Balancing emotion & analytics: Doug Pederson’s play-calling will be under the microscope in 2017

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The Eagles season opener is just around the corner and as excitement builds around Carson Wentz and the rest of the team, there will be undoubtedly be a growing focus on the man pulling the strings. Doug Pederson’s trust in his Offense led to everything from stunning plays to heartbreaking head-scratchers in his rookie season. His offense is now filled to the brim with potential, which means the margin for error without accountability will shrink massively. But this is simply a calculation that the Head Coach has been long-prepared to work out.

Last season, the Eagles decided to go for it 27 times on 4th down, the most since before 1992. They converted 13 times. But for every deep completion to Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews, came a screen pass to Darren Sproles on 3rd & 8. Perhaps the most memorable moment in which a play-call backfired was in a tight loss to Dallas.

A 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.

When asked in a press conference about what goes into a decision to go for it on fourth down as opposed to simply punting it out of harms way, Pederson gave a very balanced answer.

“I wouldn’t say it’s out of my hands. I would say it’s more calculated a little bit.” Pederson said. “Then, listen, there are also times where I just have to go on gut instinct and gut feel. How is the offense playing? [How is] our defense [playing]? Things I’ve mentioned in the past. How are our special teams playing at the time? Is it the right time to go for it, outside of the end-of-the-game, fourth-down, to keep your offense alive, so to speak.”

“Yeah, so I think a lot of it is calculated, but a lot of it, too, can be based on some of those other circumstances during the game.”

That doesn’t mean that Pederson is thinking entirely in the way of decoding the Matrix or Moneyball during gameday situations. What makes the Head Coaching role so difficult is having to balance going all in on your gut or what the numbers tell you. Just how much emotion is going to impact a decision that could be heavily influenced by numbers or statistics? The NFL is more than just charts, graphs, and numbers…but how much of that comes into play for Doug Pederson?

“Probably the times when you go for it, gut instinct, gut feel is just how well I feel like our offense is doing. Pederson said. “We could be three, four, five good run plays in a row and we get in that fourth-and-one, fourth-and-two, and I feel like we’re in a good situation, I’m going to probably pull the trigger and go for it.

A lot of it to me is predicated, too, on field position, and the percentages of a punt into the end zone versus not making it on fourth down, but yet keeping your opponent on their side of the field, so to speak. Those are all things that kind of factor in.

But yeah, [it is] really based on how our offense is playing at the time.”

With his in-game decisions now carrying more weight than ever, those calls to go for it on fourth-and-two or to try something special could make or break a game. The Eagles lost seven games by one score or less last season and many of those could have swung in a completely different direction had there not been a game-changing call. On the flip side, several victories may have turned into losses had Pederson not had complete faith in his team to go out and execute…and that’s the big thing.

Whether it’s a complete tight end set, a trio of explosive wide receivers or a backfield as dynamic as they come, Doug Pederson has all the weapons possible for Carson Wentz to make the most of. The question is, just how aggressive will Pederson be in a season where hopes go far beyond the regular season? Only time till tell, but it seems as though there is a very methodic and balanced approach behind each and every call that may not appear at the second the decision is made.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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