Playoff football is in the air in South Philadelphia. The Eagles will play their NFC East rivals, the New York Giants, for the third time in six weeks - but this time, it's win or go home. I'll take you inside the locker room and around the NovaCare Complex as the top-seeded Eagles prepare to go the distance.
THE MAN BEHIND THE CALL SHEET
In the middle of the 2021 season, Head Coach Nick Sirianni turned his playcalling duties over to Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen. It's been that way ever since.
For the 2022 season, Steichen's playcalling, along with the gameplanning and design of the entire coaching staff, has been responsible for a record-breaking offense: the Eagles set franchise records for points scored with 477, total touchdowns at 59, and rushing touchdowns with 32, which ranks as the third most in league history.
Sirianni was asked this week about how "freeing" it's been to pass the torch. "It helps me manage the game better in my opinion, and it helps me be involved with the defense," Sirianni said.
Veteran center Jason Kelce provided insight as to how the team benefits from Sirianni shifting his focus away from playcalling.
"He is very, very dedicated to situational football," Kelce said. "Puts a lot of time and effort into understanding it himself, educating the players, educating the coaches, and I think that we're among the best at handling the various situations that come up in the game because he's able to allocate so much time to that."
Sirianni believes he's been able to tap into his role as game manager more this year, and Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon has reaped the benefits of that as well.
"I use the head coach throughout the week and on gameday, and he's a huge resource because he understands the game at a very high level," Gannon said. "He's helped me tremendously. He helped me last year even when he was calling plays. But we have a very unique and good relationship during the week, as you would want with your head coach, because I use that resource, and he's excellent for us on gameday."
Quarterback Jalen Hurts is with the same offensive coaching staff in back-to-back seasons for the first time since high school. He said it's helped tremendously to build rapport and work with this group of minds.
"I think as time went on, it's kind of been an earned thing of being able to speak my mind and kind of talk about what I see, what I like, what I don't like, and everybody being receptive of that in the room," Hurts said. "I think that's been a thing of time, and I think that's allowed our coach-player relationship to evolve and ultimately have the success that we're having because of how efficient we've been able to be throughout the year."
On the other side of the ball, defensive end Brandon Graham thinks it's always beneficial when an offensive coach can come to the defense's side.
"You always want to talk to an offensive coach, especially if you're on the defensive side to see what they think of us and what would you do against us so that you can kind of see how people view you and, from that perspective, I think that helps both sides of the ball," Graham said. "You're always trying to figure out what a guy's thinking. It's a game of chess out there for real, within the plays of what your coach calls."
"We like our processes of how we're going," Sirianni commented. "We're always trying to tweak it and make it better, but I've got great coaches that I'm able to lean on there, and Shane is doing a great job of calling it."
PHILLY IS DIFFERENT
The last time the Eagles hosted a playoff game was on January 5, 2020. They lost to the Seahawks on Wild Card Weekend.
It's a new day in Philadelphia, and if you know anything about Eagles fans, they'll be roaring to go when the lights come on Saturday night. Perhaps it's important to note that the Birds are 9-0 at home against the Giants since 2014.
For veteran Eagles, they've been in this situation before. For others, the Linc in mid-January will offer a whole new experience.
"I just know the place gonna be rockin'," wide receiver A.J. Brown said, preparing for his first Philly playoff experience. "It's gonna be hard to hear, hard to communicate. I just know it's going to be crazy out there on Saturday night. We definitely are gonna try to do our best to ball out, put on a show - I just got chills talking about it."
Brown is no stranger to the playoffs, he's made postseason appearances in every season he's been in the league. His rookie season with Tennessee in 2019, Brown played all the way to the AFC Championship Game, and last season the Titans were the No. 1 seed in the AFC. But in Philly, it's different. It's A Philly Thing.
"I say it's a very passionate city who love the players, love the team, love everything about it. It's just die-hard fans, it's kind of hard to explain," Brown said. "I see stuff on social media - fans are doing crazy stuff. That's just a Philly thing. You won't see that nowhere else."
DENNARD AND THE DUO
Cornerbacks James Bradberry and Darius Slay have been the top corner duo in the NFL in 2022.
Both players have allowed two of the three lowest passer ratings in primary coverage throughout the league, according to Pro Football Focus - Bradberry leading the way, Slay ranking third.
Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon was asked about how they've assimilated in the DB room; he credits Defensive Passing Game Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach Dennard Wilson.
"Dennard holds a very high standard in that room, and they want to be held accountable because they know if the coach holds them accountable, they're going to improve," Gannon shared.
There's no denying the pair has been committed to improvement. Bradberry's three interceptions, 17 passes defended and Slay's three interceptions, 14 passes defended make them the only cornerback duo in the NFL where each player produced 14+ PDs and 3+ INTs. Bradberry ranks third in the NFL in passes defended.
"Those guys are high football character guys that want to be coached and want to do things the right way. That's why you see them playing at a high level because they continually improve," Gannon said.
Slay was named to the Pro Bowl, Bradberry a second-team All-Pro.
"That's been a great room to be around," Gannon continued. "I love what Dennard does in there with them. He's hard on those guys, and they know they have to be prepared when they walk into that meeting room or on the field, or they will get exposed."
Wilson joined Fran Duffy this week on Eagles Game Plan for a segment called Tape Study. Wilson and Duffy broke down a variety of plays from the season to provide an inside look as to how he coaches and prepares his guys to make big plays on Sundays - or in this week's case, Saturday. You can watch all of the episodes of Eagles Game Plan here.