- After the Eagles' loss to the Seahawks on Sunday night—the beginning of a planned week on the West Coast for Philadelphia—a change of messaging is in store for the players ahead of arguably their biggest game of the season.
COSTA MESA, Calif. — Late Sunday night, the Eagles filled up to-go boxes with short ribs, potatoes au gratin and ratatouille on their way out of Seattle’s CenturyLink Field. By Monday morning, they were settled into their home for the week, a hotel in Orange County some 2,700 miles from the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia.
Head coach Doug Pederson seems intent on billing his team’s eight-day West Coast road trip as a normal week—but, it comes at a time when the Eagles are getting both a change of scenery, and a change of messaging.
The former—a change of scenery—was planned well in advance. When the Eagles’ 2017 opponent list included three games on the West Coast, the team requested the NFL to schedule their two games in Los Angeles back to back, to save them a pair of cross-country flights. They got the next closest thing, back-to-back road games against the Seahawks and the Rams, which has turned out to be the most crucial stretch of their season.
The latter—a change of messaging—is a response to the Eagles’ 24–10 loss in Seattle, just their second defeat of the season. After the Eagles’ nine-game winning streak ended, multiple players cited a need to practice and prepare better. It was clearly a notion coming from the top, as Pederson repeated the same thing Monday his press conference in a hotel conference room, behind a podium adorned with a piece of white computer paper with a printed Eagles logo.
“Winning can kind of cover up or mask some things, some deficiencies, a little chink in your armor, if there is any,” Pederson said. “There’s no substitute for the preparation and the hard work. ... The guys have to know that, and it’s my job to make sure that they understand that and how we prepare and how we coach and hold everybody accountable.”
Pederson has been determined not to let the eight-day road trip be a distraction for his team, so much so that even as recently as last Friday, he refused to discuss any kind of logistics for this week. “I don't want to talk about it, obviously,” he said. “I'm focused on this game.” But some lookahead was certainly necessary. Last Tuesday, four days before the team charter left for Seattle, Eagles players were instructed to bring in some of their luggage for the trip to ship out early so as not to weigh down the plane. At the Orange County hotel, the Eagles’ advance travel team set up rehab areas and even coaches’ offices. When the Eagles return to the practice field—trying to channel this renewed sense of urgency—they’ll do so on a made-to-order gridiron painted across the infield of Angel Stadium, an 11-mile bus ride from the hotel.
Monday was the players’ off day, and after spending Saturday and Sunday still on East Coast time, the team set their clocks three hours back to Pacific Time. Malcolm Jenkins and Torrey Smith huddled together in the hotel lobby working on their criminal justice reform work through the Players Coalition; later, Smith was among a group of players who spent the afternoon with Habitat for Humanity building homes in Santa Ana. They’ll have meetings and walkthrough on Tuesday, and practice Wednesday through Friday.
What irked players and coaches alike in the loss to the Seahawks was that mistakes that they’d been making in practice, like penalties and turnovers, showed up in the game and cost them. Pederson said he wouldn’t change the structure of practice, just the focus. He’ll remind his team, he said, that they’re facing a playoff-caliber 9–3 Rams team that is dangerous in all three phases.
Heading into the season, few would have predicted that a Week 14 game between the Eagles and Rams would be the week’s most anticipated showdown between two of the top teams in the NFC jockeying for playoff position. But the Rams game is now the most important one on the Eagles’ schedule, as both a litmus test and with implications for January. After the Seahawks loss, it’s even more important. Going into this trip, a 1–1 split would have seemed perfectly acceptable. Since the Eagles lost the first game, the stakes feel even higher for the second.
“Everyone has to have a renewed sense of energy,” center Jason Kelce said. Chris Long said they talked about the week bunkered down together in California as a chance to pull even closer. And, Jenkins called it an “opportunity” for the veteran players to make sure everyone’s attention is turned back to the small details that have helped the Eagles get to their 10-2 record.
Whether it be bus rides to practice or living out of a suitcase, “Things aren't quite as simple, let's say, as if we were back in Philadelphia,” Pederson said. For a team suddenly looking to refocus at the most critical juncture of its season, though, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.