Eagles Wake-Up Call: Doug Pederson Isn’t Going To Stop Being Aggressive On Fourth Down
It’s safe to say Doug Pederson’s honeymoon phase with the Philadelphia fan-base is over.
After getting off to an impressive 3-0 start, the Eagles are now sitting at 4-4 overall with an 0-3 record in NFC East games. The Birds haven’t been able to win a close game all season; they’re 0-4 in contests decide by less than 10 points.
Pederson’s decision-making, which was an issue against the Cowboys last week, continues to be drawn into question as the Eagles continue to struggle. Some will argue it was his fault the Eagles lost to New York Giants on Sunday by a final score of 28-23.
It’s very simple to suggest the Eagles would be 5-3 right now if they had just elected to attempt field goals on their first two fourth down attempts of the game. Caleb Sturgis has been kicking well all season and the Eagles were well within comfortable field goal range. Six points ended up being the difference with a win and a loss.
Pederson explained his thought process behind going for the first downs.
“Because I really felt good about how we were moving the football,” said the Eagles’ head coach. “Just my decision again to stay aggressive on the field and stay aggressive with our team. Again, it just came down to the way we were operating at that time.”
Prior to Sunday’s game, the Eagles converted all five of their five fourth down attempts this season. All of Pederson’s previous attempts at being aggressive had worked, so he entered the game with confidence it could work again. Unfortunately for him, he was wrong.
The feeling is Pederson’s decision-making wasn’t truly awful. It’s easy to say in hindsight the Eagles should have kicked the ball in those situations, but one needs to consider the context of those fourth down attempts. The Eagles were down 14-3 on the first one and 21-10 on the second one. Given the way the Eagles’ defense was struggling following a bad start from the offense, there was pressure on the Birds to put up points.
“My belief and my feeling is, I felt, again, going back to the way our offense was actually operating at the time, first five plays of the game and we’re down 14 to nothing, and we have two turnovers … but I still have a lot of confidence in this group,” said Pederson. “You know, I think if we do a little better to start the game, we’re not in this situation at the end of the game, personally. I’m going to continue to stay aggressive that way, trust in the guys, and let our guys play.”
Assigning a majority of the blame to Pederson just isn’t fair. The truth is the Eagles got off to a horrendous start when Carson Wentz simply sailed two passes high and was intercepted twice. Wentz rebounded after a poor start, yes, but those picks set the tone early and forced the Eagles to play from behind the whole game. It certainly didn’t help that Philadelphia’s defense blew several coverages to allow for wide open Giants touchdowns. Those mistakes don’t belong on Pederson.
That’s not to say Pederson is totally blameless in this loss. While the feeling here is his decisions to be aggressive weren’t bad, his play-calling on the first fourth down attempt was inadvisable. Relying on Wentz to pick up a first down with his legs on a run to the outside just didn’t seem like a good plan. Wentz hasn’t shown the kind of mobility where he’s a great option to make that play.
Despite being grilled about his aggressive tendencies multiple times, Pederson did not move off his stance.
“This is my job,” said Pederson. “This is the National Football League. I trust in our team. I trust in my guys. I trust that locker room right now. And they’re hurting. I’m hurting. There’s a fine line, obviously, between being kind of crazy — borderline crazy — and doing the right thing. But at the same time, I felt like at the time it was the right thing to do. It was momentum. It was an opportunity the way we were playing and moving the ball to really show confidence in our offense.
Pederson also made it clear he doesn’t plan on changing his mentality moving forward.
“I think I’ll stay aggressive,” he said. “I think I have to. I think, again, there’s opportunities there to be had and plays to be made. And these are all part … again, this is part of our growth process on offense. Rookie quarterback, young receivers, got a veteran offensive line. So at the same time, we’re trying to build this thing, we’re trying to do it right. By putting them in these situations, they’re going to be better for this. They’re going to be better down the stretch. Somewhere, it’s going to pay off for us. It’s going to pay off for all of us. So I’m going to continue to be as aggressive as I can and try to send a message to our football team that way.”
To say Pederson has done a poor job of coaching his team this year would be untrue. The Birds haven’t gotten blown out in a single game. They still have the third best point differential in the NFL despite having four losses. It’s clear that a lack of talent is hurting this team, especially on offense.
Again, Pederson isn’t without blame. Despite signals that the Eagles might be better than their record indicates, they’re ultimately 4-4. Some of Pederson’s decisions have contributed to being the difference in close losses this year. There’s certainly room for the rookie head coach to grow.
“Right now, the feeling is obviously very disappointing,” said Pederson. “We feel like we’ve had an opportunity in a couple of these ball games to pull them out. It’s still a lot of season left, obviously. I felt like we’re learning. We’re kind of working through a lot of things. We’ve got some young guys on offensive obviously and we’re working through and we’re learning how to execute and finish and do all the things we need to do to win these games.”
“I could sit up here and say, hey, it’d be great to be 6-2 or 5-3 but we’re not. We’re 4-4 and a lot of football left, but this is a good football team and I believe in these guys. We come to work for another game next week.”
With eight games remaining, the Eagles rank dead last in the NFC East and it seems unlikely they’ll be able to win the division. Philadelphia’s playoff hopes rely on securing a wild card spot, and that won’t be easy to secure with some tough games coming up on the schedule. Pederson faces an up-hill battle as this Eagles team tries to dig itself out of a hole.
WHAT YOU MISSED
Nine things we learned from yesterday’s 28-23 loss to the New York Giants.
Instant Observations from the must-win game, including Carson Wentz‘s poor start and the reemergence of Zach Ertz.
Take a look at some of the highlights from Sunday’s NFC East meeting.
Bennie Logan and Taylor Hart were inactive once again due to injuries.
How did this week’s picks against the odds fair out?
Three important statistics that mattered before Sunday’s game with the Giants.
Allen Barbre and Kamu Grugier-Hill were also out for Sunday’s game.
“He has the arm to make all the throws, so it’s time to let it loose.” One national writer urged the Eagles and Wentz to start going deep more often.
Sidney Jones was one of three college football players to keep an eye out for during this weekend’s games.
Check out our game predictions, including whether or not we thought Wentz would have a passer rating close to 100.
We spoke to James Kratch of NJ Advance Media to give us a preview of what to expect from the Giants.
Bryce Treggs made his NFL debut yesterday against the Giants.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Wide receiver Jordan Matthews blamed himself for missing a game-winning touchdown grab late in the game on fourth down, writes Andrew Kulp of CSNPhilly.com.
While Matthews insists this was a play that he needed to make, it was by no means as it easy as it might sound. The third-year wide receiver didn’t appear to immediately pick up the ball when it was in the air. Then the throw was ever-so-slightly out of reach, making for a high degree of difficulty with a defender in hot pursuit.
Regardless of whether or not the toss by Wentz was perfect, Matthews took full responsibility for not coming up with it.
“It’s on me,” Matthews said. “We’re not going to get into all of that. If it’s fourth down and the game is on the line and 11 picks me, I have to go get the ball. That’s always been my mindset and that’s the way I feel.
“He hits me on those plays all the time. He actually hit me on that pass earlier in the game too, so 11 knows where to put the ball. I just have to go find it.”
After a poor start to the game, the defense came clutch when they were needed, but as Matt Breen of the Inquirer writes, the offense wasted their outstanding finish.
The Eagles needed a stop late in the fourth quarter to give Wentz a chance at a winning drive. It was third and 4 for the Giants and Jordan Hicks assumed a run was coming. The Giants would want the Eagles to use their final timeout, the linebacker figured.
It instead was a pass and [Eli] Manning‘s throw was tipped by Connor Barwin at the line of scrimmage. Hicks dove and corralled the ball before it could touch the turf. The Eagles had the ball and the chance to score. Another Miracle in the Meadowlands seemed to be brewing. The offense instead stalled, the game was over and a defense’s last stand was wasted.
“It is what it is,” Hicks said. “It’s frustrating, obviously. You can point at a lot of different areas to why we didn’t win the game. It’s not one play. We had an opportunity to win, but we came up short.”
Doug Pederson will speak with the media around noon.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.