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Playing time vs. Washington, this week’s schedule, NFC playoff picture | Early Birds

Keys for the Eagles on Sunday, links to all our coverage, and much more.

Eagles wide receiver Golden Tate (19) celebrates his first-quarter touchdown reception with quarterback Carson Wentz (11) during a game against the Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field in South Philadelphia on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. The Eagles won 28-13.
Eagles wide receiver Golden Tate (19) celebrates his first-quarter touchdown reception with quarterback Carson Wentz (11) during a game against the Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field in South Philadelphia on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. The Eagles won 28-13.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Good morning. The Eagles are back at the team facility today as their attention starts to shift to this weekend’s game against the Dallas Cowboys. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Mike Groh will have news conferences at 12:15 p.m. The players will meet with reporters at 12:45 p.m. The Eagles are not practicing today, though. (More on that below.)

This is a Wednesday edition of the Early Birds newsletter. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.

— Zach Berman

Playing time vs. Washington

Golden Tate had his best game since coming to the Eagles, and it happened even though he played only 48 percent of the offensive snaps. That was one of the big takeaways from the Eagles’ playing time distribution against Washington.

The Eagles used Alshon Jeffery (88 percent) and Nelson Agholor (87 percent) the most at wide receiver. Jordan Matthews, who caught a touchdown, played 28 percent of the snaps. Dallas Goedert was used a key offensive player, taking 52 percent of the snaps.

At running back, Josh Adams led the way with 55 percent of the snaps and Corey Clement settled into a nice role with 31 percent of the snaps. Darren Sproles played only 12 percent of the offensive snaps in his first game since Week 1.

On defense, Nigel Bradham didn’t come off the field despite playing with a broken thumb. Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Corey Graham, and Malcolm Jenkins were the top four defensive backs and each played every snap, too.

Fletcher Cox barely came off the field, playing 89 percent of the defensive snaps – all but five total snaps. Brandon Graham and Michael Bennett were both on the field for 82 percent of the snaps, but keep in mind: Washington only had 45 offensive plays, so the Eagles didn’t need a heavy rotation. Chris Long took 33 percent of the defensive snaps, with Josh Sweat far behind at only 13 percent of the snaps.

Tim Jernigan’s back spasms kept him on the sideline, but the Eagles didn’t play two defensive tackles often. Haloti Ngata took 33 percent of the snaps and Treyvon Hester took 24 percent of the snaps, so the Eagles only had a second defensive tackle for 57 percent of the snaps. (It helps to have ends on who can bounce inside.)

Cre’von LeBlanc (76 percent) and Tre Sullivan (51 percent) were the defensive backs used in sub packages.

Practice schedule

It’s a short week, but Doug Pederson isn’t rushing his group to the practice field.

The Eagles will only have full practices on Thursday and Friday. Pederson wants to make sure the players can recover after Monday’s game. They had off on Tuesday.

“Obviously typically we bring them in [on Tuesdays], but you just can't do that,” Pederson said. “You have to give them a day off and give them tomorrow morning, give them as much time as they can to get in here and get treatment, get added rest, recover, so we can put in another good work week. But they appreciate that. I know they appreciate that because they tell me about that stuff; that they appreciate the time.”

The extra time to prepare doesn’t always show dividends on Sunday. Remember, the Eagles played the Cowboys in Week 10 after a bye week. The Cowboys were on a short week, having played the previous Monday. You saw what happened.

The playoff picture

The Eagles, at 6-6, still control their postseason hopes.

The surest way to the playoffs will be through the NFC East. They are one game behind the Dallas Cowboys, who are 7-5 and 3-1 in the division. If the Eagles win on Sunday, they would be tied for first place and the Eagles would have the better division record.

The Eagles would win the division with a better overall record than Dallas or a better division record if the two teams have the same overall record. The Eagles’ remaining games after the Cowboys are at the Los Angeles Rams, home against Houston, and a season finale at Washington. Dallas’ remaining games after the Eagles are on the road against the Colts, at home against the Bucs, and on the road against the Giants.

So how could the Eagles win the division even if they lost to the Rams or Texans? They would need the Cowboys to lose one of their three remaining games. If the Eagles beat Dallas but the Cowboys win out and the Eagles lose one of those tough remaining games, they would finish second.

If the Cowboys win the division, the Eagles would still be in the wild card picture. Seattle (7-5), Minnesota (6-5-1), Carolina (6-6), and Washington (6-6) are the top challengers for the two wild card spots. Minnesota and Carolina both beat the Eagles head-to-head, so the Eagles would need to finish with a better record.

It’s still far too early, but the playoff picture will continue to crystalize during the next few weeks.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Darren Sproles scored his first touchdown in nearly two years. The Eagles will count on Sproles during the final stretch of the season.

  2. The Eagles offense was better against Washington, but it will need to be at its best soon, writes Les Bowen.

  3. What are the latest health updates on Jason Peters, Tim Jernigan, Jordan Hicks, Avonte Maddox, and Jalen Mills?

  4. What did Jeff McLane learn in the Eagles' win?

  5. Paul Domowitch offers five reasons the Eagles beat Washington.

From the mailbag...

It’s an interesting question, and it’s one I explored extensively last week.

The Eagles should target Alshon Jeffery more often; I’ll start there. He hasn’t had more than four catches in a game since Oct. 21. He’s averaged only 5.2 targets per game during the past five games. That should be around 8-10 targets. I know Doug Pederson has plays designed to get Jeffery the ball; it’s just a matter of Carson Wentz going where his progressions take him and sometimes trusting Jeffery in coverage. (Of course, he forced a pass to Jeffery on the interception. So he can’t always do that.)

But the Eagles have a lot of mouths to feed. There have been questions about targeting Golden Tate and Nelson Agholor. They want to get Dallas Goedert involved. And of course, Zach Ertz is having a historic season. Add in the running game, and there aren’t enough plays to go around sometimes.

With that said, I’d make sure Jeffery and Ertz combine for 16-20 targets per game. If Wentz is attempting 30-40 passes per game, that would mean 14-24 targets go elsewhere – to Agholor, Tate, Goedert, Jordan Matthews, running backs, et al. That’s not many. Someone is going to be on the short end of the stick. But too often during the past month, it’s been Jeffery.