There are plenty of people who will tell you – and believe me, I heard from them on Twitter – that you can’t take one decision in a close game and use it as the foundation upon which to blame an entire loss. A lot of things went wrong last night, and the Eagles, despite playing their worst game of the season, still had multiple blown chances to pry the game away from Seattle and left at least 10 points on the board. But that doesn’t excuse a horrific late-game coaching decision that effectively sealed the game for the Seahawks.
No team is perfect. Mistakes happen. Many a team has gone to Seattle and not played like themselves. The Eagles didn’t last night, and yet after an incredible fourth-quarter drive and touchdown they were within one score with momentum heavily in their favor. They were on the verge of getting the ball right back. That’s when Doug Pederson, and whoever is in his ear, decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to challenge Russell Wilson’s obvious forward pass. They were wrong.
So consider what follows not total blame being placed on one decision, but a breakdown of a play with outsized impact that may have cost the Eagles the game.
Forward? You decide. pic.twitter.com/7rhLdBvKIk
— SPORTSRADIO 94WIP (@SportsRadioWIP) December 4, 2017
It’s a forward pass, no two ways about it. Though in real-time it looked legit due to the fact that Wilson appeared to throw the ball behind him and his blazing speed had him run out in front of the ball, even one replay provided enough evidence to consider a challenge.
Doug Pederson was asked twice about the play after the game. The first time came during the press conference, and the second was during an excellent one-on-one interview with John Clark in the bowels of CenturyLink Field when Pederson was significantly calm and candid. Clark asked him directly about the decision. I’d quote Pederson, but NBC Sports Philly Comcast Partnership Peacock Matt Lauer inexplicably doesn’t have it available online. I can get Seth Joyner’s hot takes, but I can’t get the exclusive interview with the coach.
But he said that they didn’t call all the looks they needed and didn’t want to risk a timeout after the earlier challenge.
On one hand, I applaud him for being forthright. He comes right to the threshold of blaming the replay guy without doing so. On the other hand, his reasoning baffles and somewhat enrages me. His explanation that they didn’t throw the flag because they hadn’t gotten enough looks and didn’t want to compound his earlier mistake to challenge shows poor reasoning. If there was even a chance that it was a forward pass – the first replay, regardless of angle, clearly shows that there was – you have to throw the flag. And if you don’t do it solely because of the earlier challenge, then that somehow magnifies both decisions.
If you’ve ever watched documentaries about plane crashes, you’ll know that investigators don’t just look at what happened – the engine fell off and they crashed – but the series of events that led to it happening. A bolt was missing. A mechanic was overworked. The company had financial issues and had to cut staff. Regulation wasn’t in place to prevent those sort of cost-saving moves. You get the point.
We don’t need to go that far down the rabbit hole with Doug’s decision to not challenge a football play – though if you give me enough time, I can probably trace it back to the housing crisis or some shit – but since he said it himself that the earlier decision to challenge played a part here, let’s talk about that one first.
He was referring to his decision to challenge the spot on what appeared to be, and was, a first down. The Eagles were facing fourth and inches, a scenario in which they’ve been virtually automatic this year with beefy Jason Kelce and Carson Wentz just falling forward a few feet. Were they correct in their challenge? Yes. But even at the time I thought doing so was pointless. Spot calls are rarely overturned, especially on somewhat vague and subjective forward progress plays. It’s hard to obtain clear evidence of the spot, and thus the officials usually go with the call on the field (I don’t have numbers on this, but feel confident in saying that those plays are tough to overturn). The Eagles got the first down anyway, as expected.
In and of itself, it wasn’t a damning decision. But the fact that Pederson used it to influence his next decision, a much more impactful one, is the real problem.
I feel comfortable saying he is a good coach. I may even like him. He has done an outstanding job this season of offensive scheming. Add to that the fact that he has his team focused and playing together (including some guys who have had me-first issues in the past), and the performance of his coaching staff.
But I’ve written on this site multiple times that my concern was always about those crucial, in-game decisions, which, to date, Pederson has screwed up.
On the first challenge call last night, it’s on the coach to decide if they really want to risk a timeout on a such a low-leverage play. They’re probably getting the first down anyway. The good coaches have a feel for these moments.
The second non-challenge also requires the same level of situational awareness. Short of being told “no, don’t challenge that,” which I’m guessing wasn’t the case based on Doug saying all angles weren’t available yet, then that is a spot where the coach has to understand the importance of the play and the risk-reward of throwing the flag. This was a high leverage play. It’s like bringing a closer in to face the middle of the order in the eighth inning in baseball. You have to be able to spot the crucial moment and throw everything you have at it. In this case, the flag. If the Eagles do so, they likely get the ball back, with momentum, down only one score. Rather, they cede the moment to the Seahawks, who score a few plays later and effectively put the game out of reach.
Though each case has its own qualifying reasons, Doug always seems to make the wrong decision here. I’m not going to nitpick punting on 4th and 1, or 4th and 2, but he was weirdly conservative last night in spots where he’s typically aggressive. I wonder if the competition had something to do with that.
As for the decision itself, you see situations like this all the time in football, where coaches don’t have all the angles needed but throw the flag anyway, because even the chance of reversing the play is worth the risk of a timeout. The best coaches have a feel for the moment. Thus far, Doug has shown that he doesn’t. And that has been and will remain my concern until he shows us otherwise.
Who knows if challenging there changes the outcome of the game. But not doing so allowed the Seahawks to put it out of reach. The decision not to challenge, while shared by the replay guy, is one that Doug again got wrong.