Eagles' in-depth preparation leading to lopsided victories


Opponents have been talking about the Philadelphia Eagles over the last month or so the way many teams have talked about the New England Patriots for the last 17 years.

Philadelphia Eagles' Rodney McLeod (23), Derek Barnett (96) and Patrick Robinson (21) celebrate an interception by McLead of a Dallas Cowboys' Dak Prescott pass in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. The Eagles' in-depth preparation before games has led to them going 9-1 and reeling off three consecutive lopsided victories. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

They know what's coming.

It's like they have a mole in all the meeting rooms.

Though Sunday night's 37-9 romp over Dallas was hardly a masterpiece, there was more of the same going on as Doug Pederson and his staff once again so outcoached the opposition that it wasn't even fair.

Once again, they knew what was coming. Not on every play, obviously, but on enough to make it 37-9 on a night when they didn't even have their kicker for more than three quarters and when their quarterback and MVP frontrunner had arguably his worst game of the season.

The play that symbolized the game and the season through these first 10 games came when Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott faked a handoff to Rod Smith on a run-pass option and then tried to deliver a short pass to Terrance Williams late in the first quarter. That's when all hell broke loose. Because it wasn't even fair.

First, Derek Barnett's pressure forced a premature throw. Then Malcolm Jenkins deflected the pass. That threw off the timing of Williams, who went airborne in an attempt to pull it in as he was hit and then was perfectly separated from the ball by Ronald Darby. Rodney McLeod was right there to snatch the twice-deflected ball out of the air and return it 13 yards to the Dallas 15-yard line.

This was all the result of expert coordination from a guy who'd much rather talk baseball than football — and often does — the one time a week he does meet with the media. Because defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and defensive backs coach Cory Undlin knew it, so did McLeod, Darby and Jenkins. Barnett might have been in on it too, though his contribution could have just been a coincidence.

"It was a play we repped all week, knowing they like that Bang 8 from the back side, wide off look," McLeod said. "And Darby had a good break, I had a good break and was there to capitalize on the opportunity.

"I try to pick three or five plays I can bank on [each week]. That was a formation that we studied all week and I [saw] the look, stared it down and Darby was there to make the play and I was there to get the interception."

Every week, the defense makes plays like that, proving that you have to get up awfully early in the morning to outsmart the Eagles, which is the only way you can beat them. They've already proved they can't be overpowered. It's the same way with their offense, which never misfires for an entire game anymore. Never.

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, file photo, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) gestures after scrambling for yardage against the Washington Redskins during the second half of an NFL football game in Philadelphia. Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles are the talk of the NFL following a surprising 8-1 start.

Wentz making hard work pay off: The upgrades they made at wide receiver and the running backs they've added are big reasons, but hardly the biggest. The biggest is second-year quarterback Carson Wentz.

On perhaps his most miserable day as a thrower, he still found a way to engineer four touchdown drives of 75 yards or more. That's because he's up early, too. Every morning.

Every week there's an exam. Every week, Wentz goes in knowing a certain amount of questions (and answers) beforehand. So even when he struggles with his accuracy, he's always going to be able to make plays.

Wentz is developing a Peyton Manning-like ability to read defenses and make whatever adjustments are necessary. No look surprises him. He often knows what's coming, too. When he doesn't, he has learned in such a short time how to manipulate defenders.

"That's certainly one of the areas that he's improved in," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "Like we've talked about a lot, you make incremental improvements hopefully in every aspect of your game and using your eyes, and your body, and little, subtle movements to influence defenders. Part of that equation is knowing when to do it and when not to do it.

"I think Carson — for instance, when a corner is playing press coverage and he's not looking at the quarterback, obviously there is not much use to use eyes on him. Now you're using eyes on the free safety. When it's zone coverage, now how do you affect the corner with your eyes? If there's a high-low read, can you use your eyes to suck a corner up on Cover Two to the flat defender and hit in behind him? And he's continued to show a natural aptitude for that that just gets refined with every game you play."

The Eagles have enough good players to be difficult to beat in any situation.

But when they know what's coming, it's not even fair.