When Jeff Lurie sought to wash away the stench of Chip Kelly 20 months ago, he did what people rebounding from breakups tend to do – return from the exotic to what was safe and familiar.
Andy Reid, of course, was already in his relationship with the Chiefs. So Lurie did the closest thing. He hired Reid’s offensive coordinator from Kansas City, a guy who had previously played here, coached here, got along here.
And in his first season, Doug Pederson evoked the best and worst of Big Red. He is a players’ coach who showed an occasional knack for creative play-calling and could surprise you with gutsiness. On the other hand Pederson, like Reid before him, looked befuddled when his plan went awry and he had to think in real time. And his late-game management . . . well, you know.
To his credit, Pederson spent the off-season in self-evaluation. In a recent talk with reporters, the coach said he studied analytics and now is prepared to buck his instincts in certain situations.
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“Some things you study go against conventional wisdom,” Pederson said, “but the numbers prove you should do it anyway.” Topping that list could be an increased tendency to try for it on fourth-down and attempting more two-point conversions.
I like that. But here’s hoping the crash course also included evaluation of the run-pass ratio. Because if there’s one aspect where Doug resembles Bad Andy, it’s his disdain for the ground game.
Last season, his first, Pederson called pass plays a whopping 60 percent of the time. Carson Wentz set an NFL record for attempts by a rookie (607). Whether you want to believe the off-season murmurings that Wentz’s arm ached by year’s end, it’s hard to justify him averaging 42 throws per game in the back half of the season.
It was all so familiar. There were numerous games during Reid’s tenure when the first few run plays would get stuffed and the coach would just bag it and start throwing screens to Todd Pinkston. That may have been the most infuriating aspect of Andy – other than those wasted time outs.
The Eagles added offensive weapons this off-season, mostly to the receiving corps. But the new season also brings a fresh crew of running backs, headed by LeGarrette Blount, who bulled for 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns in New England last season.
I’m eager to see Blount. Indeed, I was eager to see him in last Thursday’s pre-season opener at Green Bay, where he got four carries. We can agree that August games are meaningless, but I’ll still say it makes more sense to give Blount the ball on 2nd-and-1 in that opening drive than to try Nelson Agholor on a jet sweep.
The camera cut to Pederson right after Agholor lost a yard on that ridiculous play. I swear, on my TV it looked like he had grown a red paintbrush mustache and had glasses poised on his nose.
Again, the pre-season means nothing. But consider this: Because NFL teams no longer get to hit in camp, they almost never get to work on executing the short plunge. There are less than a handful of days when they can actually practice having the offensive line push the defense as Blount tries to crack the middle. That opportunity presented itself against Green Bay. Why not work on it then?
In the end, Pederson called 57 pass plays against the Packers last Thursday. His running backs totaled 16 carries. I’ll stipulate it one more time: The pre-season doesn’t matter.
But I’ll say this, too. Pederson shows no interest in ceding play calling to offensive coordinator Frank Reich. And every indication is that Pederson is a pass-first, pass-second, pass-always play caller.
Just like you know who.