July 22, 2019
The Philadelphia Eagles' offense is loaded.
At receiver, they have a trio of experienced playmakers with varied skill sets. Alshon Jeffery is big and physical on the outside, DeSean Jackson is the field-stretching deep threat, and Nelson Agholor is the consistently improving slot receiver with some big-play ability in his own right. And then there's J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, a second-round pick who looked a whole lot like he was worthy of his draft position in spring practices.
At tight end, Zach Ertz is clearly one of the top three players at his position in the league. He's a smooth, route-running savant with outstanding hands. His understudy, Dallas Goedert, is a physical stud in the making with no obvious holes in his game.
At running back, the Eagles are lacking that one true star player, but their committee approach, which worked beautifully in their Super Bowl run in 2017, is back, and will easily be better than the group of backs that finished the season in 2018. Jordan Howard, rookie Miles Sanders, Corey Clement, and yes, now also Darren Sproles (like it or not) are going to get their opportunities.
Doug Pederson is well aware that he has the horses.
“From a talent-wise, you know, yeah, I mean, I would say that it's pretty good," he said in an interview in June. "I would say that, you know, from a skill position on offense, it's probably the best we've had going into my fourth season. From a depth standpoint, as I mentioned earlier, I think it's equivalent to what we had going into the 2017 season. But listen, all that can change in a heartbeat, as we know. This is a violent sport, violent game, but by no means and, I'm not going to sit here and make predictions and put our team in a box that way, but we still have to go coach and play games, obviously. But on paper, it appears that way.”
On the one hand, having so many good players with varied skills, with depth, is a play-caller's dream. Pederson will have the ability to toggle back and forth between three-wide receiver sets and two-tight end sets, mixing run and pass. If there's a weakness in their opponent's defensive personnel, Pederson will be able to attack it with the appropriate skill position players in his offense.
On the other hand, with that abundance of talent comes the challenge of trying to keep everyone happy.
"Yeah, that's just it," Pederson said. "There's just one ball, and that's just my opportunity to communicate that to players, and listen, if defenses come in here and want to take DeSean away, then you got two tight ends and two other receivers and running backs that you can kind of exploit and get touches to. So it all kind of gets predicated on how teams want to approach us and how to attack us. We won a championship without a [1,000]-yard receiver, 1,000-yard rusher. It can be done. You can move the ball around a little bit and still be successful."
During the Eagles' Super Bowl run, Pederson successfully kept all his players happy. Obviously, winning a lot of football games can have that effect. In 2018, with fewer mouths to feed and the team struggling at times, there were anonymous grumblings from one Eagles player, who reportedly thought there was too much Ertz. Add in that there have been additions to the roster from the outside who did not experience the Eagles' ball-sharing success of 2017, and Pederson has his work cut out for him in the ego-massaging department.
"You just have to sit down and say, listen, there's going to be times when you get either no targets, one target, you might get 10 targets," Pederson explained. "The bottom line is winning the game, and how are you helping us win the game? It just has to come through a lot of conversation and just making sure, even schematically on offense, that as we put game plans together, we keep all those guys in mind. We've got to because that's the beauty of where we are, having multiple weapons, so to speak, on offense."
Ultimately, the easiest way to keep players happy if they aren't getting the football as much as they'd like is, again, you know, to win games. However, if rocky moments occur during the season, one of Pederson's strengths as a head coach is his ability to communicate with — and relate to — his players, a stark contrast from the days of his predecessor. In that respect, Pederson is an ideal coach for the way the current roster is constructed.
Obviously, Pederson would far prefer the "problem" of having too many good players, than, say, having to start Dorial Green-Beckham. The important thing to note is that he is well aware of the challenges in keeping his players happy, isn't ignoring it, and seems to have a plan.
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