Even when the winning is easy, Eagles' Pederson isn't inclined to let things slide
Penalties and fumbles need to be cleaned up as the Birds prepare for tougher foes, coach says.
Doug Pederson knows how to do the Electric Slide, from his college days at Northeast Louisiana, the Eagles' coach told us Monday. But from the overall tone of Pederson's remarks, players shouldn't expect a demonstration before they watch film of Sunday's 31-3 victory over the Chicago Bears.
The 10-1 Eagles' various celebrations – including the defense's much-tweeted Electric Slide attempt — looked tighter and sharper than some of the second-half game footage. With a trip to 7-4 Seattle coming up, followed by a week on the West Coast that will end with a visit to the 8-3 Los Angeles Rams, Pederson might need to pull in the reins a bit on his exuberant bunch, which has won its last five games by double digits.
Asked whether anything jumped out at him from the game film, Pederson said, "Besides the 11 penalties and four fumbles?" He went on to credit his defensive line for dominating, though he also said he wants to see less of them trying to jump the count, something that led to three penalties on the Bears' lone scoring series.
"I want to make sure that these guys understand that the way we played [Sunday], even though we won the game, some of the mistakes that were made, the penalties, the fumbling … those things are unacceptable, and that we have to play our best ball in the month of December," Pederson said. "Those are things that we have to get cleaned up."
Asked whether it isn't a good thing, in a way, to win by 28 without being very efficient, Pederson said: "It's definitely a credit to the guys to win like we did and not play our best and be a little bit sloppy.
"Winning masks a lot of things. Well, it's my job to make sure the guys stay humble and stay grounded. If we've got a certain goal in mind, we can't play this type of ball against the Seattles and the Rams and the playoff-type teams down the stretch and expect to win."
Carelessness Sunday cost the Birds a shutout. The only time the Bears scored was on the first drive of the third quarter, the Eagles up, 24-0. Dave Fipp's proud special-teams unit, missing Trey Burton (back), in addition to the loss of captain Chris Maragos (knee) for the season, gave up a 39-yard return off the second-half kickoff to Tarik Cohen. Cohen took the ball right up the sideline that Jake Elliott kicked toward, with Nate Gerry, Corey Graham and Malcolm Jenkins unable to get off blocks.
Then the Bears, who had failed to record a first down in the first half, converted on third-and-10 and third-and-14, Ronald Darby giving a ginormous cushion to Dontrelle Inman on the latter. Then Elijah Qualls and Destiny Vaeao jumped offside, on back-to-back snaps. Vinny Curry followed his own tremendous play, sniffing out a razzle-dazzle run for a 12-yard loss, with another offside.
Eventually, Cairo Santos kicked a 38-yard field goal that the Eagles easily could have avoided.
Obviously, this was a good bit less than a crisis, but it was indicative of wandering focus. A big first half is unlikely to seal the deal against the Seahawks or the Rams.
Pederson doesn't want the celebrations to disappear, though he is hoping to fine-tune.
"When you're winning in this position, it's definitely fun, and all that. I do have a concern, though, there's a 40-second clock that's moving after touchdowns and scoring plays, so they have got to hurry up and get off the field," he said. "But they are enjoying each other right now. They enjoy coming to work. … This game is hard enough, and when you score, you kind of want them to celebrate together, and that's a great thing."
Developing story lines
*Incredible speed by Brandon Graham on that first-quarter Bears third-and-2, knifing inside the tight end toward the middle and slamming down Jordan Howard behind the line of scrimmage.
*Doug Pederson said Monday that he thought the offensive line "played OK, played good, didn't play great. Didn't play their best ball." One element of that might have been the two first-half holds of Sam Acho that Halapoulivaati Vaitai took. Sam, brother of former Eagle Emmanuel Acho, is a hardworking player, but he has half a sack this season, and he hasn't been a full-time starter since 2012, in Arizona.
*On the 22-yard run in which LeGarrette Blount hurdled cornerback Eddie Jackson, Lane Johnson just obliterated linebacker Isaiah Irving.
*Brandon Graham gave a shoutout after the game to Steven Means, who got a hand on a Pat O'Donnell punt from the back of the end zone, in Means' first action since the Oct. 12 Carolina game. "He gave me the energy today," Graham said. By the way, that was the punt on which Kenjon Barner made like one of actors in Chicago Fire, noticing Jaylen Watkins was on the ground in the vicinity of where the ball was about to land and dragging him to safety.
*Carson Wentz's worst play of the day came with 2:08 left in the third quarter. On an ill-conceived fourth-and-6 rollout right, Wentz tried to fit a pass into an area that was wall-to-wall Bears and should have been picked. Yeah, the Eagles had a huge lead, but still.
*Alshon Jeffery's five catches for 52 yards and a touchdown could have been more, had the Eagles not eased up on the gas pedal in the second half. Jeffery's fourth catch against his former team came on the first snap of the second quarter. The TD catch with five seconds remaining in the half was his final touch of the game.
After the LeGarrette Blount fumble on his 35-yard first-quarter run, Fox analyst Charles Davis, who generally did a very good job Sunday, proclaimed, "If you're worried about a team that's only won three games, and their competitive spirit and fight, worry no more about the Bears."
That the Eagles' Donnel Pumphrey would fare better in the running game than Chicago's Tarik Cohen, in the battle of the fourth-round rookie running backs?
Pumphrey, the 132nd overall pick, remains on injured reserve. He hasn't carried the ball or played all season. Cohen carried twice, for minus-11 yards Sunday. Advantage, Pump. (If you don't count Cohen's receiving or return yardage.)
The Eagles have rushed for 175-plus yards three games in a row, the first time that has happened since 1990.
Doug Pederson said he spoke with running back Jay Ajayi on Monday and "he's fine."
"He's so excited to be here, obviously. He's on a winning football team, contributes any way he wants to," Pederson said.
Ajayi arrived from Miami last month at the trade deadline. His third game as an Eagle, Sunday's rout, was his least productive, with only five carries for 26 yards. He would have been in negative yardage except for a 30-yard run that ended with his losing the ball, which Nelson Agholor alertly pounced on in the end zone for the day's final touchdown, early in the fourth quarter. Ajayi also dropped a swing pass and took a motion penalty.
Ajyai's postgame mood seemed less than cheerful, and he answered questions with repeated variations of how he just runs the plays the coaches call. This led NBC Sports Philadelphia postgame analyst Ray Didinger, watching the taped interview from the postgame set, to infer that Ajayi might be unhappy with his role. Didinger acknowledged he didn't know whether this was the case, but if it were, Ajayi should just "shut up and tote the ball."
Ajayi responded on Twitter with the word CLOWNS, which he helpfully illustrated with clown emojis.
"He was frustrated from the standpoint of, he had a chance to score, you know, and lost the ball. It was great hustle by 'Nelly' to recover that thing," Pederson said. "Any running back's going to be frustrated. We put the ball on the ground a little bit too much."