Why Doug Pederson Is ‘Perfect’ For the Eagles

Plus: Where does Carson Wentz rank in the MVP race?

Doug Pederson. (Jeff Fusco)

Doug Pederson. (Jeff Fusco)

Here’s this week’s installment of Weekend Reading as the Eagles prepare to play the Lions tomorrow:

The MMQB’s Andy Benoit has some film study notes for the Eagles-Lions game.

Eagles: It’s only a matter of time before receiver Dorial Green-Beckham assumes a major role. In Week 3 against Pittsburgh, he was used essentially as a flex tight end on the weak side opposite trips. This is the most popular formation in today’s NFL, and one that Doug Pederson particularly loves. Its potency depends on how well that weak side receiver performs.

Lions: If Ziggy Ansah remains out, the Lions will struggle. They’re not a high-percentage blitz defense, and without Ansah, they have no pass rushers who scare you. (Though granted, we may soon need to take a closer look at Kerry Hyder’s merits. He’s been playing very well.)

Pete Prisco of CBS Sports also has a couple of notes on the game after watching film.

When the Eagles signed Rams safety Rodney McLeod, it wasn’t a move that got a lot of national buzz. But he’s been a heck of a pickup for the Eagles. He has really improved the coverage on the back end, teaming with Malcolm Jenkins to give them a nice 1-2 safety combo. Both can play up near the line or in the deep middle. That gives coordinator Jim Schwartz a lot of versatility on the back end.

The Lions have major issues running the football. The middle of the line is a big reason why. They expected to be strong up the middle, but guards Laken Tomlinson and Larry Warford, as well as center Travis Swanson, haven’t been getting great push in the middle. Tomlinson, a 2015 first-round pick, has really disappointed in the run game. Take a first-down run from last week’s game. It was a run to the left with Theo Riddick, but Tomlinson couldn’t handle Mitch Unrein in the hole, and forced Riddick to bounce. That led to a hold on left tackle Taylor Decker. The Lions are 22nd in rushing yards. The power of the middle just hasn’t worked out, with Swanson being the best of the three so far.

Doug Pederson is perfect for the Eagles because of his personality, writes NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo.

It’s no secret the players didn’t have warm, fuzzy feelings for Pederson’s predecessor, Chip Kelly. So in came Pederson, who spent 10 seasons as a quarterback with the Dolphins, Packers, Eagles and Browns, and whose interactions with Daniel (whom he’d coached in Kansas City) were as cordial as if they were teammates. Players noticed that. They also noticed how Pederson allowed long snapper Jon Dorenbos to appear on the TV show “America’s Got Talent” into the season after Kelly had bristled when players missed optional workouts. They saw how Pederson would sit with them at lunch and elsewhere, how he’d joke with them on the field and how relaxed he made them.

“Sometimes I’ll just walk by him and say, ‘What’s up, Doug?’ and I’ll stop and think, ‘Did I just call my coach by his first name?’ ” wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. “I’ve never done that before.”

None of this is to say Kelly’s approach was the wrong one, or that coaches should be less like authority figures and more like friends. It’s just that, for the Eagles right now, Pederson’s personality was the one they needed. He’s going for it on fourth-and-4 from the Browns’ 40, knowing Cleveland’s defense would be coming hard after his rookie quarterback.

The Eagles are the most surprising undefeated team to start the season, says Sports Illustrated’s Jacob Feldman.

There are many similarities between this year’s trio of unbeaten squads. Minnesota, Denver and Philadelphia have all relied on new quarterbacks, and Sam Bradford, Trevor Siemian and Carson Wentz have delivered for their respective teams. But the biggest reason for their combined 11–0 start (Eagles had a Week 4 bye) is defense. The Vikings and Broncos rank second and fifth in points allowed, while the Eagles are No. 1, which is why they earn the nod for biggest surprise of the bunch.

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has looked like the team’s most important coaching hire by unleashing a talented unit to the tune of the second-highest sack rate in the league (behind Denver) and the third stingiest rushing defense thus far in his first year with the team. The season-opening duo of Cleveland and Chicago might not a gauntlet make, but the Eagles limited the Steelers, who have averaged 35 points in their other three matchups, to just a field goal in a 34–3 stunner, and Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted metrics have Philly as the second best defense (after Seattle).

Carson Wentz ranks seventh in the MVP race, according to NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling.

Playing in a hybrid college-pro system reminiscent of the one used to incubate Robert Griffin III in a historically great 2012 rookie season with Washington, Wentz was the talk of the league in September. While it’s worth noting that he has yet to be tested against a quality NFL secondary, he has checked the requisite boxes through three pro starts: He has the ability to throw with power as well as touch, high-end athleticism to make plays on the move and pocket toughness to stand in against pressure, and he can also audible to the run in advantageous situations and recognize the blitz to hit his hot read.

Give Doug Pederson’s coaching staff credit. Since the preseason opener, in which Wentz went down with a rib injury that cost him the rest of the preseason, his delivery has been shortened and his footwork streamlined to produce more accurate throws and more consistent results. It’s not unusual for talented but inexperienced quarterbacks to mix highlight-reel plays with mind-numbing miscues. What makes Wentz special is that he has generated the big plays without committing the drive-killing errors. He became the first rookie in NFL history — joined later by Dallas’ Dak Prescott — to not throw an interception in his first 100 career pass attempts. Needless to say, the last-minute Bradford trade has been a win-win deal for the Vikings and Eagles.

ESPN’s Dan Graziano looks at why Wentz is thriving while Jared Goff is on the bench.

First of all, the system in which Goff played his college ball at Cal was not as close to a pro-style system as the one Wentz ran at North Dakota State. And the circumstances of the Rams’ 2016 offense are more complex than the ones in which Wentz landed 3,000 miles farther East.

“I’m happy for young quarterbacks when they have success, but we have our own sense of timing here with him,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said in a news conference last week. “The quarterbacks are having success because of injuries. As I mentioned last week, had we not had the injuries that we did in the league, probably all four of those quarterbacks either would be inactive or backups.”

This offseason, the Rams hired Mike Groh and gave him the title of passing game coordinator. They retained their offensive coordinator, Rob Boras. They also hired Chris Weinke as their new quarterbacks coach. The result of that coaching cocktail is not only a lot of voices in the room and in Goff’s head but also a complicated mixture of an offense that’s trying to blend what the Rams were doing under Fisher with some of the principles Groh learned while working under Adam Gase in Chicago the past couple of years.

The Eagles have the 27th-best fans in the NFL, according to Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman.

Average attendance: 69,483

Twitter followers: 1.29 million-plus

So, first, let’s deal with the notorious story of Eagles fans booing Santa Claus. That’s not what really happened. The story is a little more complicated than that, but it’s become almost a symbol of the Eagles fan: nasty, can’t be satisfied, hostile.

Well, yeah, some of the fans are mean sumbitches. They booed Donovan McNabb into a coma when he was drafted. Some of the nastiest social media keyboard special forces warriors are Eagles fans. That anger, however, does create a tad of home-field intimidation.

The Eagles are the No. 1 team in position to make the playoffs among teams who missed the postseason last year, writes Jared Dubin of CBS Sports.

The Eagles currently lead the NFL in point differential (plus-65) despite having played fewer games than 30 of the 31 other teams. They are the only team in the NFL that ranks in the top-five in DVOA in both sides of the ball. They have looked utterly dominant in their three games.

All that said, two of those three games were against the Browns and Bears, and this is still the same team that looked like it was tanking coming into the season. They’re also the only team in the league that hasn’t really had anything go wrong yet. That’ll come at some point. We’ll see how they deal with it then.

Still, they still get the Lions and the Redskins the next two weeks before they get into the meatier part of their schedule (Vikings-Cowboys-Giants-Seahawks-Packers-Bengals might be one of the toughest six-game stretches anyone has all year long), giving them a decent chance at running their record to 5-0 before they’re seriously tested.