At surface level, it would be folly to question Doug Pederson’s aggressive nature.
This is, after all, the same guy who won a Lombardi Trophy by throwing caution to the wind and showing uber-confidence en route to the Eagles’ first Super Bowl ever. It’s a hallmark of his coaching style and defines his overall attitude toward play calling and offensive game management.
But a lot of those 2017 and 2018 plays were high risk, high reward, like the Philly Special, which could very well be the biggest nail-biter of a call in Eagles history. These sequences come with incredible momentum swings in one direction or the other, depending on the outcome.
Sunday’s Washington game provided the perfect example of that when the Eagles took a sack on 4th and 4, turning the ball over on downs in their own half of the field while winning 17-14 in the third quarter.
Doug was asked a number of questions about that postgame, and at his Monday press conference, and this one was particularly interesting:
Q. Speaking of aggressiveness and your role, do you factor in the other team at all, and the reason I ask that is Washington really didn’t drive more than 48 yards on any of those scores. They got the ball six times in their last nine possessions in your territory. If you had been a little less aggressive, could you maybe have won the game? Did you think about that when you were looking at the film? (Les Bowen)
Doug Pederson: “I guess you’re asking me if I could have run the ball when we were up 17-0 the rest of the game. Yeah, that’s being less aggressive, but listen, I’m going to do what I feel is the best interest of the football team and we cannot turn the ball over. We cannot have eight sacks. We cannot put our defense on the short side of the field as an offense. We have to execute better on fourth down. We have a guy that — we have a guy open; we don’t execute the protection. We drop a pass on another fourth down in the game.”
“So there’s all kinds of things that we can point the finger at. I can do a better job with a couple of play calls throughout the game, and those are all things that we take away from this first game and we are probably sitting here asking different questions.”
“Look, this is a game where you have — I have to do what I feel is in the best interest of the football team. We practice these situations all the time. I do have to be smart game-by-game. You have to make smart decisions and you’ve got to trust our players, trust our quarterback, trust our schemes, how well is the defense playing. So I think there’s all of that that factors into the aggressiveness factor for us.”
That’s a really good note from Les, the fact that Washington had frequent possessions that began in Eagles territory, and when you go through the drive chart from Sunday, the ‘Football Team’ really did not do jack shit when they were forced to drive the length of the field.
Here’s a list of every Washington drive with their starting field position and the outcome of that series:
- Washington 27 – four plays, 24 yards, punt
- Washington 25 – three plays, 0 yards, punt
- Washington 15 – nine plays, 55 yards, missed field goal
- Washington 25 – four plays 17 yards, punt
- Washington 27 – four plays, 2 yards, punt
- Philadelphia 45 – five plays, 45 yards, touchdown
- Washington 16 – three plays, -10 yards, punt
- Philadelphia 20 – five plays, 20 yards, touchdown
- Washington 43 – three plays, -10 yards, punt
- Philadelphia 46 – five plays, 26 yards, field goal
- Philadelphia 48 – thirteen plays, 48 yards, touchdown
- Philadelphia 42 – five plays, 20 yards, field goal
- Philadelphia 16 – seven plays, 2 yards, running the clock out
Washington didn’t score a single point on drives that started in their own territory.
They did absolutely nothing until the Eagles started giving them field position via the turnovers, a bad punt, and that brutal 4th down sack.
We gave ’em the frickin’ game!
That’s what Jim Mora would have said back in the day.
Funny thing about sports is that attitudes shift and change based on what philosophies are currently popular. We’re in an epoch right now where analytics-backed aggression is highly-regarded, while punting and field-flipping is seen as cowardly and passé. In a lot of cases, the former has worked for the Eagles and the latter has been unnecessary, but Doug’s problem seems to be the inability to toggle between the two in the same game. It seems like he’s had trouble finding his “feel” for the game over the past season or two, which is odd for a team that typically understands and executes “situational football” on a micro, play-by-play level.
Sunday, when they were up 17-0, they didn’t necessarily need to bury a stinky team, they just needed to manage a three-score lead, which they didn’t do. They needed the quarterback to be Alex Smith instead of Geno Smith, and they needed the coach to be Jeff Fisher instead of Hal Mumme.
These are things you can’t parse nicely into an analytical package. You can’t place a numerical value on that innate ability to feel the ebb and flow of a football game. There’s no data set that tells us how much momentum is lost or gained when Boston Scott blows his blitz pickup and Jon Bostic sacks you on 4th and 4, giving Washington the confidence to throw the ball downfield for 20 yards on the very next play. The Eagles went from possibly pushing the opponent inside their own 25 yard line, to facing a game-tying field goal, in the span of just two plays and 45 seconds.
And last, but certainly not least, the Birds weren’t playing against the 2001 St. Louis Rams offense on Sunday. They didn’t need to worry about Kurt Warner airing it out for Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. They didn’t have to respect Marshall Faulk coming out of the backfield and they didn’t have to tangle with Orlando Pace and Adam Timmerman in the trenches. They had a three-score lead on a Washington team that hadn’t done diddly poo in the first half, then the Eagles took out the figurative revolver, aimed it at their foot, and pulled the trigger.