Doug Pederson Explains Questionable Decisions vs. Dallas

Pederson made several dubious decisions that hurt the Eagles' chances of beating the Cowboys.

Doug Pederson. (USA Today Sports)

Doug Pederson. (USA Today Sports)

ARLINGTON, TX — Up by 10 points with possession of the ball in the fourth quarter, the Eagles appeared to be in a great position to beat the Cowboys and pick up their first NFC East win of the season. But a series of questionable decisions by Doug Pederson and poor defensive play to close out the game led to Dallas scoring the final 16 points en route to a 29-23 win in overtime.

“It’s tough,” Pederson said. “This is going to be a great learning lesson for a lot of our young football players on this team, and really for everybody — coaches included, myself included. It’s hard to make those types of mistakes and especially to try to overcome them. It’s just disheartening but, at the same time, I think there’s going to be some great lessons learned.”

The Eagles’ first significant mistake in the fourth quarter came just two minutes into the final period when Wendell Smallwood fumbled on the first play of the Eagles’ drive. It was Smallwood’s first — and only — carry of the game, and it gave the Cowboys the ball at Philadelphia’s 36-yard-line. Dallas only picked up five yards on the ensuing series, but it was enough for a field goal to cut the deficit to seven points.

“It was the way the game was going at the time and it was a safe play, a safe run,” Pederson said. “We just had a couple of assignment issues in front. You’ve just got to learn to hang onto the ball in those situations and know it’s going to be tight running and running lanes and you’ve just to hang onto the ball.”

Pederson didn’t say he regretted giving the rookie his first carry in a crucial spot in the fourth quarter, but he did note he wished he gave Darren Sproles more touches. Sproles’ 86 rushing yards is the fourth-highest total of his career, and the most he’s accumlated since 2011.

“Darren was hot. Darren was having a great game and I think — take away — keep feeding him the ball,” Pederson said. “Keep giving him the ball as many times as you can, as many touches as you can. A guy like Darren, use his athleticism and make plays.”

Later in the fourth quarter, the Eagles faced third-and-8 up seven with 7:17 remaining in the game. Pederson called a swing pass to Sproles several yards behind the line of scrimmage, which resulted in a six-yard loss.

“The play [was] designed to get Sproles the ball out in space. The linebacker actually made a play on it,” Pederson said. “[It was] designed actually for that look, for that coverage. Give them credit. It knocked us out of field goal range at that time.”

Although the play did push the Eagles out of what Pederson deemed to be field goal range, an attempt would’ve been around 53 yards. Caleb Sturgis made a 55-yard field goal earlier in the game, and he hasn’t missed any of his 15 kicks since the opening game of the season.

According to the New York Times 4th Down Bot, the Eagles should’ve kicked the field goal to try to make the game a two-score contest. (The bot uses the results of hundreds or thousands of similar previous NFL plays to determine whether a team should punt the ball, go for a first down or kick the field goal based off of win probability.)

“The thing is, field position at that time was critical. He did kick the ball before half, which was an excellent kick with no time left on the clock,” Pederson said. “Had we executed a little bit better on the third down play, we would have been in a little bit better position to kick the field goal at that time. We just didn’t execute on the play before.”

Later in the game, when the score was tied at 23 with about 30 seconds left, Connor Barwin sacked Dak Prescott to put Dallas in a third-and-20 situation. Instead of calling timeouts to presumably stop the Cowboys on third down and force them to punt to one of the best returners in the NFL, Pederson allowed Dallas to run the clock out and take the game to overtime.

“I just felt at that time that we were better off because our defense again was playing extremely well and I had made up my mind up at that time to hopefully get us to into overtime,” Pederson said. “Hopefully win the coin toss, take the ball and be in a position to score, or put our defense out there who just came off a great drive and they were fired up to put them back out on the field, so it was my decision to do that.”

The Eagles’ defeat to Dallas was a true team loss, but it was also the first time Pederson looked like a rookie head coach this season. While the Birds still stand at 4-3 — a better record than many projected them to have at this point in the season — some different decisions could’ve led to a 5-2 record atop the NFC East.