Analyzing Doug Pederson’s play-calling: Week 1 vs Browns

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After Doug Pederson was announced as the new Head Coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, I ran a series analyzing his second half play-calling during his time at Kansas City. Now that his rookie year is in the books, it’s time to take a look back at every game of the Eagles 2016 season to see if the criticism his coaching faced was warranted or perhaps misunderstood.

The Eagles started the year explosively, with a 29-10 win over the Cleveland Browns. But how much of that win was down to the play-calling of the first time Head Coach? Here are some observations made from the most important drives of the game.

Drive one:
Result: Touchdown
Nine plays
Pass:  4/5, 57 yards, TD
Rush: 4 att, 13 yards

The game got off to a dream start for the Eagles. There was nearly a perfect balance between run and pass as the team tried to build the confidence of Carson Wentz during the first snaps of his NFL career. What really stood out here however, was something we expected to be the case after analyzing Pederson’s Kansas City play-calling, unpredictability. It didn’t take long for Pederson to capitalize on the unknowns of his Offense, lining TE Zach Ertz up outside for a huge catch.

 

Not only did this move the chains and help provide a platform for Wentz to build on, but also sent a very stern message to the Browns. One that was reiterated just a couple of moments later. The Eagles sent Brent Celek out in motion and he was unfollowed across the line of scrimmage. This gave Wentz all the information he needed in order to take full advantage of the zonal look on Defense and sling the ball to a still very dangerous veteran.

The drive ended in brilliant fashion. A smash route TD pass to Jordan Matthews saw Wentz take full advantage of the single safety in a play that Pederson scripted perfectly. Two one-on-one slot matchups as both faded to the endzone. Perfect.

 

Drive two:
Result: Punt
Six plays
Pass: 0/4
Rush: 2 att, 7 yards

The second time that the Offense took to the field was slightly less explosive. Pederson focused on intermediate routes and runs up the middle to move the ball. But with a lack of separation early on, Pederson decided that he would keep at it until his luck changed. This led to a 3rd & 12 situation..which Pederson responded to by calling a poorly scripted screen pass. The Browns loaded the box and the result was a near interception. The ball was batted down at the line but even if Huff had caught the ball, the room for extra yards was minimal. It didn’t take long for the first questionable play of the game to arise.

 

Drive three:
Result: Missed FG
Five plays
Pass: 0
Rush: 4 att, 18 yards

After attaining an advantageous starting field position, a field goal was the clear motive. Pederson called 4 rushes and 1 pass, but Wentz was sacked on a drive that was arguably a little too conservative. The Eagles had momentum, drove the ball up the field on the ground and now had a chance to make life even harder for the Browns. Pederson’s lone scripted pass this drive did give plenty of options to Carson Wentz, but the rookie held onto the ball too long and failed to scan the right side of the field, resulting in a sack and a missed field goal. The conservative nature of the drive can be understood, but it would be unfair to pin the failure to score on Pederson, who gave his quarterback a great play to make something happen on.

 

 

Drive four:
Result: FG
Pass: 1/2, 28 yards
Rush: 2 att, 3 yards

The Eagles came out swinging on this play after seeing the potential damage they could cause the Browns Defense. Wentz fired a 28-yard bullet to Jordan Matthews, sending the Eagles into great field position to punch it in for another six.

After that however, the play-calling stifled. The Eagles rushed when the box was stacked, passed when coverage was tight and couldn’t seem to quite figure it out. Wentz had a pass sail that was intended for Matthews, but an outside rush against an outnumbered blocking force was just simply a bad idea.

 

Drive six:
Result: Field Goal
Ten plays
Pass: 4/7 39 yards
Rush: 3 att, 21 yards

In my opinion, this was the Eagles most impressive drive of the game. The Eagles started the drive with 3:43 left in the half and took 2:40 of that time off the clock, ending the drive in a score and giving the Browns little room to work with. Kenjon Barner made himself known with a strong outside run to kick things off as Pederson experimented with his committee backfield, but it’s the openness of the passing game that made the difference.

Wentz was able to find a nice window on a comeback route here, but Zach Ertz was WIDE open over the middle, waving his arm frantically for the reception. Wentz again only scanned the left hand side of the field, missing what could have been a huge play, but regardless he’s a rookie in his first game and still completed his second straight pass on this drive.

Drops hurt this drive and killed the Eagles chances of running away with the score going into the half. But it wasn’t without trying. Pederson’s plays gave Wentz plenty of opportunity to pick up a first down and more, but the rookie errors and failure to go through his progression entirely cost the team another touchdown. The Eagles settled for three points, but it should have been more.

 

Drive eight:
Result: TD
Nine plays
Pass 6/7, 66 yards TD
Rush: 2 att, 10 yards

This drive was one of mixed success for the Eagles. While continuing to make bizarre decisions when running the football including driving it into a stacked box, the Offense lost balance for the first time..a sign of things to come later in the season. However Pederson took the chains off of Carson Wentz and presented him with his first play-action look of the season.

Wentz made the completion over the middle look all too easy on a play that excited Eagles fans everywhere. This is what many envisioned Carson Wentz to bring to the table and he didn’t disappoint.

With momentum on their side, Wentz aired it out deep to Nelson Agholor, who had beaten his man easily. With options available underneath out of the backfield as well, this is how Pederson’s Offense should function at full strength.

Some good play-calls here were maybe overshadowed by the inbalance and strange running plays, but it’s safe to say the passing attacked was doing more than just picking up momentum.

 

Drive nine:
Result: Punt
Five plays
Pass: 1/1,  15 yards
Rush: 4 att, 31 yards

The ninth drive of the game for the Eagles saw the reoccurrence of a potential flaw. After making the big play, the Eagles simply couldn’t follow it up or sustain the drive. Pederson experimented again with the play-action pass and again it worked a charm. But after yet another play that had the Browns stumped, the Eagles struggled to move the ball.

What they did introduce during this drive, was the read-option. It was something they wanted to implement with Wentz at the helm and the decision-making of Wentz really shined on this play. It’s can’t be the easiest decision to let a rookie quarterback run an option pass on his debut, but it was a strong choice from Pederson.

 

Drive elven:
Result: Punt
eight plays
Pass: 3/4, 32 yards
Rush 3 att, 9 yards

The penultimate offensive drive of the game was one plagued with problems. Lasting eight plays, the Eagles were able to take a lot of time off the clock, but two penalties and a sack really set the team back. Again though, not all of this was down to the play-calling.

Pederson called a play that was destined for a big chunk of yardage. A “Trips” formation against one man-coverage corner, a zone coverage corner and a single Safety had devastating potential if Wentz could get the ball out quickly past a stacked box. Unfortunately, the play ended in a sack.

With 3rd & 16 on the table, Pederson drew up a play that maybe slipped under the radars of many. A play that acted as the origins for one of the most frustrating parts of his play-calling. The Eagles called upon Ertz and Matthews to run curls..but they stopped just before the first down mark, meaning that even if Wentz targeted them, there was no guarantee the play would get them a first down. It would get them in field-goal range, but it’s the principal. Side note: Notice how Nelson Agholor is open for another deep shot after beating his man? This is exactly what we saw on tape a year ago under Sam Bradford and something I will look at much closer in a separate article.

 

The final drive of the game was a flurry of rushing plays designed to run down the clock and end the game. Mathews punched it in to seal the deal, but their was nothing too notable.

 

Conclusion:
After taking a closer look at each individual play, it’s safe to say that in the season opener, Pederson showed plenty of promise as a play-caller. There were some holes, running plays being a prominent one..but overall he was able to keep the Offense fresh, filter in different types of plays and ensure his rookie quarterback always had a “check-down” option. Something he would then make the most of in the coming weeks.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

 

 

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