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November 19, 2020

John McMullen: Doug Pederson hopes to navigate troubled waters with steady hand

Opinion Eagles
Doug-Pederson-staff-092820_usat Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson on the sidelines against the Cincinnati Bengals.

NFL coaches can't afford to be emotional.

While you're venting by calling up the local sports-talk radio station or racing to social media to demand that everyone is fired less than three years after a Super Bowl win, win or lose on any particular game day, Doug Pederson and his staff have to forge ahead and try to steer the ship to calmer waters for the next one.

It’s why compartmentalization is a talking point with any coach and 16 one-game windows are the goal. At the end of that grind, hopefully, you’re good enough to get more opportunities.

Burning bridges with individual players or other staff members typically aren't productive ways to do any of that.

Pederson was clearly angry post-game after a 27-17 loss to the Giants, however.

A cooling-off period didn’t do much to help that cooling off until Monday when a "pissed-off" facade was replaced by a more jovial and sometimes combative Pederson, who was bent on turning the page to Cleveland, the start of a five-game stretch against potential playoff contenders that looks like the middle of the 1927 Yankees lineup, at least on paper.

Things move quickly in the NFL, though, and all of a sudden two of the opponents during that span already look less daunting as Seattle is simply not playing well and New Orleans may not have Drew Brees for its Dec. 13 visit to Philadelphia due to broken ribs and a punctured lung.

The tougher games are looming, though, and outsiders are chirping about play-calling and personnel as Pederson tries to keep a steady hand on the rudder with the understanding the Eagles still have the inside lane when it comes to the dismal NFC East, even with their 3-5-1 record.

"Listen, we’re still sitting here in a really good place in the NFC East," the coach explained. "I know it doesn’t look pretty. We understand that. But there’s still a lot of ball ahead of us, and there’s still, I think, a great opportunity for this football team moving forward.”

Those who watched our old friend Nick Foles and the Chicago Bears on Monday night now know that changing the play-caller with subpar personnel in Week 10 is more about shuffling deck chairs on The Titanic or playing Three-card Monte to obfuscate blame. As for lineup changes, if the coaches felt like they had a better alternative on a particular day that player would already be in the mix.

“I’ll take a look at things, and if there’s a chance to make a personnel change, or whatever it might be, I’ll take a look at that, but I just don’t want to make a change to change, right? There’s got to be a reason for the change,” said Pederson

Now in his fifth season as the head coach, after a year as a player and four as an assistant coach in prior stints with the Eagles, Pederson should understand how to play the game in Philadelphia and he made a mistake by claiming he felt good about his play-calling against the Giants despite the results in North Jersey, most notably an 0-for on third downs.

“I feel good about the plays that have been called," Pederson surmised. "I even looked at the game [against the Giants] and felt I was in rhythm. I’ve always looked at the game through the eyes of the quarterback, and how he views it, and how he sees it. I think it’s important that quarterback and play-caller are on the same page that way, and Carson [Wentz] and I had those conversations during the week and the day before the game, and [went] through a lot of different scenarios.”

The toothpaste was out of the tube when it came to the Giants performance, however.

“Look, not every game is going to be perfect,” he said. “There’s going to be mistakes made, and there’s going to be things that we’re going to have to overcome, and that’s part of our jobs.

“Nobody’s perfect. By no means am I perfect. I’m going to make a decision error, I’m going to make a play-calling error. But at the same time, hopefully I can do my job to put the offense in position to be successful.”

If James Carville was brought into the NovaCare Complex as another offensive consultant the famed political operative might say 'It's the personnel, stupid."

The Eagles need Zach Ertz back. They need Isaac Seumalo in the lineup, Alshon Jeffery ramped-up and yes, even Jason Peters playing over Jordan Mailata. They need Dallas Goedert playing like Dallas Goedert and Jalen Reagor looking like a first-round pick who isn't ready to kill anyone who mentions the name Justin Jefferson.

This isn't about 2021, at least not yet.

The only ones disagreeing with that sentiment are the card-carrying lemmings of the Hinkie army, drones who turned losing into a religion with a tagline and have tried to co-opt the worst aspect of competition into a brilliant strategy that crosses lines to different sports even though there is more than ample evidence tanking isn't needed in the NFL.

There are dozens of paths to success in this league even with offenses following the lead of society and marching toward groupthink.

Either way, all of the aforementioned paths, even the follow-the-leader ones, are built on the foundation of stacking good decisions up and down the organizational hierarchy.

From the Eagles' perspective, the first step should be to stop the haughtiness and the privileged thought process of assuming they're better than everyone else in the NFC East.

This isn't 2017.

If Miles Sanders was cleared by the doctors for Week 1 he should have played even if the opponent was the Washington Football Team. If Seumalo was good to go minus rust he should have been out there against the Giants.

Forget ramp-up vs. rust and buying time for the good teams, this is a competency vs. incompetency question and this particular Eagles team needs all hands on deck at all times.

Meanwhile, for those who want Pederson to step aside as the play-caller, conjure up Ricky Watters and ask "For who? For what?"

Do you want an unproven young coach like Press Taylor at the controls? Or perhaps a Rich Scangarello, who didn't exactly look like his mentor Kyle Shanahan during his one-and-done opportunity in Denver never mind Bill Walsh.

“I don’t want to get in a situation where it becomes a knee-jerk reaction for me or for the team,” Pederson said when discussing changes. “I have to sit back and I do have to evaluate everything."

That evaluation always lands in the same spot -- the steadiest hand usually wins.


John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media, the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey and also contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for SI.com. You can reach him here.

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Make sure you follow the JAKIB Media Partners YouTube page for your daily “FootballFix,” the Eagles podcast that became an institution in South Jersey as the No. 1 local drive time segment in the market.


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