August 11, 2017
Prior to the start of the Chip Kelly era in Philadelphia, it was expected that 'Big Balls Chip' was going to be a riverboat gambler, often going for it on fourth down, and attempting two-point conversions at non-traditional junctures of games.
In Week 3 of his first season in Philly, Kelly went for two on a 'Swinging Gate' play against the Kansas City Chiefs, which should have succeeded with better execution, but failed. The failed two-point attempt occurred in the first quarter with the Eagles facing a 10-6 deficit, an out-of-the ordinary, though not necessarily a wrong time, to try for two. As a result, Kelly was roundly criticized by the media for going for two in an abnormal situation like that, and he never did it again.
Kelly's successor, Doug Pederson, has been far more willing than Kelly was to roll the dice on fourth down. As we noted a month ago, Pederson went for it on fourth down 27 times, most in the NFL. In fact, only two teams (the Texans with 23, and the Rams with 20) attempted to go for it 20 or more times in 2016. The 27 times Pederson went for it on fourth down matched the number of times Kelly went for it in 2014 and 2015, combined.
He may also be more willing to go for two-point conversions.
This offseason, Pederson met with analyst Ryan Paganetti along with Vice President of Football Operations and Strategy Alec Halaby to review Pederson's fourth down calls a season ago.
"The decision necessarily to go for it I felt like were all legit decisions to go, personally," said Pederson. "Whether we executed the play or not that’s another (story).
"But those were all situations that when you look at stuff like that I look at how our defense is performing, special teams, and really just how well are we executing on offense.”
Pederson said that the feedback that he received from Paganetti and Halaby was that he should have perhaps gone for it on fourth down even more than he did last season.
On the opening drive of the Eagles' first preseason game Thursday against the Green Bay Packers, Pederson went for it on 4th and 6 at the Packers' 42-yard line, and was rewarded with a score. After the touchdown, Pederson then went for two in a non-traditional scenario with a 6-0 lead. The try failed, due to a somewhat off-target throw from Carson Wentz and a drop by Nelson Agholor.
In his post game press conference, Pederson was asked if he would have gone for it on that fourth down situation, as well as the two-point conversion, if this were the regular season.
"I went for a couple 4th and 6's, 4th and 7's a year ago, so I don't rule it out, but at the same time, this is a good opportunity to really put it in the players' hands and let them execute a play," he said. "And I like to run the two-point conversion as well, after the touchdown. We failed on that."
"I have to continue to study (two-point conversions). There are numbers that say you do it early in games. (You also consider), how does the defense play in (goal line situations)? Obviously we're not game-planning teams right now, but how is a defense down at the two yard line? Is that their strength? (If so) you might want to kick more extra points. But I just felt going into this game that if we score early I would attempt a two point conversion."
On paper, there's reason to believe the Eagles could be a good team offensively around the goal line. They acquired a power back in LeGarrette Blount, they now have a big target at wide receiver in Alshon Jeffery, and Zach Ertz returns as one of the better receiving tight ends in the NFL.
If you believe that you can convert on two-point conversions at higher than a 50 percent clip, then it makes sense to go for two early in games, especially with the recent move of the PAT back to the 15 yard line, producing a slightly more difficult 33 yard attempt instead of a 20 yarder, which is a gimme.
The reason teams don't go for it on fourth down or on two-point conversions more is because outside ignoramuses jump all over the opportunity to criticize low hanging fruit, such as failed two-point conversions or missed 4th down attempts, while ignoring the gambles that are successful.
It will be interesting to see if Pederson can ignore the outside noise in one of the noisiest media markets (and fan bases) in all of sports, especially as a head coach who still has to prove himself in the NFL.
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