They're headed out West for a stretch, but Eagles know they can't afford to coast
Eagles' trip to visit fellow NFC contenders, Seahawks and Rams, won't feel much like a vacation.
The last time the Eagles spent a week on the West Coast between games, the headline on Inquirer columnist Bill Lyon's dissection of their 20-17 loss to the host Chargers on Nov. 5, 1989 read: "Fat Cats Sat in Sun Too Long."
Expectations were high for an Eagles group that had run its record to 6-2 the previous week, at Denver. They weren't met. Lyon buttressed his point with a quote from Burt Grossman, the Chargers defensive end from Bala Cynwyd: "They were in La Jolla all week and might have soaked up too much sun."
That bunch of Birds would go on to finish 11-5, then lose its playoff opener, as was traditional for Buddy Ryan teams, 21-7 to the Rams.
The 2017 Eagles are not talking a lot about sun and fun as they prepare for a nine-day trip out West. After Sunday evening's game at 7-4 Seattle, they will fly to Southern California, where they will spend the week practicing at Angel Stadium of Anaheim in preparation for their Dec. 10 game against the Los Angeles Rams.
"We've talked about it, we had to pack our bags for it and everything, but other than that, we're really focusing on this one," Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz said. "We realize next week will be a little different feel for us, but we can't really worry about that right now."
When they realized they were going to have three West Coast road games this season, the Eagles lobbied the NFL to put two of the games back-to-back, to minimize travel. What they really wanted was for their two Los Angeles-area games – against the Chargers and the Rams – to be scheduled in succession. What they got was Chargers in October, then Seattle-Rams now, which is still better than three separate trips.
The bag-packing Wentz referenced was an attempt to streamline the process and avoid weighing down the charter jet. Players were asked to pack some clothing by this past Tuesday and bring the bag to practice for early shipment.
"Lot of jumpsuits, lot of sweatpants. I'm a guy, I don't do too much, I'll probably go get dinner here and there, but I'm going to be chillin' for the most part," cornerback Jalen Mills said, when asked what he'd shipped out. "They say it's going to be 78, 80 out there. Couple pairs of shorts."
This task was easier for some players than for others.
"I'm actually petrified of packing, it's one of my phobias," defensive end Chris Long said. "I usually pack last-minute, like, in the morning before I have to leave."
Right tackle Lane Johnson said he neglected to follow the directive, and figures now he'll have to use his own money to ship a bag out, "or go buy some clothes while I'm there."
Players say they don't know much about the itinerary, and won't have much time to think about it until they board the flight out of Seattle. Mills said he didn't know where they would be practicing until tight end Zach Ertz told him during a session this week with the Jugs machine.
"We'll take care of next week next week," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "I've addressed with the team that we're staying out there … but it's my job to make sure that they stay focused on Seattle."
Other teams have done this sort of thing to cut down on travel, but some haven't. The NFL is very much about routine, and though the Eagles will try to keep a daily schedule similar to what they observe at home, Anaheim is not South Philly, and the players don't usually spend the week together in a hotel.
"Kind of reminds me of a bowl game," defensive tackle Beau Allen said, recalling his Rose Bowl experiences with Wisconsin. "I'm a big believer in routine and kind of sticking to the same thing every day. I'm going to do my best to do that out on the West Coast. I think it'll be a fun kind of change of pace for us. Work on my tan a little bit; I'm a little bit pale."
Seattle coach Pete Carroll is familiar with this type of situation, playing and practicing on the extreme Northwest edge of the country, in a league where 17 of 32 teams reside in the Eastern time zone. Carroll said this week he doesn't bring the Seahawks East for lengthy stays. What the Seahawks and other West Coast teams have done is lobby the NFL to not have any 1 p.m. Eastern road games, which are 10 a.m. games for players' body clocks.
"Early on when we were here, when we were teaching how to approach it and how to get prepared to do it, we struggled historically; everybody does," Carroll said. "The last few years, we've figured out how to do it, our players are comfortable with the formula, and how we approach it, and all that. We have not stayed out – we try to keep things as normal as possible, and work it at the other end. We've found a way to do it. …You've got to get your players on board with how to deal with the time frames and the adjustments and all that.
Carroll said staying on the other coast can work, he just doesn't do it because of "all the unfamiliarity."
"Sometimes it's fun, like a bowl game or something like that. … It's just the change in the routine. … We are desperately connected to our consistency, and that's been something we've really been committed to, and that just takes you out of that, that's all. It doesn't mean it's a bad thing, it's just how you handle it. Some other teams have done it successfully. That's just not the way we do it."
Long didn't seem to think the change in venue would be a huge problem.
"It's just a fun situation for a team to get on the road together, get to know one another better, and hopefully grow as a team. You make it work," he said. "I think the biggest difference is the time zone; you just try to get some sleep. But it is nice not to have to take two West Coast trips in two weeks."
"It's going to be like a regular week, just out in Cali," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "We're going to have curfew, we're going to be at the hotel, we're going to lift, we're going to have the same schedule, just, you're going to be in the sunshine and be able to do a little more [in the off-hours] than what we're used to doing in Philly."
That said, Graham indicated he doesn't think he'll be dragging younger teammates out of clubs in the wee hours. The Rams, after all, are 8-3 going into this week's game at Arizona.
"It's a bunch of men in this room. They understand what's at stake right here," he said.