This has been a season like no other for the Eagles. Only twice in their franchise history have they started 8-1 besides this year, and both journeys ended with a Super Bowl appearance. While it’s maybe a little too soon to put that level of expectation on this team, there is a sense of excitement around the City when it comes to the promise and potential that this team possesses. A red-hot start sees the Eagles head into a Bye week far more comfortably than their much earlier week off one season ago, but there is more on the line this time around.
The Eagles carry the best record in the entire NFL, a seven game win streak, a franchise quarterback who has thrown 23 touchdown passes in just nine games and some of the best line play in the entire league. When they come back from the Bye, they’re immediately faced with their fiercest rival, the Dallas Cowboys. Seattle, L.A, and Oakland are just three of the teams that lie ahead. The Eagles have stunned the world so far with their “next man up” mentality and ability to overcome every setback faced…but there’s still a long way to go.
“I’m going to give them the week, and listen, they talk about having something special, and I want them to remind themselves that this is a special group.” Doug Pederson said when asked about his plan for the calm before the storm. “We’re at 8-1 for a reason and we don’t need to go backwards now. So, enjoy the time. We need to get healthy. This is a good week for us to get healthy and make a push and get ready for the second half of the season.”
A contrasting placement compared to last season, the Eagles have just under one half of the season remaining when they get back from their week off. For a young team to be so successful so consistently, a week away from the locker room in which they are laser-focused on being 0-0 every game has the potential to see that flame soften. For Pederson and his players alike, relying on the experience and leadership of their peers will be instrumental in retaining that same drive for perfection.
Doug Pederson is one of the latest to blossom from Andy Reid’s coaching tree. Bringing with him 10/10/10 practices and a more physical style of training camp, the Eagles have thrown it back with a new era of Football that’s focused on development and mental toughness. Leaning on what Reid has taught him will be fundamental this week.
“Yeah, and he always — he was always great with the players as far as giving them time to get away from the building and get away. But the thing too is when they came back in, it was all about the refocus and putting them back on track. As coaches we get time now these next few days to put a game plan together and start looking at Dallas. I think that was one of his strengths too was the ability to have a precise game plan, but not overly complicated. You almost go back to the first game of the regular season where you kind of keep it like training camp and keep it familiar for the guys. You don’t come out and recreate and do a lot of things that is not in your schemes, and he was able to do that.”
What’s even more impressive is how the players react to the Bye and understand the magnitude of the situation. The Dallas Cowboys have always been a problematic matchup for the Eagles. You only need to look back to last year’s crushing overtime defeat for an example of that. With a slew of intense rivalry games, huge wins and heartbreaking losses, this will be an intense fixture that will demand the best from even the most unexperienced in the room…a game which some players have had circled for a while. man who fits that mold is UDFA Corey Clement, who scored three touchdowns on Sunday, leading the team in rushing attempts.
“We know where we are at.” Said the former Wisconsin Badger. “We don’t want to come back under it. It is good to have this victory right now, but once we come back in a week, we have to come back with a 1-0 mentality. We have to come back and win the next game. It is not going to be easy especially coming off of a bye week. You can either lose on it or win on it. Guys are going to do a great job making sure we stay prepared and not lose a step.”
The maturity shown by Clement is echoed around the locker room. The Eagles have done a fantastic job in balancing their youth infusion with veterans who have been there and done it. Guys who have experienced the championship highs and injury lows. LeGarrette Blount, Patrick Robinson and Alshon Jeffery are among those who have helped aid the development of the next generation. But there’s one defensive end who has been clinical both on and off the field.
With 12 tackles and 3 sacks through the opening nine weeks, former Super Bowl champion Chris Long has been the prototypical defensive end for Jim Schwartz. A leader with an unrelenting motor, Long has worked hard to constantly bring pressure off the edge, helping the games of both Derek Barnett and Vinny Curry burst into life. But as he heads into the bye week, there’s a certain level of calmness about him…something which you’ll struggle to find on the field when he’s constantly harasses quarterbacks.
“It means that we’re here and we kind of control our own destiny.” Long said of being 8-1. “That’s a good place to be, but there is a lot of football left. Just getting into November, this is when games get bigger and bigger, but they’re big games because we put ourselves in a position to have big games. I think a healthy confidence is good and we’ve done a lot of good work to get to this point, but we also need to take it to another level when we get back.”
The Eagles have the same mentality across the board. Halfway up the mountain, the Birds intend to enjoy the view and take some well deserved days off, reflecting on the hard work that has pushed them to this point. But when the team return, there’s no time to ease back into the groove. The Cowboys are just three games away and a win over the Eagles wouldn’t just reduce that, but potentially deflate the explosive season enjoyed by Philly so far.
“We’re going to enjoy this bye week, but we know that we have a tough opponent coming at Dallas.” Said Rodney McLeod. “That’s one game that, if we do want to reach our goal, we have to win. That’s one in the division. Dudes are going to enjoy it, but we’re also going to get ready and make sure we’re good and healthy and prepared for Dallas.”
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports