PHILADELPHIA — The old adage when covering a team [or anything else] is to pay attention to what they do and not what they say. But in the case of the Philadelphia Eagles (3-3), it’s important to focus on each, because both their actions and words deviated from the norm this week, sending a message that they have reached urgent, if not desperate, times.
What the Eagles did was cut starting linebacker Zach Brown on Monday, three days after he called Kirk Cousins “probably the weakest part” of the Minnesota Vikings’ offense, and one day after Cousins offered a rebuttal in the form of four touchdown passes en route to a 38-20 Vikings win.
Earlier Monday, coach Doug Pederson stepped out of character and walked right up to the line of guaranteeing a win against the 3-3 Dallas Cowboys Sunday (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) by declaring during his weekly radio appearance that “we’re gonna win that football game, and when we do, we’re in first place in the NFC East.”
There were explanations for both: Brown simply wasn’t producing like the Eagles needed him to, and Pederson was confidently expressing belief in his team.
But it’s easy to poke holes in those defenses. Brown certainly isn’t the team’s only player with some shaky tape. If that was truly the only factor, a large chunk of the roster would have been released alongside him. Though he was headed for a demotion or his release, in part because he reportedly didn’t buy into what the Eagles do, the timing of it — shortly after his comments, and despite the injury to fellow starting linebacker Nigel Bradham — sends a pretty clear signal.
“It’s a cutthroat business. Anybody can be gone in any [given] day,” said linebacker Nate Gerry, who noted the trade of linebacker Kenny Young from the Rams to the Ravens this week. “You just never know what’s going to happen, so I think just taking full advantage of your opportunities, no matter when you get them, you just have to take advantage.”
Meanwhile, Pederson came close to contradicting one of his own principles with his comments. He regularly reminds his team to be complimentary of the opponent, especially after wins. Showing proper respect is important to him (which also explains why Brown’s commentary on Cousins might have touched a nerve). Calling a win against the Cowboys in advance of the game isn’t necessarily disrespectful, but Pederson normally steers far clear of that line.
The fact he deviated from normal practice shows he felt a public endorsement of his team was needed.
“I don’t know if he guaranteed a win, a lot of people took it that way, but at the same time, I love it,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “I love playing for Coach. Whatever he says, I’m behind him 100 percent. I’m not going to flinch about anything he says because I believe in him 100 percent and that’s the same way everyone in this locker room feels. Whatever he says, we’re going to ride with.”
When multiple things that fall outside of normal behavior happen in a week, it could simply be a sign that the higher-ups sense a shakeup is needed.
Or, it could be evidence that their typical practices aren’t having the desired effect.