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Accountability key factor in Eagles' 7-0 start to 2022 NFL season

Last Thursday, defensive end Robert Quinn walked into the locker room of the only undefeated team in the NFL. He had been traded the day before from the Bears to the Eagles for a fourth-round pick.

Six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox walked up to the newly acquired pass rusher on his first day in the locker room. 

"Yo, Rob. We practice hard here," the 11th-year veteran said.  

"That's all I needed to hear," Quinn responded.

The Eagles have perhaps the most complete roster in football. It includes All-Pro veterans, potential future Pro Bowl-caliber players and a rising star at quarterback. Through the draft, trades and free agency, general manager Howie Roseman seems to have filled every possible hole. Philadelphia has top-tier talent in every position group.

"Gosh, it seems like you just go down the list, and it's, 'He's a freak, he can do some crazy things, he can do some crazy things,' we have freak athletes," Dallas Goedert, one of the best tight ends in the league, recently told me during an interview on the NFL's Twitter Spaces platform.

But we all know talent only gets you so far in the NFL. Ask anyone in Philly about the 2011 "Dream Team" Eagles and what happened that season. The recipe for a Super Bowl run includes other ingredients. An NFL season is long, and chemistry in the locker room can be just as important as execution on the field.

"They're all good dudes," Cox told me during a recent conversation, referring to his teammates. "Not just good players. Just good dudes in that locker room. No time do you feel tension between any two players, between any two position groups. Because every leader knows how to handle every player in the room. When you got that, it's big time."

In his 13th season with the team, defensive end Brandon Graham is the longest tenured member of the Eagles. He's seen it all. Along with Cox, he was a key member of the Eagles' Super Bowl run in 2017 and truly thinks this year's team is "special."

"I prayed for a team like this," Graham said last week. "I just dream about a team like this. We are playing together. We're undefeated. We're trying to do something different and special here in Philly."

Cox and Graham are team captains. It's clear that the leaders of the Eagles hold everyone to a high standard, and it's part of the reason they're 7-0 heading into Thursday night's game against the Texans in Houston. What's different this season is that it's not just the captains but the younger players stepping up and becoming vocal, as well. Wide receiver DeVonta Smith, in his second season, isn't afraid to speak up. Wide receiver A.J. Brown just arrived in Philadelphia this offseason after a draft day trade with the Titans, but he makes sure players are putting in the same work ethic he's been known for since his days at Ole Miss. Linebacker T.J. Edwards wears the green dot on his helmet, which means the coaching staff communicates with him during games. When Edwards talks, everybody listens.

The quarterback is the face of every franchise, and Jalen Hurts' physical gifts are easy to spot on Sundays. From arm talent to athletic ability, he has it all. He's in just his second NFL season as a full-time starter and posted a career-best in touchdown passes (4) and passer rating (140.6) last Sunday against the Steelers. But his greatest skill as a football player might be his leadership.

"He has an alpha presence," Goedert told me. "He's well respected around the building. Ever since he entered the building, (he's) had a mentality that is, 'Whatever I say goes, you're going to listen to me and we're going to make it work.' "

Head coach Nick Sirianni has said Hurts "lives the theory of getting better every day." He's an unquestioned leader of the team. When Hurts delivers postgame locker room speeches, he resembles a preacher delivering a sermon. He commands the room with his message. And maybe even more impressive is the comfort and confidence he has within the pauses of his delivery. He drives home his message, making eye contact with everyone in the room. There are lines he's imprinted on the team during those speeches that you can hear repeated by players and coaches during their press conferences.

"He's calm and chill all the time," Goedert said. "That's how he carries himself. Everything he says has a meaning. Every week he has another line that sticks from one of his press conferences. He loves these, and the music goes at the end. It's like he has these planned out before they even happen. It's crazy."

Hurts' postgame locker room speeches are posted to the team's social media accounts. What's done privately, that we will never see, are the conversations between teammates that can be uncomfortable at times.

"People aren't scared to step to people," Graham said.

It's the accountability that plays a huge role in keeping this team together. And it doesn't matter where you play on the field. You have a voice and are encouraged to use it.

"The thing is, it doesn't matter the position," Cox told me. "I can say something to a running back. I can say something to an offensive lineman. I can say something to a DB. They don't take it personally. It's all accountability. I want you to be better. Because what you did in practice is not acceptable. We're not taking that to Sunday, or Monday or Thursday. Let's fix it right now. We're not going to let it slide by the wayside. Come Sunday, if the same thing comes up, they'll know that we were already on them about it. We always say something to one another."

The accountability is always present. That started the day Sirianni was hired last year. Sirianni gave up play-calling duties last season because he felt doing so would make him a better head coach and give the team a better chance to win. That's been the mentality he's brought to the organization, and it's trickled down to the leaders of the team and to the rest of the roster. Everyone seems to understand that winning is the priority, not anyone's individual ego.

"I think it's the way we conduct meetings," Lane Johnson told me after the Eagles' win over Pittsburgh. "With practice and everything that we do. With every play, whoever didn't execute well, they put their number on the board. So that's how we conduct practice, that's how we conduct games. It doesn't matter what player you are or who you are, everybody is held accountable. I think whenever that happens you see very good players make mistakes and be criticized and grow from it. That teaches the younger guys a good example. I think it's how Nick's done it since he's been here."

In team meetings, when a play is reviewed and a mistake is revealed, that player's number will be put up on the board. Players know exactly where they stand in terms of their performance. And the rest of the team knows as well. It also isn't rare to hear a coach speak up that a reviewed mistake was actually their fault. They'll call themselves out during the meeting. Taking ownership of your mistakes appears to be part of the code within the Eagles, from the top to the bottom of the roster. That includes the quarterback.

"We hold him accountable," Cox said last week, referring to Hurts. "He holds us accountable, but we hold him accountable. Even in practice we give him a hard time. If he's doing something in practice, we're like, 'Oh, ok. We're going now.' That's the thing, we hold each other accountable. In practice we know when we didn't have a good practice. Coach doesn't have to say anything. We are going to each other about how tomorrow needs to be better. Today was not acceptable. I'm not saying that because we've won six games. I'm saying that because that's the type of team that we have."

Now, it's easier to have these conversations when you're 7-0 and have been in complete control of almost every game this season. Adversity hasn't hit this team yet, but it's bound to. Every team faces it sooner or later. The Eagles certainly had plenty of it during their run to the Super Bowl in 2017.

"What the best thing is, we tell the truth around here and we don't just let stuff go by the wayside," Graham said. "Because I know it definitely hurts you in big moments when you know you've let somebody get away with something over time and then eventually when it's that time in a big, key game, a guy makes the same mistake that you let slide. We don't want that. Coach does a good job of policing everybody on the good and the bad."

The honesty has allowed the players new to the team in 2022 to come into the Eagles' NovaCare Complex and fit in immediately. Players are told two things: Be yourself and hold yourself to the standard that's been set for the team. That's it. The leaders in the locker room take care of the rest. Just as Cox did when Quinn arrived.

Sirianni found out about the interaction between Cox and Quinn on Quinn's first day.

"How awesome is that?" Sirianni said after Sunday's game. "The best teams that I've been around practice hard."

Record-wise, the Eagles are the best team in the NFL because of their performances in the first seven games. But it looks like what goes on during the other six days of the week in practices and meetings has played a large part in those results. We'll see if the brutally honest approach continues to work when things get tougher. If it does, Philly could be headed to Glendale.

Follow James Palmer on Twitter.

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