mcall.com
Nick Fierro

Doug Pederson, unlike his offense, was predictable in the message to his Philadelphia Eagles before they departed for a much-deserved week off.

“We’ve just got to make sure we maintain our focus, understand what got us to where we are today at 8-1 and continue that process of moving forward,” the coach said.

Regardless of what happens next weekend, the Eagles will bring the NFL’s best record into Dallas for their nationally televised showdown against the Cowboys on Nov. 19.

Barring special circumstances, such as rehabbing injuries, Pederson would prefer his players to sort of clear the cache in their brains before coming back to work next week.

“The best thing is to just kind of get away and just rest,” he said. “Still want them to seek some sort of physical activity, whether they lift or conditioning during the off week.

“Obviously guys that are around can come into the facility and work out and get treatment and to make sure that they’re ready for next week and the next seven games.

“So get away from it, clear their minds, understand that we’ve started something special and we really want to make sure we finish it the right way.”

Among the other subjects Pederson covered was the running back rotation, making it clear that the decision to activate all five on their roster for Sunday’s win over Denver was made only because tight end Zach Ertz was unavailable due to a hamstring strain.

What he didn’t cover was which back might be deactivated when they get back to full strength. But all signs point to Wendell Smallwood, who carried five times for 25 yards in Sunday’s game but was on the field for just one other snap.

Because LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement and newcomer Jay Ajayi are higher in the pecking order and Kenjon Barner is the team’s punt returner now, there would seem to be no room for Smallwood on game days.

Despite being limited to a small package of plays due to only having four days of practice with his new team, Ajayi needed just eight carries on Sunday to finish as the Eagles’ leading rusher with 77 yards. His 46-yard scoring burst in the second quarter was the game’s longest play from scrimmage.

“The explosiveness, you can see it, it’s there,” Pederson said. “We’ll just continue to grow with him and get him more comfortable each week.”

What’s impressed Pederson the most over the first nine games of this season, though, has been the team’s resiliency and ability to win on the road.

“When the schedule came out, the early road games, that was going to be a big test for our football team because we didn't do so well last year on the road,” he said. “So [we] wanted to make sure that we kind of got off to a fast start and we were able to do that outside of the Kansas City game.

“Then really, the way they’ve overcome the injuries to start the season. You lose [CB Ronald] Darby in the first game and you go down the list, you’re getting [DT] Beau Allen back at that time. At the same time, Fletch [DT Fletcher Cox] goes down, [S] Rodney McLeod is out, you’ve got [S] Chris Maragos back there. You have moving parts all over the place. Then JP [T Jason Peters gets injured] and the guys, the way they have fought through these first nine games with the injuries has been pretty amazing.”

With a week off before beginning preparations for the Cowboys on the road, Pederson will have extra time to reflect on last year’s meeting in Dallas, when the Eagles blew a fourth-quarter lead and lost in overtime.

Suffice to say it likely was Pederson’s lowest moment because of the way he mismanaged the final minutes of that game.

“From my standpoint, I definitely want to look at that and make sure what I’m doing and how I’m calling the game is matching up to what we're doing,” Pederson said. “Now last year’s last year, obviously, and this year’s this year. The guys are executing a lot better and doing some really nice things. So I’ll take it in stride. But at the same time, I want to make sure we’re doing the right thing.”