July 17, 2017
Doug Pederson did not make scared decisions in his first season as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, unlike his predecessor, who some referred to as 'Big Balls Chip' Kelly.
Last season, 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.
The reality in the NFL is that teams should go for it on fourth down more than they do, according to the percentages. But more often than not, NFL head coaches lean absurdly too far to the conservative side. Fans have even adopted the conservative approach, as one of the common criticisms of Pederson during his rookie season as a head coach was that he was too aggressive on fourth down.
If you're among the criticizers of Pederson's approach to fourth down, it's probably not going to change. And actually, Pederson may be even more aggressive on fourth down in 2017.
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.
"I just know there are areas of the field based on analytics and some of the things that come up that maybe going into this year, without giving out a lot of information, where you might go for it in those situations," he said. "So those are all things if we get into these preseason games – and really you can try some things in preseason a little bit without getting crazy, but there are some based on the analytics out there that there are some areas of the field that are interesting, that you can actually decide to go for it.”
I was curious to see if I agreed with Pederson's assertion that they were right to go for it every time that they did a season ago, so I went back and looked at all of Pederson's fourth down attempts:
1) Week 1: 4th and 4 from the Browns’ 40-yard line, Eagles leading 15-10
Wentz finds Ertz over the middle for 5 yards and a first down. Next play: 35-yard TD pass from Wentz to Agholor.
#JimmySays: This was a situation where the Eagles were in sort of that no-man's land juuuust outside field goal range, but where you're likely not going to get a whole lot of net yards by punting. So many teams make the infuriatingly wrong decision to punt here. Not Pederson. He converted, and was rewarded with a score.
Week 2: 4th and 2 from the Bears’ 28-yard line, Eagles’ opening drive, no score.
Wentz finds DGB for a nine-yard completion and a first down. Eagles drive eventually stalls and they settle for a 25-yard chip shot field goal.
#JimmySays: The Eagles were moving the ball efficiently on this drive, so Pederson rolled the dice a bit that they could convert despite being in field goal range. Personally, I like the aggressiveness.
Week 2: 4th and Goal at the Bears’ 1-yard line, Eagles leading 22-7, 10:36 left in the game.
Ryan Mathews rushes wide left for an easy TD.
#JimmySays: Up 15 already, if you kick an easy FG here, you're up three scores in the fourth quarter. I'd have taken the three here.
Week 2: 4th and 6 at the Bears’ 26-yard line, Eagles leading 29-7, 2:13 left in the game.
Wentz finds Matthews for seven yards and a first down. The Eagles then run out the rest of the clock.
#JimmySays: Sure, whatever. The game by this point was out of reach, and Pederson didn't want the Bears to get the ball back. Get the first down, kneel on it, and head home.
Week 7: 4th and 2 at the Vikings’ 44-yard line, 1:21 left in the first half, Eagles leading 8-3.
Wentz takes it himself for a 6-yard rush and a first down. As a result, the Eagles kick a 35-yard field goal as time expires in the first half.
#JimmySays: Ballsy call, and I love it. If you don't convert, you give the Vikings a chance to score going the other way before the end of the first half. But if you do, you're likely going to get at least a field goal, which the Eagles did. Does anyone really even remember this call? Most probably don't, and there's a reason why. There's no doubt Pederson would have been criticized had he not converted here, but because he did... crickets. Observers tend to only remember the calls that go wrong.
Week 9: 4th and 2 from the Giants’ 23-yard line, 15:00 left in the second quarter, Eagles trailing 14-3.
Wentz takes it himself, but is thrown for a four-yard loss. Turnover on downs instead of a 40-yard field goal attempt.
#JimmySays: This play call was bad, but I have no problem with trying to be aggressive down 11 points.
Week 9: 4th and 1 from the Giants’ 6-yard line, 3:55 left in the second quarter, Eagles trailing 21-10.
Sproles tries the right side, but is tackled for no gain. Turnover on downs instead of a 23-yard field goal attempt.
#JimmySays: At the six-yard line with a yard to go down 11? In my view, this is a no-brainer call to go for it. Get 7, not 3. In this case, the Eagles did not convert, so Pederson was roundly criticized.
Week 9: 4th and 9 from the Giants’ 46-yard line, 6:12 left in the game, Eagles trailing 28-20.
Wentz finds Matthews for 25 yards and first down. The drive eventually stalls, with Caleb Sturgis hitting a 38-yard field goal.
#JimmySays: This was not a no-brainer call, especially needing nine yards. I might have punted here, but Pederson went the aggressive route and converted.
Week 9: 4th and 10 from the Giants’ 17-yard line, 1:28 left in the game, Eagles trailing 28-23.
In a no-brainer “go for it” situation, Wentz misfires on a fade route to Matthews, essentially ending the game.
#JimmySays: The Eagles didn't have any timeouts left and three points did them no good. No-brainer decision.
Week 10: 4th and 1 from the Falcons’ 48-yard line, 8 seconds left in the half, Eagles leading 7-6.
Trying one more play to get into field goal range, Wentz throws incomplete to Agholor. The Falcons then had one play to try a Hail Mary, which failed.
#JimmySays: This was another interesting call. With 8 seconds left, if you convert, you have a chance at a long field goal before the end of the half. If you don't, there's only enough time for your opponent to try a Hail Mary. I would go for this every time unless I already had a big lead.
Week 11: 4th and 3 from the Seahawks’ 41-yard line, 10:42 left in the game, Eagles trailing 26-7.
Wentz pass to Ertz falls incomplete.
#JimmySays: Down by 19 with under 11 minutes to go, Pederson made the obvious decision to go for it here.
Week 11: 4th and 3 from the Seahawks’ 17-yard line, 4:36 left in the game, Eagles trailing 26-7.
Wentz to DGB for 8 yards and a first down. The Eagles score a TD two plays later.
#JimmySays: Again, the obvious call based on the score and the time remaining.
Week 11: 4th and 10 from the 50-yard line, 1:52 left in the game, Eagles trailing 26-15.
In desperation mode, the Eagles go for it on 4th and 10, and Wentz’s pass to Matthews falls incomplete, essentially ending the game.
#JimmySays: One last time, the obvious call based on the score and the time remaining.
Week 12: 4th and 29 from the Eagles’ 18-yard line, 1:05 left in the game, Eagles trailing 27-13.
Wentz throws complete to Sproles, who gains 14 yards, short of the first down, ending the game.
#JimmySays: The next week, again in desperation mode, obvious decision.
Week 13: 4th and 5 from the Bengals’ 13-yard line, 2:30 left in the third quarter, Eagles trailing 29-0.
Eagles convert with a Wentz TD pass to Ertz.
#JimmySays: Some might kick the field goal here just to get on the board, which is beyond stupid. Pederson makes the obvious decision to go for it, and the Eagles scored.
Week 13: 4th and 1 from the Bengals’ 26-yard line, 9:21 left in the game, Eagles trailing 29-7.
Wentz throws complete to Agholor for 8 yards and a first down, eventually leading to another fourth down decision…
#JimmySays: Down 22 with nine minutes to go, again, another easy call.
Week 13: 4th and 5 from the Bengals’ 13-yard line, 7:46 left in the game, Eagles trailing 29-7.
Wentz again finds Agholor for 8 yards and a first down. Sproles rushes for a two yard TD two plays later.
#JimmySays: Again, some coaches might kick the field goal here, which would be absurdly dumb. Pederson went for it and got 7 instead of 3.
Week 13: 4th and 3 from the Bengals’ 31-yard line, 4:03 left in the game, Eagles trailing 29-14.
Vontaze Burfict picks off Wentz on a great play.
#JimmySays: Score and time remaining dictated that Pederson go for it here.
Week 13: 4th and 3 from the Bengals’ 24-yard line, 0:26 left in the game, Eagles trailing 32-14.
Wentz misses Burton. The Bengals kneel on it once and the game is over.
#JimmySays: With the game sealed in "who cares" mode, the Eagles go for it and don't convert.
Week 14: 4th and 2 from the Redskins’ 37-yard line, 5:04 left in the third quarter, Eagles trailing 14-13.
Wentz finds Ertz for 8 yards and a first down. Drive eventually stalls with an aborted field goal attempt, noted next.
#JimmySays: Long snapper Jon Dorenbos had gotten hurt earlier in the game, so the Eagles weren't going to attempt a 54-yard field goal with him out. I would have gone for this anyway, even with Dorenbos out.
Week 14: 4th and 13 from the Redskins’ 32-yard line, 3:29 left in the third quarter, Eagles trailing 14-13.
Eagles try a field goal, but a bad snap from Brent Celek leads to an aborted field goal attempt.
#JimmySays: Obviously, the intent here was not to go for it, but it counts as a missed 4th down attempt in the stat sheet.
Week 14: 4th and 1 from the Redskins’ 34-yard line, 7:27 left in the game, Eagles trailing 21-19.
Wentz picks up a first down on a rush. The Eagles later convert on a more manageable 41-yard attempt.
#JimmySays: Opting to go for it instead of attempting a 51-yard field goal with a backup long snapper, Pederson makes the correct call again. And again, I would go for it here even if Dorenbos hadn't gotten hurt.
Week 15: 4th and 1 from the Ravens’ 34-yard line, 4:54 left in the second quarter, Eagles trailing 13-11.
Wentz finds Ertz for 8 yards. Eagles eventually settle for an easier 34-yard field goal attempt which is good.
#JimmySays: It's one yard. Go for it instead of trying a difficult 51-yard field goal. Right call.
Week 15: 4th and 3 from the Ravens’ 39-yard line, 8:05 left in the third quarter, Eagles trailing 20-14.
Wentz throws incomplete to Burton. Ravens proceed to go 3-and-out.
#JimmySays: At the 39-yard line, again, you're in no-man's land. Pederson correctly opts not to punt.
Week 15: 4th and 2 from the Ravens’ 34-yard line, 7:49 left in the game, Eagles trailing 27-17.
Eagles try an end-around to Agholor, who has a clear path to a first down but runs out of bounds short of the sticks for a gain of 1.
#JimmySays: Again, correct call, especially down two scores, and the players were in a position with a good play call to convert, but Agholor did not execute.
Week 16: 4th and Goal from the Giants’ 1-yard line, 1:18 left in the third quarter, Eagles leading 21-16.
Eagles try Mathews up the middle, but he’s stuffed for a 1-yard loss.
#JimmySays: There aren't many scenarios where I wouldn't go for it on 4th and Goal inside the 1.
Week 17: 4th and 9 from the Cowboys’ 34-yard line, 5:57 left in the first half, Eagles trailing 10-3.
Wentz pass falls incomplete to Trey Burton.
#JimmySays: In a game of meaning, I'd attempt a field goal here on 4th and 9 instead of going for it. But with the season over, what the hell.
So, in conclusion, I'm personally on board with about 95 percent of the fourth down calls in which Pederson went for it last season. Pederson's aggression on fourth down a season ago should be applauded, not knocked.
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