Eagles Wake-Up Call: Fourth-Down Success
Leading by a score of 22-7 early in the fourth quarter in Chicago, Doug Pederson — as he’s prone to do — didn’t hesitate to go for it on fourth down. The Eagles needed two yards to score a touchdown, and once the Bears jumped offsides after a seemingly failed first attempt, they needed just one yard to reach the end zone.
“My thought there, fourth-and-goal at the 1, if we don’t get it they’re at the 1-yard line, they’ve got to go 99 yards,” Pederson said. “And if we score, we can separate ourselves even more.”
The Eagles did score on that play en route to a 29-14 win over the Bears on a Ryan Mathews run. They also continued their unblemished record in fourth-down conversions, as they are the only team in the NFL who has more than two successful attempts without any failures. The Eagles are 4-for-4, and they’ve twice turned those drive extensions into touchdowns.
After the other two conversions, they ran down the clock to end the game against the Bears, and they turned a potential 46-yard field goal attempt into a 25-yard successful field goal in their first drive in Chicago.
“It definitely shows confidence in the team,” Pederson said. “Last night when we did, especially that fourth-and-goal, the guys were fired up. Number one, we went for it, and number two, we scored. Defensively, those guys were jacked up on the sideline. They were excited. It just gives your team an advantage, I think, when you can execute those plays.
“And if you do it in a timely fashion and in a calculated manner, it doesn’t necessarily hurt your defense if they have to go back out on the field, because field position is pretty neutral at that time. So, yeah, the confidence level in the guys, it’s the trust I have in them, and the execution is something that’s obviously top notch in those situations, too.”
According to Pederson, the calculation determining whether or not he’ll go for it involves both numbers and “feel.” The Eagles have an analytics team that looks at not just their own fourth-down situations, but what happens on fourth down across the league as well.
“Sometimes it is a feel thing. It depends on how your team is playing. That’s just a gut feeling that you have as a play-caller,” Pederson said. “The other thing, when you’re talking about math, you’re looking at where you are on the field. The actual distance of the line to gain at that time. Does a punt versus a field goal help you in those situations? So you’re trying to do a quick little calculation on all of that to make those decisions. And I felt that last night all of those boxes were checked in order for us to go for it on fourth [down].”
Having a stout defense which allows just one touchdown per game makes the decision easier on Pederson, but the impressive early play from Carson Wentz also contributes to the head coach’s aggressiveness. Pederson said after the Eagles’ win in Chicago that his rookie quarterback is playing like a 10-year veteran, and yesterday, he explained how he’s never been around a rookie quarterback who acts like 23-year-old does.
Wentz has an advantage, according to Pederson, because he’s “constantly playing the game in his mind,” which gives him an edge in understanding the situations he faces on the field. Wentz also constantly talks to Pederson, Frank Reich and Chase Daniel on the sideline.
“It’s the fact that he’s having (those conversations),” Pederson said. “You don’t see that all the time. And number two is the depth and just the actual gameplan specific things that he’s seeing out there on the field. What he’s hearing out on the field and coming to us and recommending. He’s asking me all the time, what are you thinking on the next series?”
Because of Wentz, Pederson is often thinking three words: Go for it.
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WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
The wide receivers, specifically Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor, have to start catching big passes very soon, opines Mike Sielski of the Inquirer.
It’s one thing to drop a five-yard out on third and 20. It’s another to let a potential touchdown in a close game slip through your hands. Matthews dropped 11 passes through his first two seasons with the Eagles, according to SportingCharts. And Agholor had a particularly memorable and costly drop last season, when he couldn’t hang on to a potential 28-yard score in the 38-24 loss to the Redskins that eliminated the Eagles from postseason contention.
“They just continue to work every day,” coach Doug Pederson said Tuesday. “Sometimes things like that happen. I mean, they know. They understand it. They’re professionals, and they pride themselves obviously on catching the football, and you could tell last night that they were mad at themselves. You are right. Those are big plays.
“I’m not going to stop calling plays to them because they’re explosive guys for us. We’ve just got to continue to work.”
There wasn’t much else for Pederson to say. As a team, the Eagles led the NFL last season in drops (37) and drop rate (6.0), per SportingCharts. Their collective case of butterfingers has been a problem for a while, but there isn’t much Pederson or any coach can do to help Matthews, Agholor, and the rest of the Eagles’ receivers fix it, save for trying to keep their confidence up.
Add Brett Favre to the list of Carson Wentz fans, writes Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com.
“Pretty impressed,” Favre said Tuesday on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “I thought he handled himself the last two weeks with a lot of poise. … He (and not Jay Cutler) looked like the 10-year veteran.
“I think Philly is still without committing a turnover. And going into Chicago, whether Chicago is playing great or not so great, is a tough place to play, especially for a young kid. But I thought he handled himself extremely well. I’m impressed with him. “
Doug Pederson and Favre were together for seven years with the Packers — 1996 through 1998 and again 2001 through 2004 — and they have remained friends since.
“I’m a little biased to Doug because he and I are really good friends and we go way back,” Favre said. “He was a teammate and a great friend of mine for a long time and still is, so I am a little biased, but I have to admit, the play-calling and design — and [Jon] Gruden touched on that last night — I thought was really good and it also fit what Carson does well.”
Doug Pederson will address the media at 10:30.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.