DeVonta Smith was not happy on Monday night.
Even though the Eagles won a game on Christmas Day and even though he passed 1,000 yards for the season and even though they put up 33 points and 465 yards, Smith thought the offense wasn’t good enough.
“We’re not playing good football right now,” Smith said.
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A few days later, Smith was in a much better mood.
“It’s a new week,” an upbeat Smith said by his locker on Thursday afternoon. “Can’t do nothing about last week. It’s on to the next one.”
And it’s not even like those frustrations from postgame lingered very long.
“Once I leave the locker room, I’ll be all right,” Smith said.
This is a fascinating look into the mind of Smith, who won the Heisman Trophy and two National Championships at Alabama. His standard is really high and he admitted he leaves games satisfied about half of the time, which is pretty low considering the Eagles have done a lot of winning during his NFL career.
Smith’s reason for being upset with the offensive performance on Monday was that the offense gave up 14 points on turnovers. But the pick-6 came when Dallas Goedert slipped and the other touchdown off a turnover came after a fumble on kickoff.
When it was pointed out to Smith that special teams was the culprit for the one turnover, he wasn’t having it.
“I consider that offense,” Smith said.
Smith probably considered that to be an offensive turnover because the two players involved — Boston Scott and Olamide Zaccheaus — were offensive players. But that’s obviously a stretch.
Smith on Thursday was asked whether his outlook is an Alabama mindset.
“I guess you could say that. That’s just me also,” he said. “That’s just how I am. Not going to always get by doing the things that we’re doing. Yeah, we’re 11-4, been barely getting by. That don’t last forever.”
The Gannon Bowl
Nick Sirianni this week said that he and Jonathan Gannon are still close even after the way things ended with Gannon taking the Cardinals’ head coaching job.
“I think JG is a wonderful coach and a better human being,” Sirianni said.
But that also didn’t stop Sirianni from going on WIP to encourage fans to give it to Gannon on Sunday at the Linc.
Fans won’t need much convincing. Despite a statistically top-tier defense last season, Gannon has become a sort of villain for a large portion of the fanbase. Part of it is the lack of success against top tier quarterbacks, part of it is how poorly the defense played in Super Bowl LVII and part of it is the way Gannon handled his exit and the timing of it.
That sentiment doesn’t seem to be shared in the Eagles’ locker room. While it’s fair to assume no Eagles players would publicly air their grievances with Gannon this week, several players definitely made it seem like there’s no bad blood.
“JG my guy, man,” Darius Slay said. “It’s going to be great to see him. Love what he’s doing over there. They got a great coach, man. I’ve been hearing great things from guys over there.”
Brandon Graham said Gannon’s wife and his wife still keep in contact but he personally hasn’t had any contact with Gannon. He’ll talk to him on Sunday.
“It’s going to be cool,” Brandon Graham said. “JG was a great coach, great dude. Looking forward to seeing him. Of course, we’re working to try to beat him too.”
Slay acted shocked to hear many fans blame Gannon for the Super Bowl loss.
“People blame him for the loss in the Super Bowl? I don’t know why. I love the Eagles fans, one thing about Eagles fans, they always going to find somebody to blame. Just because we gave up the last touchdown of the Super Bowl, of course they’re going to say him. But it was far from JG’s fault.”
Third-down defense improving
One of the biggest problems the Eagles’ defense had under Sean Desai was their inability to get off the field on third down. The last two weeks under Matt Patricia have been better.
Of course, it’s fair to point out the last two weeks the Eagles have faced teams quarterbacked by Drew Lock and Tommy DeVito/Tyrod Taylor, so you have to take this improvement with a major grain of salt. But the numbers look way better.
From Weeks 1-14, the Eagles were giving up conversions 48.1% of the third downs they faced, which was dead last in the NFL.
Over the last two weeks, they have given up conversions on 35.7% of third downs, which ranks 13th in the NFL. Still not great but it is a major improvement.
“Give the credit for the third down to the players,” Patricia said. “I think they go out on the field and execute the game plan at a high level. I think we had some guys go out and really do a good job in those roles that we asked them to do.
“Certainly, the last couple weeks we've tried to do a couple things. Just add on but we've really — Coach Desai and myself, we have been trying to add into those packages with the assistant coaches. They have done a really good job of just game planning that stuff so it's just building through the course of the season and working with the guys that we have on the field and trying to put them in different positions to be able to go execute and have some success. So really excited just from the standpoint of whatever it is statistically, the players. I think they have done a great job with that.”
What happened on the fumble?
The biggest disaster play from Monday’s too-close-for-comfort win over the Giants came at the start of the third quarter when Scott fumbled that kickoff after colliding with Zaccheaus, who was pushed back by a Giants player.
Eagles special teams coordinator Michael Clay explained how the team will coach off of that mistake.
“Really just to start off, the guy that fumbles it always gets the brunt of it obviously because he's the one with the ball,” Clay said. “For us, we have to just sprint back, get to our drop point on our kickoff return and at least get to square and we actually have some power to at least strike where we're not getting thrown back into the returner. It starts from seeing the ball kicked and sprinting back, really, to get yourself in the position really to kind of mitigate you getting pushed all the way back.
“Unfortunate situation. Obviously, we don't want the ball on the ground at any point when we have a return phase up there. But like I kind of told the guys, it's football. Things happen in football, whether it's fluke-ish or not, we can't put the ball, we can’t put our defense in a bad situation, especially how we ended the half with the offense doing a really good job in a two-minute situation and getting a field goal. We just have to keep that momentum going and not put the team at risk of losing the momentum we have.”
After that miscue, the Eagles elected to fair catch their remaining kick returns to “steady the ship” a little bit, Clay said.