Pederson’s playcalling puzzle: Eagles success hinges on balancing risk and reward


Being aggressive is something we’ve come to expect when it comes to Doug Pederson’s playcalling. In the early stages of his coaching career, Pederson has surprised fans regularly with 2-point conversion attempts and an attacking mindset when it comes to fourth down. But against the Cowboys, just like the coaching was picked a part a year ago, Pederson fell victim to some rookie mistakes. He was still aggressive, but at the wrong times and in the wrong ways.

In previous weeks, the surprise calls on 4th down have caught many off guard..and the plays called including stunning to deep passes to Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor have caught many off guard. The problem against the Cowboys was, those plays simply didn’t happen..and that’s where the errors all stem from.

You can point out a variety of mistakes committed by the Eagles Head Coach, but on the night, Wentz averaged just 4.7 yards per pass. His longest of the night? 14 yards. 13 yards shorter than his previous shortest.

Pederson insisted on playing a short passing every situation. The most notable example is the screen pass to Darren Sproles on 3rd & 8, knowing that the Eagles had to move the chains to get in field goal range. The playcall wasn’t necessarily the problem..but the predictability was.

It didn’t take Dallas long to figure out the Eagles offensive gameplan. After the opening drive of the game turned into a field goal, the Cowboys held the birds to a punt on their next two drives, before conceding a touchdown. In the second half, five of seven Eagles drives resulted in a punt or a turnover.

Just like Chip Kelly was thwarted in Philadelphia when Dallas came to town, Pederson found himself in uncharted waters in Texas. And again, like Chip Kelly, the insistence on making things work arguably cost the team hugely.

It’s no coincidence that the most controversial decisions came in a half where the Eagles were held scoreless on five drives. From giving a cold Wendell Smallwood his first carry in the fourth quarter, for him only to fumble, to refusing to call a timeout before the end of the game, which would have given the Eagles special teams unit a chance to work magic once again, Pederson’s decisions became more and more questionable as the game went on.

The most controversial was the decision to punt when just inside of field goal range..which may not seem like the most shocking decision ever, but it hurt. Caleb Sturgis had made 17 consecutive conversions including a 55-yard field goal earlier that game. The conservative nature prolonged the inevitable and gave Dallas a lifeline that they would later take full advantage of.

Pederson wants to be aggressive in his playcalling, but just can’t seem to find the balance. It’s going to be a process. It’s easy to forget that it’s still his first season as a Head Coach..and his previous playcalling experience includes the conservative gameplan against New England in the playoffs a year ago with Kansas City.

The Offensive scheme can obviously have tremendous success in the NFL, but a balance in playcalling is absolutely pivotal..and Pederson is yet to balance risk and reward successfully.