Via the Goalkeeper and a h/t to Brad Youtz
Two days after Eagles coach Doug Pederson agreed "not everybody" on his team played hard in a 32-14 loss to the Bengals on Sunday, players were still trying to interpret exactly what those comments meant.
"I think Doug is saying we can all do better," Eagles tight end Brent Celek said on Wednesday. "We can give more effort, we can hustle a little bit harder to the ball, after the ball is thrown on offense, after a ball is ran or caught on defense.
"It's just a team thing. We're just trying to get better."
Now in his 10th NFL season, Celek was one of the few Eagles players we spoke to who agreed with Pederson's premise.
"I think guys are giving effort, but I think we could take it to another level," Celek said. "There's levels to that. You can go hard every single play. I think that's just what he's trying to say is, 'Listen, we can do better.'"
Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham sided with Pederson, as well, although largely for different reasons. The fifth-year veteran didn't believe effort was an issue, but if the head coach says it is, then it must be.
"It was shocking to me," Bradham said. "It's one of those things where, that's the way he felt, so if we weren't playing hard, we have to play harder."
Yet even as Bradham was attempting to back Pederson, he sounded like somebody who was unclear about the message.
"From what I've seen defensively and watching film, I feel like everybody was running to the ball," Bradham said. "I don't think that was the point he was trying to get across. I think he was trying to say we weren't paying attention to details as far as the effort part. I don't think he was saying work ethic.
"I think it kind of got worded wrong."
Many players offered their own unique takes on Pederson's statements, which might be the bigger story here than what was actually said. Nobody seemed to be especially offended — more like confused as to how anybody who went back and put on the tape could draw such a conclusion.
And honestly, they might have a point.
The Eagles got their butts whipped in Cincinnati. The Bengals could do no wrong on either side of the football, and the game turned into a bloodbath. Anybody could see the outcome was likely decided early into the second half, yet the defense forced fumbles and created turnovers with hustle plays even when almost all hope was lost.
"You look at the end, we had opportunities to lay down, to just say, 'This game's out of reach, we're not going to win this game,' but that's not what we did," Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "Guys came out.
"You look at the fumble forced by [Bennie Logan] — huge play in the game, and really one of those types of plays that is a momentum shift because then, now you look at it, we're getting off the field again. It's those types of plays that give you that type of momentum. You've got Nigel who comes in, they throw it to the big guy and he knows immediately to go for the ball.
"We had chances to not show effort, but nobody on that film does. I said it after the game, I was proud of the way we finished."
Pederson didn't necessarily imply Hicks, Logan or Bradham were among the "not everybody" who supposedly gave less than 100 percent. There are some high-profile examples of specific plays or individuals under heavy scrutiny this week, which are what was being alluded to when the coach was pressed on his team's effort.
Regardless, another detail most players agreed upon is Pederson never intended to single anybody out. At least that was the sentiment after he had a chance to address the locker room.
"I think it's more of a group comment that he made, and he addressed it," Hicks said. "He told everybody.
"There's plays we all can make if we all just give a little bit more. It's that challenge, that mentality that no matter what, we're going to continue to do what we do, and at the end of the day, every man has to look themselves in the mirror."
"I'm guessing he feels like as a team we probably need to play harder," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins added, "but I know the intent of the guys that I practice with and play with every day, and I didn't see effort being the issue from my standpoint.
"The guys, they love this game and lay it on the line, so I don't have to coach anybody up on energy or showing up."
Another accusation that was put forth is the Eagles didn't necessarily lack effort. It was a matter of heart, intensity or energy — any of which was also disputed.
"I think I know the difference between the two," Hicks said. "It's tough to have that energy when you're down and you're fighting from such a deep hole. You try, but with energy, you have to make the plays first. When you're not making plays to give you that juice, that momentum, the things that switch the game on to your side, it's tough to have that energy."
"It's hard to have energy when you're down three scores," Jenkins said. "I think guys still played hard, but from just being a human being, it's hard to celebrate a play when you're trying to fight out of a hole.
"Everybody always talks about going out and having fun. Well, you're only having fun when you're winning, and so we have to find a way to get some of the momentum on our side, find a way to get some of the plays and things to swing in our favor, then we can have some fun as a team."
Jenkins also made it clear that questions about effort and energy have nothing to with the job Pederson has done as head coach of the Eagles.
"Me personally, although I love Doug, Doug is not the reason I get up and play and go to work every day," Jenkins said.
"I don't think our effort or how we perform is a direct reflection of Doug. It is his job obviously to lead us and get us prepared to play, but a lot of that onus is on us as players. We're the ones that have to go perform, we have to make the plays, we have to show up, we have to get our bodies ready, get our minds ready, and there's only so much a coach can do.
"Whatever is put on on that tape is going to be a direct reflection of the guys on the field."
That's really all the Eagles can do at this point if they want to dispel any and every notion that there is a single individual giving less than their all. The team's leadership seems to understand what it's going to take to quiet critics and skeptics.
"We just have to keep grinding," Celek said. "It's not easy, life's not easy. If you make a mistake, people are going to try to expose it any way that they can.
"They pay us a lot of money to do this. We all have to pick it up. We all have to do a little bit better, focus on our jobs and get a win. We just need a win."
With that, Celek may have hit the nail on the head, a point that Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox stated much more succinctly.
It's not a matter of effort right now. What would really quiet the noise about effort is performing on the field and earning a good old fashioned W.
"If we're winning, I don't think anybody is saying that," Cox said. "We just have to be better as a team."
Steve Donahue has been coaching long enough to know there are always doubts as to how players adjust to the college game.
But as he heavily recruited A.J. Brodeur, the Penn coach began to realize he was looking at as close to a sure thing as there can be.
So far, he’s been right.
On Wednesday at the Palestra, the Penn freshman continued his torrid start to his college career, exploding for 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists to lift the Quakers to an 81-52 rout of Lafayette.
“I’ve known A.J. since 9th grade,” Donahue said. “I probably saw 100 to 200 of his games. And I was pretty sure we were getting a really good basketball player that was going to fit and really help us build this program.”
Brodeur was actually relatively quiet in the first half, scoring six points as he dealt with Lafayette double-teams. And the Leopards, who never led, pulled within one at 24-23 near the end of the first half.
But the 6-foot-8 forward helped key a 10-0 spurt with two buckets to help the Quakers gain a comfortable nine-point halftime cushion, before accounting for half of the team’s points during a 16-0 second-half run that put things away.
For the game, Brodeur shot 10 for 13 for the field while Lafayette center Matt Klinewski, one of the Leopards’ top players, shot 1 for 10 and finished with four points.
“He’s so much bigger than us,” said Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon, who was an assistant at Penn alongside Donahue in the early 1990s. “Matt couldn’t really handle him.”
A lot of players have struggled to handle Brodeur so far this season, no matter the competition level. Just this past Saturday, the Penn freshman scored 17 points against Temple while outdueling Owls star Obi Enechionyia for much of the way.
But although he’s hit double figures in six of his first seven games, including a career-high 23 in his collegiate debut vs. Robert Morris, Brodeur isn’t entirely satisfied yet.
“I’m definitely happy with the way I’ve been playing,” Brodeur said. “Obviously there’s always room for improvement. My game is still not where I want it to be or where I need it to be for us to be a championship team this year.”
Whether or not Penn (3-4) can contend for an Ivy League championship remains to be seen, but it certainly is promising that all three of their wins have been by lopsided margins — something that rarely happened under previous coach Jerome Allen.
And the Quakers showcased a lot of balance and defensive tenacity against a young Leopards team Wednesday, finishing with 21 assists and 10 steals with 11 different players scoring.
Guards Jackson Donahue and Jake Silpe, last year’s starting backcourt, combined for 23 points off the bench. And senior Matt Howard took over the game in the first half, skying for rebounds, getting his hands in the passing lane and, at one point, throwing down a ferocious one-handed dunk after starting the break with a steal.
Howard, who’s endured three straight losing seasons, finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, four steals and three assists.
“He’s been through ups and downs for three years,” Donahue said. “I think he finally feels that he can really be the best player on the court and help us win games — which probably hasn’t happened before. I think that’s what you saw at the beginning of the game.”