The Eagles sank to a 28-23 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday, but more importantly, the team have lost their opening three divisional games this season..and all by one possession in games that could have been clenched in the fourth quarter. With a schedule that only gets tougher from here on out, the Eagles playoff hopes have been suffocated inadvertently at the hands of Head Coach Doug Pederson..but with this season acting as a dress rehearsal, it’s a process that while frustrating, is crucial to the long-term success of the franchise.
It’s easy to forget that through the smoke and mirrors, this is still Doug Pederson’s first season as a Head Coach. He’s played as an NFL quarterback and learned from Andy Reid in Kansas City, but his experience as a Head Coach prior to his appointment is minimal.and unfortunately for the Eagles, that’s something they have to accept.
Playoffs were never the direct aim for this Football team following the trade that sent Sam Bradford to the Vikings. The Eagles had the fifth oldest roster in the NFL that was filled with cornerstone players bursting with youth, potential and promise..including new rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. But just like the players, Head Coaches often take time to find their feet in the NFL too.
Doug Pederson’s playcalling has been called into question frequently this season, and the loss to the Giants was no exception. The pattern of being aggressive at the wrong times and an imbalance of risk and reward continued to plague the Eagles on Sunday, just as it has in each divisional game so far.
The two scenarios drawing heavy criticism saw the Eagles chance their luck on 4th down early on in the game. Two second quarter conversion attempts inside both the 23 and 6 yard lines proved unsuccessful and not only deprived the Eagles of 6 points that would have won them the game, but ripped momentum from the heart of the Offense. On four of the nine times the Eagles found themselves in scoring territory, they walked away empty handed.
It’s these coaching errors that continue to anchor the Eagles down as they desparately try to swim to a playoff berth. Always on the edge of gasping for air, but not being able to touch the surface.
The same patterns continue to emerge however. The Defense will fight for decent field position only for the Offense to quickly fall to a three and out and Pederson to try and convert on fourth down. Sure, sometimes it works..as it did on occasion against the Giants, with Wentz finding Matthews late in the fourth quarter on a 4th & 9 situation, but even when it does, it’s not guaranteed that the Eagles will find the endzone.
The plays themselves, such as the scramble by Wentz are often too predictable..meaning that a 4th & 1 becomes much harder to convert if your playbook is limited and easily defendable. However, it’s only through trial and error that these problems will iron out..it’s not failure if you can learn from it and come out better as a result.
Pederson is in the first season of running this scheme after basing it on a system he’s spent the last couple of years learning every intricacy of under Andy Reid. But now, it’s his turn..so with that comes an injection of his in DNA into the Offense.
One of the notable additions to the system is the up-tempo style that the team sometimes revert too. Shades of the Chip Kelly era still linger in Philadelphia, but they aren’t all bad..and the Eagles move the ball far more efficiently when running a no-huddle Offense..something Pederson has been tweaking since his arrival.
Just like Carson Wentz, Pederson is going to make mistakes. Every 4th down conversion attempt backfire is an interception from a rookie quarterback, every decision to punt instead of kicking is an fumble and every screen pass on third and short is a ball thrown with the risk of being picked off. But both players are in their first season, with the weight of an entire Offense on their shoulders and expectations of one of the most passionate fanbases in the world.
It’s a process. Every mistake leaves room to grow and to adapt. The Eagles are by no means a bad team and are flooded with potential on Offense..but harnessing that potential and learning how to get the most out of every player on the roster doesn’t happen overnight.
The Eagles got off to such a hot start that a facade of coaching stability, composure an balance blanketed the team in gold..but when weathering a storm, the colors starts to run. For the Eagles, it’s knowing that after the storm, a Rainbow will eventually present itself over Lincoln Financial Field. As a rookie quarterback and a rookie Head Coach prepare themselves for sustained success by ironing out the errors and finding their identities, strengths and weaknesses early on in their careers, in a year without consequence.