Pederson Ponders Rest for 12-2 Eagles
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The Eagles have already clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and it's conceivable that the team will have locked up the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC by the time it takes the field on Christmas Day against the Oakland Raiders.
Philadelphia's magic number to ensure that the road to Super Bowl LII will go through Lincoln Financial Field is one, meaning all the Eagles have to do is capture one of their final two games against Oakland or Dallas or hope Minnesota loses one of its final two regular-season games (at Green Bay and vs. Chicago).
Because the Vikings play at Lambeau Field on Saturday night, Philadelphia could be in position to rest some of its key players over the final two weeks, a scenario coach Doug Pederson has started to mull over.
"I've begun thinking (about it)," Pederson admitted Monday after his team's 34-29 win against the New York Giants on Sunday. "But, my focus is winning the game on Monday night because that, to me, is the most important thing. Once we get to next week, we'll figure out next week. But my mindset this week is all about the Oakland Raiders, Monday Night Football."
It might not become an issue because Green Bay may shut down Aaron Rodgers after the Packers were eliminated from the playoff hunt due to Atlanta's win over Tampa Bay Monday night.
Even on the frozen tundra, it's unlikely Brett Hundley has what it takes to beat one of the NFL's better defenses.
A Vikings win means the Eagles beating Oakland is paramount and that might be the better scenario for the Birds anyway because they need reps for Nick Foles and must sharpen up a suddenly struggling defensive backfield, which has been showing signs off fatigue over the past two weeks particularly when tackling.
“Tackling is everything,” Pederson explained. “You have to be able to get guys on the ground. We have to continue to address it during the week. This time of the year it falls a little bit more back on the player getting their proper rest, getting the nutrition, hydration, things we talk about during the week and making sure that they are as fresh as they can be.
“And then I do my part as a coach from a rep standpoint during practice. If I’ve got to do more walkthroughs, I do more walkthroughs, or whatever it takes to make sure the guys are as close to 100 percent as possible on game day. We just have to continue to drill it but at the same time, I have to make sure guys are fresh and be in position to make those plays.”
Locking things down against the Raiders would then turn Week 17 into a glorified scrimmage for the Eagles, one in which Pederson may treat like a third preseason game in which the starters play into the second quarter or until the half.
"You just make the best decisions for your football team," Pederson explained. "If that means resting a guy, you rest a guy or two or three. But you also have to maintain the edge with these players, and you've got to maintain that confidence and that dominating swagger and you've got to keep that alive."
The quarterback position is the most important without Carson Wentz because Foles needs game action to shake off the rust and it would also be nice to get Nate Sudfeld a few reps in a live environment.
"You just can't go — it's not a preseason game, you know what I'm saying, where you can rest in Week 4 and rest all your guys," Pederson said. "You can't do that because you're still limited to the roster limits on game day. Guys are still going to have to play, but at the same time, I'm going to be smart about the decisions we make moving forward and getting guys who need it rest, if possible."
That means the coaching staff will be tuned into Minnesota-Green Bay and will likely have two plans in place when it comes to playing time against the Raiders.
"We control our destiny right now," Pederson said. "So that's the focus for me."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen