There’s almost a sense of hesitation when talking about this Eagles team. Nobody wants to get too excited, or too expectant of the possibilities which could very soon become a reality. As of right now, the Eagles hold the lone best record in the NFL…and that is one thing that no matter how you view it, how you analyze it, cannot be ignored. With six home games remaining on the roster and a chance to remain undefeated in the division after this weekend, the Eagles have a chance to begin racing into the sunset with the NFC East Crown. Talking about the possibility of a Super Bowl appearance seems too premature, but it isn’t all that unlikely…and that falls down onto the fundamental building blocks on which the team have been built.
The most important block of all is the man who is leading the charge; Doug Pederson. Prior to his endeavor into coaching, Pederson spent twelve years on an NFL quarterback and most notably was a part of the Super Bowl XXXI winning team. Times change rapidly in the NFL, but a winning culture does not…and that’s something Pederson and the front office have worked hard to implement.
“The biggest thing I remember from that team is it was always just the next game.” Doug Pederson told reporters earlier this week. “It was always focused on the next game. You could honestly throw the wins and losses away. It was winning that week, being 1-0 that week. If you stack enough of those up, you put yourself in a position to be in the post-season.”
“The other thing is I talk a lot with the team about ownership. This is that time of year, we’re getting in that stretch of games, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, where teams begin to separate themselves. We can’t have any letdowns [or] setbacks. We got to just be full steam ahead.”
“It’s about doing the little things now, meaning rest and hydration and extra study, or extra conditioning, things that sometimes you lose sight of in all the wins and the success that a team has had. Again, it falls back on my shoulders to make sure that the guys are doing those things at this time of the year.”
Of course, beyond the coaches, the Eagles needed an infusion of veteran leadership to help propel a very young and hungry roster. That’s exactly what they did during free agency. LeGarrette Blount and Chris Long both have Super Bowl rings and traces of the iconic Bill Belichick mantra.
A young running back position lies marinating beneath Blount, while the Eagles spent high to fortify the defensive end position in drafting Derek Barnett just one season after Vinny Curry’s huge extension. A player could have all the talent in the world, but without the right mental traits and supporting cast around him, he may never reach the ceiling that scouts project…and that’s where the Eagles have shone over the last two years.
The example set by the veterans leaks down into what you see on any given Sunday. Understanding what it takes to build a perennial championship contender, the work ethic needed, and the experience of overcoming adversity. Doug Pederson opened up on just that in Saturday’s press conference.
“It’s just unselfish ball players. Alshon could easily say, ‘Hey, I need more targets,’ or [TE] Zach [Ertz] could say, ‘Hey, I need more targets,’ or any of the guys could say that on offense, or [RB] LeGarrette [Blount] could say, ‘I need more rushing attempts,’ or whatever. But you know what, when everybody has a piece of the pie, and you look at the end of the day and all our top receivers are getting equal amount of targets during the game and our rushing attempts are — and passing attempts are almost 50/50 and the bottom line is winning the game, then that’s the exciting part. And then nobody cares. They’re unselfish guys. They don’t care about their own stat sheet, their own bottom line. They’re unselfish guys. They come to work every day and practice. Ultimately, it’s the team that is the most important thing, and listen, I talk about team all the time with the guys. It’s about ‘Us’ mentality, not individuals, even though it’s a lot of individuals coming together. But it’s that team atmosphere, and that’s what they’ve bought into and are buying into, and you just — offensively you just never know who’s going to have the hot hand that day.”
“In the last game it was Ertz and Nelson had some big plays. And the next week, the week before, Torrey had some big plays and then Alshon gets an opportunity. So you just never know who’s going to be the guy. That’s the way we coach. That’s the way I teach, and it’s been very, very successful so far.”
It’s all about staying grounded and as Pederson has repeated countless times, “treating every game and every week as being 0-0”. This is a very different culture to what the Eagles felt under Chip Kelly and it may have taken a while to come to fruition, but the fruits of Doug Pederson’s labor are beginning to blossom.
The Eagles have a room of talented individuals. From Fletcher Cox, Jordan Hicks and Brandon Graham, to Carson Wentz, Alshon Jeffery, and Zach Ertz. But being able to bring them together as a team and unify their beliefs and expectations is something that doesn’t happen overnight. There’s one clear message in the Eagles locker room.
They don’t want to hear about Super Bowl possibilities or MVP races. They don’t care about statistical leaders or who shines the brightest. Because through the coaching of Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz, The Eagles have adapted a mentality where nobody shines brighter than the team. And right now, no team is shining brighter than the Eagles.
Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports