September 17, 2018
Doug Pederson has insisted since the first day of training camp that this is a different season. What he failed to mention is that he is a different coach – a very different coach.
The Eagles lost a game that mattered for the first time in 287 days on Sunday in sweltering Tampa – the last contest before Carson Wentz returns – and there was no one more deserving of blame than Pederson himself. After all, how could the Birds get burned – again – by former Eagle DeSean Jackson on the first play of the game?
The Buccaneers were in a max-protect set, with only two receivers racing down the field, and the defense couldn’t see what was about to happen, a 75-yard touchdown play? And then there was the fourth-down gamble – a Doug Pederson specialty – that appeared to be successful when Zach Ertz reached his arm past the first-down marker early in the third quarter. Rookie head official Alex Kemp thought otherwise. Why didn’t the coach challenge the poor mark?
The fatal blow was the strategy just before the Eagles narrowed the deficit to 27-21 in the final minutes of the game. Calling to mind his mentor, Andy Reid, Pederson tried three running plays in a row, swallowing up more than two minutes of the five that were left, before a two-yard touchdown pass on fourth down. Why did the coach burn so much of the clock?
I brought up all of those odd twists during my weekly conversation with Pederson on my WIP radio show this morning, and was surprised by all three of his answers. Pederson addresses issues more aggressively than he did before he won a Super Bowl. He found no personal blame in any of those situations.
On the Jackson play, Pederson said the defense had prepared all week for the explosiveness of the ex-Eagle. They just reacted poorly in the moment, biting when Jackson paused briefly before darting past safety Malcolm Jenkins and then cornerback Jalen Mills. It wasn’t coaching; it was execution.
Pederson insisted, after looking at the tape, that Ertz’s knee hit the ground before the tight end extended the ball past the first-down line. His spotters in the press box told him not to challenge the play, and they were right, he said. All I can say is that on my 82-inch TV, Ertz got the first down. Judging from the calls all morning on my show, he made it on most of the TVs in the Delaware Valley.
Finally, the coach defended his play-calling in the last five minutes, arguing that the runs were the best plays to call with the Bucs’ defense “back on its heels,” and that there was plenty of time – 2:41 left – for the Eagles to stop Tampa and drive back down the field for the winning touchdown.
“But wouldn’t it have been better if you had more time?” I asked.
“We had enough time,” he replied.
Every one of those issues was debatable, but Pederson’s adamant defense of his decision-making is something brand-new, at least for me. Before the Super Bowl, he was more likely to acknowledge the other side of the argument. Now, he’s far more confident that he’s right – even when he isn’t.
Of course, the coach finally made a move just about everyone can agree with when he announced earlier today that Carson Wentz will start Sunday’s game against Indianapolis. There’s a very good chance that many of these issues will go away now that the kid is back.
Amen to that.