PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Eagles started the season winning eight of their first nine games for just the fifth time in franchise history. The previous four times, they went on to play in either the Super Bowl or the NFL Championship Game.

Why has this team been so successful? How has it managed to survive season-ending injuries to several key veterans?

It is time to answer those questions by starting with Head Coach Doug Pederson. Sure, the players are the ones that have to execute on the field. Yes, Howie Roseman made some big acquisitions in the offseason. But despite its success through the first half of the season, this team has remained grounded and focused on the task at hand that week.

Pederson led the Eagles to a 7-9 record last year in his NFL Head Coaching debut. The Eagles were competitive despite starting a Rookie Quarterback and losing starting Right Tackle Lane Johnson for ten games. Criticism of Pederson came flying in for some unusual in-game decisions that helped lead to losses in close games. That criticism carried over into the preseason this year. It did not fall on deaf ears, especially inside the Eagles locker room.

“At the start of the season, the comments about him, people take that [expletive] personal and come out fighting,” Johnson stated. “That was the whole team, staff, personnel. We have a lot of fighters in the building.”

“I never understood why he was criticized in the first place because he is really a great coach,” Linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “When that happened we hadn’t even played a game yet, so it was kind of weird that he was already getting criticized.”

Pederson ignored the criticism from the outside and instead opened his ears to those inside the building, namely his players. He welcomes their thoughts and takes it to heart.

“I think he is doing a great job of demanding and allowing players to have ownership for what we are doing,” Safety Malcolm Jenkins stated. “It’s not necessarily what he is making us do, we all feel this is our thing. We have input, he listens to the players and we listen to him. We are building this together.”

Listening to his players may seem like a very small thing, but to them it is huge. It is also rare.

“Only certain coaches get that,” Jenkins smiled. “A lot of coaches come in and try to establish their way, their culture, what they want and a lot of times you don’t have the buy-in from the entire team. But when you allow the players to have that input and ownership, everybody feels this is our baby and everybody is fully invested.”

“He came to me a couple of weeks into the season and asked me a question about how something was going,” Defensive End Chris Long said. “As a new guy, I have been in the league ten years, just to reach out and ask me those questions, I think it’s really cool. It speaks to the fact that he doesn’t have an ego, which I think is really cool.”

“It’s very rare,” Bradham chuckled. “I think I have had six coaches throughout my career and only had two who were that type of coach. Actually it is him and Rex Ryan who are more like player-coaches. He played, so he understands a lot. He understands how we feel, how our body feels and what we need to do in certain situations. I think that is a big reason why we are having a lot of success.”

Understanding how their body feels plays a big part in Pederson’s decisions. Recently he gave the players a morning off and allowed them to come in at noon. That may not sound like a big deal, but after months of long days lifting and watching film, it meant a lot to the players. Having that perspective is also coming into play during his decision on how to utilize the bye week. Some coaches practice for a few days and then give the team off. Not Pederson.

“I’m going to give them the week (off),” Pederson stated. “We’re 8-1 for a reason and we don’t need to go backwards now. So, enjoy the time. We need to get healthy. This is a good week for us to get healthy and get ready for the second half of the season.”

Pederson was hired for numerous reasons, but one of the main ones according to Owner Jeffrey Lurie was to change the culture inside the building following three years under Chip Kelly. Pederson has clearly checked that box.

“For a young coach in this league, that is usually the thing that comes last is to have this much faith and trust in your players and leadership, but I think it has given us a real opportunity to build a culture,” Jenkins said. “You look at our games and I don’t think there is one guy who is active in the game who doesn’t contribute or hasn’t contributed throughout the season in a significant way and you usually don’t get that.”

“He played in the league for quite a few years,” Center Jason Kelce shrugged. “I think he understands that there are a lot of different sides and viewpoints and angles that you can gather to make decisions and he is certainly very well aware of the players side of it.”

The Eagles enter the bye with the best record in the NFL. They have a legitimate MVP candidate in Quarterback Carson Wentz. If Pederson can continue to keep his team grounded and focused week-to-week, then perhaps this will be a special season. He has earned the respect of his players and is beginning to get more and more respect from those who once criticized him just a few months ago.