I’ve got this love-hate thing going with Doug Pederson. Every time I decide the Eagles rookie head coach is in over his head, he surprises me with guts and creativity. Conversely, every time I think he’s got the mind for the job, he loses points with clumsy handling of players and situations.
Fourteen games in, I still can’t say whether Coach Doug is the next AndyReid or RichKotite. Judging from my Twitter feed, most Eagles fans lean toward the latter. A fair percentage want him fired ASAP. That won’t — and shouldn’t — happen.
But watching Sunday’s 27-26 loss to Baltimore, I saw all the things I love about Pederson. And all the things I hate.
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Let’s start at the end. I love that the coach went for the two-pointer to win the game with four seconds left. Because, why not? The offense had momentum, the Birds had already converted a two-pointer, a close-and-late victory (finally) would build confidence in his young players. There was no playoff spot at risk so, sure, take a shot.
I hate the coach’s play call there. All day long, Ryan Mathews had gashed Baltimore’s league-leading run defense. But on this, the most critical play of the game, Mathews was on the bench. Peterson called a look-in pass, which the Ravens tipped away. What was the benefit of icing your own best weapon?Maybe Mathews was hurt, having not played the last five minutes of the game. But the coach insisted there was no injury. He just liked his chances better shelving the 220-pound battering ram. I hate that. “Situationally, we wanted to get all five of our receivers out on that play,” he said Monday.
I love that Peterson discovered the run Sunday. As noted, Mathews was a beast, gaining 128 yards on 20 carries. Overall, the coach called 38 runs and 35 passes, the perfect balance on a rainy, windy day.
I hate that it took him 14 games to get there. Even with a tattered offensive line, the Eagles' four lead RBs have averaged an impressive 4.5 yards per carry this season. There’s no reason Carson Wentz should heave the ball 45 times a game. A rookie QB deserves more protection. Pederson has that Andy Reid gene that, too often, totally sells out to the pass game.
I love that Pederson — while seeming milquetoast — has a gambler’s heart. That final two-pointer Sunday seemed an obvious call. But beyond that, the coach has displayed no fear all season. Why ever punt from an opponent’s side of the field?
I hate that Sunday’s attempt to convert that fourth-quarter fourth down at the Baltimore 34 was a jet sweep to Nelson Agholor, who ignored a running lane and stepped out of bounds as a tackler approached. No player on the roster is more inapt for a clutch play. The coach needs to know that.
There’s plenty more. In his first year, Pederson has shown an ability to both surprise and infuriate. No doubt he’ll get a second chance in 2017. Here’s hoping he’s got a good learning curve.
- How to judge Carson Wentz Sunday? He started horribly, with the first drive interception. He missed throws all day in the bad weather. On the other hand, he drove his shorthanded team to two scores in the final six minutes. His scrambling TD run was a big-time play. There’s greatness in there — it’s just going to take more time to develop.
- Give huge credit to that makeshift offensive line — Jason Peters, Brandon Brooks, Jason Kelce, Stefen Wisniewski, Isaac Seumalo. They plowed the way to 169 rushing yards and allowed just one lone sack to Baltimore’s formidable defense. While we’re on the subject, what kind of reception does Lane Johnson get Thursday night when he steps on to the field for the first time in 10 weeks?
- Safety Rodney McLeod must be called out for retreating into the end zone on Ravens RB Kenneth Dixon’s 16-yard, fourth-quarter TD run. It’s the second time in three weeks that McLeod showed an aversion to goal-line contact. He explained afterward that he was unaware of where he was on the field, a lame excuse for a fifth-year player.
- No question that the Eagles possess more talent on defense than offense. Three sacks and two takeaways look good on the stat sheets. But once again, Jim Schwartz’s unit let the team down by allowing huge plays. All that buzz of Schwartz getting a head coaching job after this season has dissipated.
- One defensive player I’ll single out for praise is MLB Jordan Hicks. Yes, he over-pursued on Dixon’s TD. But he also had eight tackles and that huge, late interception to keep the Eagles alive. He’s now forced nine turnovers in 19 career games. The Eagles list of “nucleus players” is short, but Hicks is near the top.
- I am not looking forward to these two final home games against the Giants and Cowboys. With the Eagles out of the race, and those division opponents riding high, I anticipate a stadium full of No. 10 Manning jerseys this Thursday, and a hungover mob of idiot Cowboy fans on New Year’s Day. Can we just fast forward to 2017 already?