Eagles could use a long winter's nap, but Christmas business with Raiders awaits
With the Eagles getting to the wearisome part of the season, mental preparation becomes all the more important.
The Eagles didn't really practice Friday – they held a walkthrough. With two games left in the regular season and a divisional-round postseason berth assured, a good bit of the focus is on getting to that hard-earned playoff bye week without further injury.
"We have a longer week, so we've been able to spread it out more," center Jason Kelce said. The Eagles don't play until Monday night, when they host the Oakland Raiders.
The Birds could clinch home field throughout the playoffs if the Packers were to upset the Vikings Saturday night, which would put an even bigger premium on preparing for the postseason; you'd likely see quite a few starters play briefly Monday, or not at all. With Green Bay eliminated from the postseason last week and consequently placing Aaron Rodgers on injured reserve, no one at NovaCare is counting on a Vikings loss. But rest obviously matters.
"Physically, we've been backing down for a few weeks now, to try to make sure everybody's fresh going into these playoff games," Kelce said. "You're always balancing getting guys physically back vs. making sure guys are mentally prepared for the game."
Earlier this week, Eagles coach Doug Pederson spoke of fatigue having been a factor in the raggedness of last Sunday's victory over the Giants. Pederson cited "a compounding interest of everything that's sort of taken place in the last month of our season," including two West Coast games and the Carson Wentz season-ending injury.
Around the team, there is a definite longing for the playoff bye week. Almost as big would be clinching home field either Saturday or Monday, and cruising through the last week of the regular season, before hosting Dallas on New Year's Eve with little pressure on the starters to play much.
"You try not to think about that, obviously; we've got to focus on this game," Kelce said. But bodies and minds are tired and the thoughts are there, they just get pushed away.
"I think Doug's done a great job this week of making sure we're staying fresh," tight end Brent Celek said. "You gotta take advantage of the time [by stretching, getting massages, and other treatments]. You can't just sit around and do nothing, you've got to take care of your body and make sure you're feeling good."
Celek is a fan of the late-season walkthrough: "Still go over the plays, but not be as taxing on our body."
The Eagles' defense is facing a particularly taxing situation Monday night in that it must deal with Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch. Tackling, an Eagles strength earlier in the season, has dropped off alarmingly the last three games or so.
"Limit the big plays. I think that's the biggest thing," linebacker Nigel Bradham said. "[Poor tackling] is where you get those yards from, those yards after catch and things like that. We've just got to get back to the basics, man. … Remaining in the mentality that we're going to make all our tackles."
Bradham wouldn't buy into any talk of fatigue.
"The way I see it, you can't get tired," he said. "It is what it is. You've got to deal with it. This time of the year, it's cold, it's a lot harder to tackle, a lot harder to hold grasp of people. But you've got to find a way."
Each Eagles offensive lineman got a pair of bison-leather cowboy boots from Carson Wentz, with the Eagles logo on the front and the player's number on the back.
Wentz also added barbecue grills to his Christmas largesse, one lineman said.
We're two practice weeks into the three-week window the Eagles have to allow rookie corner Sidney Jones to take part before they either have to put him on the 53-man roster or place him on injured reserve, where he would not be eligible to work with the team.
It seems unlikely Jones will play this season, but it isn't a sure bet that he won't be activated – he's a first-round talent, drafted in the second round because of his Achilles tendon tear. And even if he doesn't ultimately take the field in a game, there might be value to having Jones continue to practice during the playoffs.
The sense from the team is that while Jones is healthy, he hasn't played a game in a year and hadn't practiced until last week, so there are more than a few hurdles that need to be cleared before he is ready to go.
"Real good," Jones said, when asked how he felt after Friday's walkthrough. "Just gettin' the rust off. Getting my feet wet, trying to get back. … It's a work in progress. Gotta take it slow."
Asked how close he feels he is to game shape, Jones said: "About halfway there."
Safety Malcolm Jenkins, asked if Jones seems sharp, said: "He's been running on the scout team. He had a helluva play [Thursday], one-hand interception. He's obviously an athletic young guy. You're starting to see why we drafted him where we did. He's just working his way back in. Coaches have been working with him after practice, doing some things. I'm not sure what that means, as far as him getting on the field or not. They're making sure they get as much out of him from the development standpoint as they can."
Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett (groin) and corner Jalen Mills (ankle) were listed as limited practice participants Friday after sitting out Thursday, but the Friday practice was a walkthrough. Left guard Stefen Wisniewski (ankle) also was again listed as limited. Wisniewski said he continued to improve but wasn't ready to say whether he can play Monday night.