The Eagles are in an incredible position coming into their tenth game of the season. At 8-1, they face bitter rivals who are without some of their star talent on offense. While the team’s are worlds apart having almost switched position’s from this time last year, it was only just over a season ago that the Eagles crumbled in an overtime loss to Dallas. The man behind the collapse has taken some tremendous leaps as a Head Coach…but they will tested on Sunday.
From turning down long a field goal attempt and opting to punt, to screen passes when down by a score with just over 7 minutes remaining and then going on to allow Dallas to run the clock down, we learned a lot about Doug Pederson that day…but he learned a lot about himself.
“There were a couple of situations where, or at least one in particular that had a chance to maybe kick a field goal and I have to do a better job at coaching the actual play.” Pederson admitted in Wednesday’s press conference. “It was a third-down situation, and I’ve got to do a better job at the teaching of the play.” The Eagles Head Coach was not only self critical on Wednesday, showing remorse and regret for his decisions, but a desire to improve this time around.
“It starts with me.” The second year head coach admitted. “And we didn’t execute the play very well. And it knocked us out of potential field goal range and it would have extended our lead at that time. So just those types of decisions where maybe you do something a little bit differently, call a different play or, in that case, just teach that play at that time better.”
A lot can change in 12 months and it’s easy to forget that Peterson was in his rookie season as a Head Coach too. Pederson’s first few months in Philadelphia were anything but easy. After signing Sam Bradford to a contract extension, the team made a bold decision to trade up and draft the future of the franchise. A decision that excited fans, but certainly rocked the boat in those few weeks that followed the Draft. Although Sam Bradford elected to miss OTA’s due understandably being discontent, that was to be the least of Pederson’s worries.
The team’s breakout star on Defense was also holding out from the period as a statement. Fletcher Cox metaphorically slammed his foot to the floor, demanding that he received the payday he deserved after a stunning 2015 campaign. Darren Sproles (while for different reasons) also held out, making what is an important period for any Head Coach, let alone a rookie one, even tougher.
It was life after spring where things became difficult however. Franchise right tackle Lane Johnson had been hit with a four-game suspension for his second PED substance violation, meaning that the Birds were going to be without arguably their most important cog on the offensive line…the question was, when? This is of course failing to mention the Nigel Bradham airport and umbrella saga and the Nelson Agholor alleged sexual assault.
As the high wins mounted and the heartbreaking losses weighed down on a rookie quarterback and upcoming team, the challenge was to sustain a culture and build. There were games where the Eagles offense looked lethal, there were games where it seemed chained by a lack of playmakers and others where it was Pederson himself suffocating the unit. One year later however, the Eagles are one of the most dangerous teams in the league. Progress is a process…and one Pederson has been evaluating since he walked into the NovaCare.
“What did I learn? Number one, you hate to lose any week.” Pederson told reporters. “The other thing is just we had opportunities in that game to make some plays and change the outcome of that game. And I learned from the decisions I made in that game.”
“And I’ve corrected those this season from preseason on. And those are some of the takeaways. And for us as a football team, we’re learning how to finish those games now this season. And that’s a tribute to the players in the locker room.”
The Eagles are starting out games red hot and are able to sustain the pace throughout. With five of their opening nine possessions ending in touchdowns and the same percentage on the second, the Birds have gone on to amass over 100+ rushing yards in their last eight games. The Eagles were 24th in red zone percentage last year and now lead the league in that category. With the Ship in Dallas beginning to sink, the Eagles are only getting better. The only thing stopping them? Coming off a bye with that same momentum…something Peterson has learned about in depth from none other than Andy Reid.
“Probably two things. One, how he was able to just refocus the football team coming off the bye, getting them back into practice and back into the habits that we were doing before the break. And then, secondly, is just the consistency with him, as you know, and being around him that it’s just the same — he’s the same day in and day out. Same consistency. Same work ethic. Practice doesn’t change. It doesn’t get longer. It doesn’t get harder. And he just goes about his business.”
A lot can change in 12 months…but the intensity and faith within the locker room is one thing that the Eagles will be hoping remain the same. For Doug Pederson, coming out swinging and showing the progress he’s made as a play-caller will be crucial if the team are to come away with a win on Sunday night.
Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports