stopped on fourth-and-1 all season (11 for 11, according to NFL Game Statistics & Information System). If the Seahawks are the team that can do that, let them prove it, instead of you tacitly giving them credit for being able to do so.
2. Converting a fourth down and still driving on your first series of the game has a different feel, emotionally, from punting and waiting, while the Seattle defense collects itself and makes adjustments.
When the Eagles did get the ball back, they did nothing with it. The first down play-action, Carson Wentz had plenty of time but overthrew a wide-open Nelson Agholor, the Eagles' only downfield shot of the first half. Second down, Wentz got 4 yards on a short pass to Torrey Smith. Third down, Frank Clark sacked Wentz, when Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Stefen Wisniewski couldn't sort out a stunt. That removed all hope of even salvaging three points from the tremendous field position.
Donnie Jones punted again, and the Seahawks embarked on an 85-yard touchdown drive, the TD that was set up by the questionable pass interference penalty on Ronald Darby. (Watched it several times Monday. Two guys stuck their arms out, the way defensive backs and receivers do on every play. Darby had position when the ball arrived, Richardson initiated contact there. Ya got me.)
Suddenly, the Eagles were down 10-0.