A glimpse inside the locker room, what Derek Barnett’s success in Houston means for the Eagles and a fascinating tidbit from Jason Kelce.
That’s a tip of the iceberg of what you’re going to find in today’s Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Observations.
And remember. Whenever the season ends doesn’t mean the end of Roob’s Observations. We go year round!
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1. A glimpse into the Eagles’ locker room Saturday, two days before kickoff: Instead of the usual hip-hop blasting through the room, somebody had put on a mix featuring Sam Cooke, the Eagles and Sam Cooke, and Jordan Mailata was sitting near his locker in the back of the room playing along to Hotel California on his Ibanez acoustic guitar. Thirty feet away, Nolan Smith was singing and he seemed to know all the words. Big Fred Johnson was sitting in his locker laughing hysterically at something – he’s got this massive infectious laugh and he’s pretty much always laughing. Cam Jurgens, whose family has about 50 cows on its farm in Nebraska, was amazed after learning that Fletcher Cox has about 2,000 cattle on his farm in Texas. Marcus Mariota walked out of the player’s lounge and was reminded of his 2018 season with the Titans, when he dealt with an ulnar nerve issue that caused numbness in his throwing hand, an oblique strain, a torn plantar fascia, a cracked vertebra, two separate stingers, a shoulder strain and a broken rib … and still played 14 games. “That was an interesting year,” he said with a laugh. Jason Kelce sitting on a chair near his locker laughing about a former teammate who claimed he never lost at blackjack. Britain Covey was walking toward the player’s lounge fist-bumping all the beat writers, a daily routine. Brandon Graham was screaming, “LOCKER ROOM’S CLOSEDDDDDDDDD,” 35 minutes before it was actually due to close to the media, something he's been doing every day for over a decade. He cracks himself up every time and it’s never not funny. Quez Watkins, who’ll play more Monday with A.J. Brown out, is doing a rare interview at his locker. When he’s done, a reporter thanks him and he replies, “Sure. I just don’t like doing them.” All of which makes this a typical day in the NovaCare locker room. It was striking in its normalcy. If you’re looking for a team that’s outwardly falling apart, you’re not going to find it. That doesn’t mean they’re going to win Monday. It doesn’t mean they’re going to play well. But it definitely felt like business as usual. They’re loose. They’re having fun. They’re excited to go down to Tampa and play the Bucs. Nothing out of the ordinary. Doesn’t feel like dead man walking. Just a football team getting ready for a game. The vibe couldn’t be more normal.
2. If the Bills beat the Steelers Monday, that means all four coaches in the AFC Final 4 either played for Reid or coached with Reid … or are Reid. Bills coach Sean McDermott coached with Reid with the Eagles from 1999 through 2010, Texans coach DeMeco Ryans played for Reid with the Eagles in 2012 and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh coached under Reid here from 1999 through 2007.
3. After Week 3, the Eagles were minus-14 in turnover margin, which was not only 2nd-worst in the league during that 15-game stretch (Washington was minus-15) but is the 4th-worst turnover margin in franchise history over a 15-game span and the worst since a ridiculous minus-23 over the last 15 games of 2012 – Reid’s last 15 games as Eagles head coach. Last time the Eagles were in positive territory in turnover margin was a plus-1 in the win over the Chiefs. This is the first time they’ve been plus-0 or worse in seven straight games since 2016, Doug Pederson’s first season. They committed 12 turnovers in their last five games – their most in a five-game stretch since 2014 – and they had only five takeaways in their last seven games – their fewest in a seven-game stretch since 2018. The Eagles have won 20 straight games when they’ve been plus-1 or better in turnover margin. But it’s only happened four times this year and just twice since Week 3. If the Eagles’ giveaway and takeaway trends continue Monday night, they’ll have no chance.
4. Derek Barnett in the Texans’ wild-card win over the Browns: one sack, two quarterback hits, one tackle for loss. The last five weeks of the season, Barnett has more sacks (3 ½) than every Eagles edge rusher combined (2 ½). Barnett has more sacks in six games with the Titans than he had in his last 30 games with the Eagles. This is the first time in a long, long time Barnett looks like the 1st-round pick he was supposed to be. Why couldn’t the Eagles get this kind of production out of him? It’s embarrassing to see a guy the Eagles gave away for nothing produce at this level after joining a new team in the middle of the season. It reflects poorly on the front office and the coaching staff.
5. I have a hunch Kenny Gainwell is going to have some sort of significant role on offense Monday night. D’Andre Swift is still the guy, but Gainwell has been very good the second half of the season. Since Week 8, his 5.9 rushing average is 3rd-highest in the NFL (behind Keaton Mitchell and Bryce Young) and he’s got 21 receptions as well. Since Week 12, he’s got three rushing attempts of at least 20 yards. And listen to this: Even though Gainwell had just 29 carries since Week 12 – 65 backs had more - only four backs had more 20-yard runs during that span (Swift has two on 82 carries). Swift is terrific, but Gainwell has some juice right now, and we’ve seen him have success in the postseason before. Especially with A.J. Brown out Monday night, the Eagles are going to need playmakers. Gainwell isn’t going to carry the load against the Bucs, but he’s got great value as a change-of-pace back.
6. The Bucs ranked 23rd this year in both yards gained and yards allowed. This is the 51stpostseason game the Eagles will play and the first against a team that ranked in the bottom 10 in both offense and defense. The last bottom-10 offense they faced in the postseason was the 2002 Buccaneers, who ranked 24th. The last bottom-10 defense they faced was the 2006 Cards, who ranked 25th.
7A. A fascinating little tidbit from a BS session the other day with Jason Kelce. That sports hernia that sidelined him for four games in 2014 – the last games he missed - was worse than he ever let on. He said this week he never should have returned as fast as he did – he got hurt Sept. 21 vs. Washington and was back playing Nov. 2 in Houston. Kelce said the injury never really healed until 2016, Doug Pederson’s first year, and he said he never did fully regained the strength he had before the injury. That forced him to focus more on his technique to make up for his diminished strength, and that’s what really propelled him to become the Hall of Famer he turned into.
7B. Kelce Saturday on the Steelers-Bills snow postponement: “This isn’t baseball. You don’t postpone football games. If one team can’t get 11 guys to walk through the snow to the stadium, they should forfeit.” He wasn’t serious. Maybe half-serious.
8. Eagles tight ends had only 669 receiving yards this year – 592 from Dallas Goedert, 39 from Grant Calcaterra and 38 from Jack Stoll. That’s the fewest yards by Eagles tight end since 2010, when they had 583 – 511 for Brent Celek and 72 for Clay Harbor. Goedert has had an up-and-down season with a slow start and some injuries, but the Eagles could sure use a big game from him Monday night in the middle of the field against that Tampa blitz.
9. The Eagles are 6-18 in postseason history when they trail at halftime.
10. The first postseason game in Eagles history was the 1947 Eastern Conference championship game vs. the Steelers at Forbes Field, which the Eagles won 21-0. According to a story by Orlo Robertson in the next day’s Inquirer, Alex Wojciechowicz – the future Hall of Fame center – approached coach Greasy Neale in the locker room after the game asking him to break protocol and allow the players to enjoy a celebratory beer at their locker. Neale’s response: “All right, but not more than two bottles each.” According to Robertson: “At the request of Wojie, every man on the team raised his hand in a pledge that he would not drink more than two bottles.” You can’t make this stuff up.