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Eagles' Doug Pederson sees competitiveness, not divisiveness

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Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson walks the field during warm-ups on December 31, 2017 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Photo by Derik Hamilton/UPI

By Ed Kracz, The Sports Xchange

From the outside looking in, it may appear that there is some friction creeping into the Philadelphia Eagles' locker room following the team's 23-21 home loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

Consider these three points:

Running back Jay Ajayi said the Eagles need to run the ball more, and it's a decent point considering the team is averaging nearly five fewer rush attempts per game this year compared to last year. They called just 20 runs in a loss to the Tennessee Titans a week ago, then handed the ball to a running back just 12 times this week.

Guard Stefen Wisniewski told reporters in the postgame locker room on Sunday that he was benched in favor of Isaac Seumalo not due to his play but for something else, something that he did not want to discuss. And left tackle Jason Peters, who hasn't played up to his Pro Bowl level from previous seasons, sounded like he was passing the buck when he insinuated that quarterback Carson Wentz is holding the ball too long on some plays, causing him to get hit or sacked.

Then there was the televised episode between Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Philadelphia cornerback Jalen Mills, when Cox came barreling into Mills, who was jawing with Vikings receiver Adam Thielen after Mills had broken up a third-down throw inside the Eagles' 5-yard line. Cox exchanged some heated words with the cornerback. Cox said afterward that the exchange was "all great words." Cox added: "I think the ref was getting ready to throw the flag and I was a great teammate. I went in there to pull him out of the scuffle to not cost this team 15 yards and get him to the sideline."

As tumultuous as all that appears, head coach Doug Pederson is seeing something else.

"I see guys that are battling their tails off and competing to play, competing with one another to play," said the coach when he met with reporters in his press conference Monday. "I see their frustration, like our frustration when things don't go our way, and I see leaders on the football team standing up and leading and that's what we need right now. We need those guys.

"We're sitting here at 2-3, we're 0-0 in [the NFC East] with an opportunity this week to make some hay there [against the New York Giants in North Jersey on Thursday night], and we're looking forward to this week and moving forward. But our guys are competitive. I think that's the culture we created. That part of it. If we didn't have that, quite honestly, there'd probably be some more issues going on. But the fact that the guys want it so bad they're standing up and holding each other accountable, I think that's a credit to the players."

More specifically about Wisniewski, Pederson said he didn't know what the guard's theory is as to why he didn't play on Sunday.

"Everything in this business is performance-based," said Pederson, adding that Seumalo played well other than one bad snap and will likely remain the starter Thursday night.

The offensive line allowed just three sacks against Minnesota, down from five and four the last two games, but it also allowed Wentz to get hit eight times.

Pederson was asked if he thought Wentz was holding the ball too long, like Peters said.

"There are times when a quarterback has to hang on to the ball to allow a receiver to come open," said Pederson. "What you are seeing with Carson, too, is his ability to extend some plays with his legs, which is good. ... We continue to coach, we continue to teach, and there are areas we can all improve in. One thing I really appreciate with Carson is he can, and still has the mentality to drive the ball down the field."

Then there's the running game -- or the lack of running plays -- the past two weeks.

Pederson pointed out that there were seven running plays called on a drive that spanned 10 plays and landed on the Vikings' 6-yard line. One of those runs was the final one of the series -- a fumble from Ajayi.

"We just got in a situation where we fell behind, and even in the third quarter it was 20-3 and we were working ourselves back," said Pederson. "I love to run the football. I think our guys are good at it, and we've been successful at it, but at the same time, we can't get behind in football games because sometimes the running game won't allow you to get back fast enough."

NOTES:

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Rookie fourth-round pick Avonte Maddox played all 62 defensive snaps despite only learning how to play safety less than two weeks ago.

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Safety Corey Graham, who played all 71 snaps against the Titans last week, got just three snaps against the Vikings, though some of that was injury related. Coach Doug Pederson did not update Graham's injury status.

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Defensive end Brandon Graham got the only sack on Sunday for the Eagles, who played without Derek Barnett. It was Graham's first sack of the season after leading the team last year with 9.5. Graham was a terror against the Vikings. In addition to his sack, he made another tackle for loss, with two quarterback hits, three tackles and a pass defended.

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Sports - U.S. Daily News: Eagles' Doug Pederson sees competitiveness, not divisiveness
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