Eagles Wake-Up Call: Pederson Passes First Test
It was an unexpected sight, as the two men stood in the center of the room with dozens of onlookers.
Doug Pederson had just wrapped up his concluding thoughts in the locker room after the Eagles’ 29-10 win over the Browns. He singled out Carson Wentz, the rookie quarterback who — on this day — made Howie Roseman look like a genius. He singled out the offensive line, who protected the quarterback and — more often than not — gave Wentz plenty of time to deliver dimes. And finally, he singled out the defensive line for pressuring Robert Griffin III, who completed just 12 passes.
But Jeffrey Lurie, standing a few feet away from Pederson in the center of the circle, interrupted to correct the glaring omission of praise. The Eagles’ owner put his hands together as if he were calling a timeout, repeating: “One second.” An Eagles employee handed Lurie a commemorative football, which Lurie then passed onto to Pederson.
“Great people do great coaching jobs,” Lurie said. “This is a great person.”
Just a few minutes after Lurie exited the locker room and the media entered, however, the focus shifted back from Pederson to Wentz. The quarterback, as so often happens, overshadowed everyone else, including his head coach. But perhaps it shouldn’t have been that way.
The rookie signal caller looked “special,” according to his teammates, but the Eagles as a whole played surprisingly well, and Pederson turned in a sneakily good coaching performance. It was just one win against a bad Cleveland Browns team, and the Eagles have much to correct. But Pederson still pressed the right buttons as he became the first Eagles head coach to win his first home game since Dick Vermeil did so in 1976.
A plethora of question marks remain, but for at least a day, many of them were silenced.
“Coach Pederson went out there and he did his thing,” Jordan Matthews said. “The best thing about Coach Pederson is just his authenticity. He’s played the game and not only has he played the game, but he’s been in our shoes. And when I say ‘our shoes,’ he’s played in the city of Philadelphia. Playing in the city of Philadelphia — it’s not like any other sports state. When they’re playing football in here, it maximizes that much more. So he’s been in those trenches before.
“When I see him, it’s not even as much as I see a coach, it’s like ‘Yo Pops, I got you.’ That’s a blood brother right there, no different from those guys in the locker room. Sometimes Coach Pederson doesn’t even have to say much. We already feel that family vibe from him so we just really want to go out there and win for him. I feel like that’s his best asset. I felt like he called a great game.”
Early in the first quarter, Pederson put together a good game plan to move the pocket for Wentz and to give the 23-year-old easy throws to complete. Wentz connected on a few early passes to the flat in the first drive, which helped build his confidence, he said after the game.
Later, Pederson made a call that completely changed the contest. With 7:04 remaining in the third quarter, the Eagles faced fourth-and-4 from the Browns’ 30-yard line. Instead of calling upon Sturgis — who missed a 46-yard field goal in the first quarter — or punting, Pederson left his offense on the field. Wentz connected with Zach Ertz for a five-yard gain, before he found Nelson Agholor for a 35-yard touchdown pass on the next play.
After Agholor’s trip to the end zone, the Eagles extended their lead from five points to 12, and the momentum completely belonged to them. According to the New York Times’ 4th Down Bot, win probability said Pederson made the right call to go for the first down before the conversion was successful.
“When you sit down and look at a lot of the math involved with the field position, the score, the time of the game, I mean, all the math just indicates that when you’re around that 30-yard line, you’re right on the cusp of a long field goal; if you miss it, they get the ball at the 48-ish,” Pederson said. “Even if you don’t get it, now your defense is still on the field around that 25-, 26-, 27-yard line if you don’t get it. And then if you do, man, that’s great. You’re rolling. And we were so fortunate, you know, Carson and Zach made a great play. So for me, it was just a great opportunity to just keep our drive going.”
Pederson wasn’t perfect, but he put his players in a position to be successful, and that’s all he could have done. Pederson’s progress could be completely wiped out if the Eagles’ fortunes change in Chicago on Monday night, but for now, his record as a head coach remains unblemished.
“It was great,” Pederson said. “It was great. Standing there holding the [American] flag and just kind of looking around the stadium and soaking everything in was a great feeling for me. To stand there and see the people — what a great crowd we had. And I was calm. Yeah, I had the internal butterflies like probably every coach and player in the National Football League has on any given game. It was calm. I was excited and I was ready to watch our guys perform.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
Check out our Open Thread from the Monday Night Football doubleheader.
“He is a special, special player. He didn’t play like a rookie today by any means.” Taking a look at why Carson Wentz played well Sunday afternoon.
Zach Ertz and Leodis McKelvin are week-to-week with separate injuries suffered during Sunday’s win, according to Doug Pederson.
Is it too early to make Wentz the next big thing in the NFL? What They’re Saying.
Check out some photos from Week 1 courtesy of Jeff Fusco.
It’s Doug Pederson’s time, and he’s fine with using a good amount of it.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Carson Wentz wasn’t just good, he was historically good, says CSN Philly’s Reuben Frank.
• Wentz became only the fourth NFL quarterback since 1960 and only the second in the last 30 years to throw for 250 yards with two or more touchdowns and no interceptions on opening day of his rookie year. The only other quarterback who’s done that on opening day in the last 30 years was Wentz’s opponent Sunday, Robert Griffin III. On opening day 2012, RG3 threw for 320 yards with two TDs and no INTs. The only other quarterbacks since 1960 with 250 yards, two TDs and no interceptions in their NFL debut on opening day of their rookie year are two Hall of Famers — Jim Kelly of the Bills in 1986 (292, 3-0 vs. the Jets) and Fran Tarkenton of the Vikings in 1961 (250, 4-0 vs. the Bears).
• Wentz is just one game into his career, but only five Eagles quarterbacks since 1960 have had more career games with 275 yards, two TDs and no interceptions: Donovan McNabb had 16, Randall Cunningham and Michael Vick had six each and Nick Foles and Ron Jaworski had four apiece.
• Donovan McNabb didn’t have a game with 250 passing yards, two TDs and no interceptions until his 27th NFL game. It was also against the Browns. Wentz did it in his first game.
Doug Pederson said Wentz’s decision making was tremendous, writes Les Bowen of the Daily News.
Wentz, the rookie with only 23 college starts, at the FCS level, the guy who played in only one preseason game, a month earlier, consistently processed what he was seeing and made plays Sunday. He never looked confused or uncertain. He missed some throws, might have flubbed a protection call or two, but that happens with nearly every quarterback, every game. More than anything else, Wentz seemed really comfortable quarterbacking the Eagles to the widest margin of victory any team achieved in Week 1.
To another question, about whether Wentz hung in through pass-rush pressure better than anyone could have predicted, Pederson said:
“I tell you, obviously, watching the tape this morning . . . for him to have that kind of poise in the pocket for his first start, and really only having about four series throughout the entire (preseason), you just can’t teach that. And the patience that he had to let receivers come open.
“I remember that one third-down play, he hit Jordan [Matthews] on a backside dagger route, just hung in there, hung in there, and it was a nice, tight-window throw. Those are the things you see from more veteran-type quarterbacks, where young guys tend to want to scramble in those situations.
“But the poise was tremendous, and that’s just who he is.”
We’ll have more from the Eagles’ opening win.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.