McMullen: Complacency Could be Eagles Toughest Opponent
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Doug Pederson has never been one to signal out ProFootballFocus.com with an eye roll like some other NFL coaches but you have to wonder if the Eagles head coach hasn't bellowed out a "come on" after yet another declaration that his team is the best in the league at something.
So far PFF has graded Philadelphia's offensive line, its pass rush, and the receiving corps as the best in football so 973espn.com did go ahead and check with Park Avenue and there is no current plan to waive off the season and declare the Eagles Super Bowl champions.
What all the love can create, though, is unrealistic and perhaps untenable expectations, the kind where a 12- or 13-win campaign is declared a failure if you're knocked out in the divisional round by another really good NFL team.
What can be said definitively is the Eagles are good -- really good -- and a legitimate Super Bowl contender, which is all you should ask for in August when the heavy lifting of personnel is done and preparation for the regular season is ramping up.
There are so many twists and turns in the road from this point it's impossible to assume even the greatest talent ever assembled could ever be guaranteed ultimate glory.
Managing expectations for an NFL coach is hard, perhaps more difficult than devising up that brilliant game plan most fans think is so important on Sundays.
Andy Reid is the perfect example of this entire landscape, a future Hall of Fame coach who turned this organization into perhaps the "Silver Standard" with the sentiment that if you stack good decisions together and reach the point where you are consistently in the mix, at some point you're going to break through.
Ironically it hasn't happened for Reid yet despite so many opportunities with the Eagles and now Kansas City. It's already happened for his student in Philadelphia and Pederson and Howie Roseman have the Eagles in the sweet spot again.
As for what can derail you, it could be anything from the obvious like injuries to top-tier contributors or the far less conspicuous like motivating players who read daily about how good they are.
Mike Zimmer talked about the latter and difficulty of motivation in Minnesota on Thursday after lamenting the way his vaunted defense -- top five in the NFL for three consecutive seasons -- has handled the beginning of the Vikings' training camp.
"I think, as I have told a few of them, they have been together quite a while now and they think they are pretty good," the gruff Zimmer stated. "Maybe we just go out and practice and it’s not the intensity level or whatever we need to do. They’re not making mistakes because they have been in the same defense for six years now. It is a little bit of maybe complacency. You know, ‘Hey, we’re in the top-5 defense every year, blah, blah, blah.’"
Rob Maadi, the accomplished Associated Press writer and Philadelphia-area radio host, told me last week some at his station were balking at media questions about the Super Bowl-or-bust expectations as if Pederson is unaware of the bar which has been set or it's somehow unfair to state the obvious.
No one understands the hurdle in front of him better than the Eagles coach and Pederson doesn't need the kid-glove treatment.
"I try not to let it bother me. I try to block it out," Pederson told 973espn.com when asked about the expectations. "I have to go out here and do my job, coach, stay aggressive, and push these guys. Push them to their limit. ... I have to maintain my aggressiveness with the team not only during games, but also here in practice to push and compete and make it as hard as possible out here so that games can become somewhat a little bit easier."
Unlike Zimmer, Pederson has had no complaints after a week's worth of practices.
Just about everyone in the Eagles locker room is saying the right things and practices have looked crisp at least at times even without meaningful contributors like Fletcher Cox, Brandon Brooks, Nigel Bradham, Ronald Darby and Rodney McLeod in team drills.
Complacency can be real, however, and if the preseason accolades keep piling up it could be the Pederson's toughest opponent this season.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen