July 21, 2020
There are few jobs in sports more symbiotic than the one between an NFL head coach and his starting quarterback.
No matter how great a head coach is, it's going to be difficult for him to overcome below-average quarterback play — just look at the list of QBs to win the Super Bowl in recent years, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a team who won in spite of that player. Even when the Eagles won with backup Nick Foles, it was the quarterback who led the way, albeit with some big adjustments from head coach Doug Pederson.
Similarly, a quarterback can often only be as good as the system in which he plays and the players he is surrounded by. Sure, a great passer can elevate those around them, but the worse the head coach, the lower the ceiling on that quarterback's potential. And the better the coach, and his system, the higher a quarterback's ceiling becomes. It's how Pederson was able to get Foles to play some of the best football of his entire life when the team needed him most after losing starter Carson Wentz.
Are there exceptions? Always. But if you want a good indicator of a team's success you don't need to look too much further than the head coach-QB combo. And for the last four seasons, as well as for the foreseeable future, the Eagles have a pretty good pair in those two critical leadership spots.
But how good is the Wentz-Pederson combo, especially compared to other duos around the NFL?
In a recent edition of What They're Saying, we took a look at John Stolnis' story for Bleeding Green Nation that set out to answer this specific question. And he came away with a Top 10 that looked something like this...
10. Ryan Tannehill/Mike Vrabel (Titans)
9. Aaron Rodgers/Matt LeFleur (Packers)
8. Jimmy Garoppolo/Kyle Shanahan (49ers)
7. Dak Prescott/Mike McCarthy (Cowboys)
6. Tom Brady/Bruce Arians (Bucs)
5. Carson Wentz/Doug Pederson (Eagles)
4. Russell Wilson/Pete Carroll (Seahawks)
3. Drew Brees/Sean Payton (Saints)
2. Lamar Jackson/John Harbaugh (Ravens)
1. Andy Reid/Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs)
And here's what he had to say about the Eagles' duo:
5. Doug Pederson/Carson Wentz
This is more a reflection of Pederson than Wentz, although Wentz has certainly proven he can play at an elite level when healthy. His final month last year, with no wide receivers to throw to, was stunning, and Pederson’s ability to massage his gameplans to meet whatever deficiencies the team has had at the skill positions has been remarkable. Hopefully some additional speed at wide receiver will allow these two to take things to the next level. [bleedinggreennation.com]
Remember that thing about quarterbacks elevating the players around them? And how head coaches can play a role in that by tailoring their schemes to fit the current roster? Well, as Stolnis noted, that was in full effect last season as the two helped lead a group of practice squad receivers into the playoffs. And the BGN writer wasn't alone in that belief.
On Monday, Jeff Kerr of CBS Sports released his rankings of the 10 best head coach-quarterback pairings, and while some of his placements were different, the Eagles wound up in the exact same spot. Here's a look at Kerr's Top 10...
10. Aaron Rodgers/Matt LaFleur (Packers)
9. Jared Goff/Sean McVay (Rams)
8. Ben Roethlisberger/Mike Tomlin (Steelers)
7. Deshaun Watson/Bill O'Brien (Texans)
6. Jimmy Garoppolo/Kyle Shanahan (49ers)
5. Carson Wentz/Doug Pederson (Eagles)
4. Lamar Jackson/John Harbaugh (Ravens)
3. Russell Wilson/Pete Carroll (Seahawks)
2. Drew Brees/Sean Payton (Saints)
1. Patrick Mahomes/Andy Reid (Chiefs)
The only thing the two apparently agree on is that Mahomes and Reid are the best combo — and that Wentz/Pederson are the fifth best. And sure enough, Kerr believes that it's the combination of a talented quarterback in Wentz and a fearless play caller in Pederson that makes the Eagles such a formidable opponent in the years to come. Here's some of what he had to say about the Philly duo...
5. Carson Wentz/Doug Pederson — Philadelphia Eagles
A Super Bowl title from Pederson catapults this duo, as many Wentz critics seem to forget the Eagles were 10-2 and leading the NFC East that season when Wentz went down in the third quarter of a Week 14 win over the Rams (Wentz threw his fourth TD pass of the game on the bad knee to give the Eagles the lead). Wentz was the front-runner for MVP when he went down, throwing a franchise record 33 TDs to 7 INTs (101.9 rating).
Wentz has been just as good since, even though he played the 2018 season with a knee that wasn't 100% recovered at the beginning of the year and a broken bone in his back the second half of the year. The Eagles quarterback has thrown 48 TDs to 14 INTs since his 2017 season, though the Eagles are just 14-13 in those starts.
Pederson deserves the credit there, creating ways to utilize Wentz's strengths by moving him outside the pocket -- even with the lack of talented receivers at his disposal. The Eagles played the final three regular season games last season with Deontay Burnett, Robert Davis and Greg Ward starting -- all on the practice squad earlier in 2019 -- and still won the NFC East. ...
There's no denying how well Pederson has performed in the playoffs, as his aggressive style of coaching has generated points (the Eagles averaged 31.3 points in the 2017 postseason and put up 41 against the Patriots in Super Bowl LII). Pederson is 4-2 in the postseason, as the Eagles have qualified three straight years. Philadelphia also set a league-record with 29 fourth down attempts in 2017, converting 20 of them (69%). ...
There's definitely an argument Wentz and Pederson could be lower based on the Nick Foles factor, but the Eagles' success is tied to those two. [cbssports.com]
The biggest takeaway from these rankings is that, like some sort of pigskin Captain Planet, both are made stronger when their powers combine.
For Pederson and Wentz to rank so high on this list, you'd have to think that one of the two was, on his own, ranked in the Top 5 (either coach or QB). As we've seen this offseason, that isn't necessarily the case.
We've already broken down at length previous rankings from another CBS Sports writer that had Pederson ranked as the ninth best coach, with much of the outrage over the fact that Sean McVay, who doesn't have a Super Bowl ring and has been bested by Pederson twice, was above the Eagles coach. And while that's obviously lower than he deserves, he still slots in somewhere around fifth. And earlier this month, ESPN ranked Wentz as the ninth best quarterback heading into the 2020 season.
[For what it's worth, on Monday, ESPN released their "NFL Future Power Rankings" and while the Eagles took a hit overall, Pederson and Wentz did very well for themselves. Both ranked sixth individually when looking at expectations over the next three seasons. We'll have more on those power rankings later.]
So what are we to make of the fact that when you combine the pair, the suddenly jump into the top five? Well, for starters, this is a different writer, and these rankings are purely subjective — don't worry, actual football will be starting soon enough and we can forget about all this silliness. But beyond that, it should be taken as a positive for Eagles fans, especially given the age and experience of both parties involved. Some of the other teams in these rankings are bolstered by a great coach, others by a great quarterback. So, while the Eagles might not have the No. 1 at either spot, they have two of the best in the game.
And as we've seen already on the field, especially in the case of the Eagles, that allows them to elevate one another to something creating, making the pair greater than the sum of its parts.
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