Super Bowl 52 is almost upon us and while all eyes are on the chess match between Doug Pederson and Bill Belichick, it’s easy to forget that the two have met in the postseason before. Pederson’s final game as the Chiefs offensive coordinator came against the Patriots in the postseason of 2015. The divisional game matchup ended in bizarre fashion, with the Patriots winning the matchup 27-20. What’s known less commonly however is that Doug Pederson was calling the offensive plays in the second half.
Here’s a breakdown of the series that Pederson coordinated against the Patriots in the Chiefs divisional loss.
With 33 pass attempts in the second half and only 17 rushes, it was clear that Pederson favored Smith’s arm over what the Chiefs were producing on the ground. This could just be down to how the Patriots were able to shut down the run game in the third quarter and of course the fact that they were playing from behind. But if we fast forward to the current scenario, the days of an unbalanced offense for Pederson are long gone, even when the team are playing from behind.
The main thing to take away from Pederson’s short reign over the Chiefs Offense is his game management. What was previously his most heavily criticised attribute has become a strength in 2017, but the signs of a confident coach were all present even when the pressure was at its highest. Going into the Chiefs final two drives, the team were 27-13 down to the Patriots with a little over 10 minutes remaining along with all three timeouts. The first drive after the Patriots field-goal may well have ended in an interception, but the premise and gameplan was still the same.
The final two drives combined for 25 total plays. 15 of which were short passes, 4 were deep passes and 6 were rushes. When questioning Pederson’s lengthy 16 play final drive with time dwindling and opportunities fading, we also have to question why there were so many short passe .and this is where his Head Coach potential really shined through.
Picture the scenes going into the final drive. With 6:39 on the clock, you forced the Patriots into a punt. But if the Chiefs attack as they did their previous two drives which ended in a pick and a punt, then Brady would likely regain possession with around 3-4 minutes remaining. The Chiefs Defense simply struggled to stop Tom Brady and if there’s one player you desperately need to prevent from scoring with the game on the line, you’d want anyone but Brady.
Pederson also witnessed the fading of success in the run game. The Chiefs can’t “run” down the clock and they can’t be too aggressive down field..but they have an abundance of short-pass plays both over the middle and post routes that are continuing to wear down the Patriots.
So, he tapped into many of the offensive traits we see today. Pederson gave Alex Smith optionality with slants, screens, RPO’s and everything in between in order to keep things simple and move the chains.
16 plays, 10 passes and a 1-yard rushing touchdown. You can say what you want about the strategy that game and how it cost the Chiefs the game, but if anything it did the opposite.,.it presented them with one final chance to win. Would you rather be within one touchdown and have a chance of getting the ball back with all three timeouts, or throw risky passes to potentially be within a score but knowing the Patriots will not only be running down the clock..but be giving Brady chance after chance with over 3 minutes remaining to seal the game?
If we fast forward to the current day, we see a Head Coach who isn’t afraid to go for it on fourth down and will constantly balance analytics with gut-instinct to put his team in the best position to win. With an offense that’s been firing on all cylinders recently and even a very early sign of managing the game sensibly, Pederson has certainly evolved a lot as a play-caller since signing with the Eagles.
Balance, explosiveness and unpredictability. Those would be three words commonly associated with Pederson’s ability to dial up the offensive gameplan. Pederson has prepared for Brady before and guided the Chiefs to a scenario where they at least had a chance at tying the game up as opposed to recklessly throwing the game. If Pederson can show the same level of maturity tomorrow, then we could be set for a classic…and who know who the victor will be?
Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports