This loss is on the coach.
We all questioned how Doug Pederson would fare in the NFL, with no head coaching experience beyond high school. For the most part, his first two months went well. Monday night — under pressure, on the road against a rival, on national TV — he turned into a pumpkin.
A series of curious decisions cost the Eagles in their 29-23 OT loss to Dallas. Sure, there were dropped passes and botched blocking assignments and missed tackles. Players need to execute better. But all would have been overcome had Pederson not made a string of bad moves starting when the Eagles had a late 23-16 lead:
Eagles third-and-eight at the Dallas 30.
With seven minutes to go, the Eagles were poised to take a two-score lead. All they really needed here was a plunge into the line for a yard or two. Then hot kicker Caleb Sturgis could enter to finish things off.
Instead, Pederson called an easily telegraphed behind-the-line swing pass to Darren Sproles that lost six yards. Suddenly, a manageable FG attempt became challenging.
Eagles fourth-and-14 at the Dallas 36.
All and still, the obvious next move was to attempt the 53-yard field goal. Sturgis had nailed a 55-yarder at the end of the first half. He’s three-for-three this season from 50 or more. The risk/reward needle pointed to trusting your kicker and claiming the late 10-point lead.
But Pederson chickened out punted. So much for “Big Balls” Doug. Dallas got the ball back and drove 90 yards for the tying TD.
Dallas third-and-20 at their 18.
With the game tied and 33 seconds left in regulation, Connor Barwin sacked Dak Prescott, putting the Cowboys in a precarious spot. Pederson should have called his first timeout and, assuming Dallas didn’t execute a third-down miracle, used his second TO to force a punt. The goal should have been to set up a Sproles return and game-winning field goal.
Instead, Pederson let the Cowboys run out the clock and head to overtime. He seemed to be coaching scared. It was a stunningly conservative and out-of-touch strategy, evocative of … well, Andy Reid.
There were other curious moves:
Giving rookie Wendell Smallwood his first carry — which he fumbled — in crunch time. Likewise, introducing TE Trey Burton into the offense at the two-minute warning. Why take young guys who’ve sat all night and ask them to suddenly perform at the toughest moments?
More bothersome was an unaggressive offensive plan that never asked Carson Wentz to throw the ball more than10 yards. By the end, Dallas’ LBs anticipated every swing or flat pass and were breaking for the ball as soon as Wentz raised his arm.
You can blame the failure to even attempt any long passing plays on Pederson’s concern over his battered offensive line. But, truth be told, the big boys acquitted themselves well.
You can certainly blame it on wide receivers incapable of getting open downfield — or holding onto the ball when it reaches them. No doubt, the franchise’s biggest shortcoming is at receiver — even though the Eagles have spent a third-, second- and first-round pick on the position in recent drafts.
The NFL’s trade deadline arrives Tuesday at 4 p.m. Any move seems unlikely, but grabbing a receiver like Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith or Brandon Marshall would instantly give this team a weapons upgrade. It could prove the difference between making the playoffs and going home in early January.
Even after Sunday’s horrid loss, the 4-3 Eagles still have a good shot for the postseason. Just three NFC teams currently have fewer than three losses. There’s a lot of mediocrity out there.
But Pederson can’t coach scared. He can’t think horizontal when the game requires vertical. The rookie coach has needs to reclaim his mojo.