Doug Pederson left holding his breath after a year of aggressive gambles

Carson wentz
PHILADELPHIA, PA – NOVEMBER 01: Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz (11) talks to Head Coach Doug Pederson in the second half during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles on November 01, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

“You can’t sit here and just say, ‘Hey, it’s been such a demise.’” Doug Pederson said in his press conference on Monday when asked about the regression of the Eagles. “This has been a strange year all around. So I look at things a little bit differently.”

It has indeed been a strange year and Pederson himself has experienced the impacts of COVID-19 first hand. But it’s been strange for everyone. Every single NFL team has had to battle the same obstacles, overcome a lack of preseason football, and endure a slew of logistical challenges. The Eagles aren’t special in that regard, in fact, they’ve probably had one of the smoothest COVID-handling seasons of all. That’s not the reason why they sit going into week 17 well out of the playoff race and in contention for a top-5 pick. Doug Pederson has long preached that setbacks ‘start with him‘…and if we’re to dig a little deeper, what we see is a season of consecutive blackjack hands that bust.

Pederson has long-been a gambling man when it pertains to the Eagles. He’s built a reputation as one of the most aggressive fourth-down coaches in the NFL and this can be traced all the way back to his rookie year where the Eagles scored a potential game-tying touchdown against the Ravens at the death. Instead of kicking the PAT, Pederson sent his team back out there to go for it and the attempt failed. The Eagles lost. The Head Coach wanted to show full confidence in his offense and over time, that bred a fearless culture.

The problem with gambling is that there is often a saying associated with it – ‘the house always wins’. We can look at Pederson’s gambles this year on two levels. The in-game bets of going for it on 4th and 15 instead of taking a field goal to bring you within 10 points in the biggest game of the season, or starting Jason Peters at left tackle instead of Jordan Mailata and watching everything fall to pieces.

The Eagles rank 27th in 4th-down conversions this year, which is wild considering they rank 6th in conversions per game. The parity between attempts and conversions is clear and very much acts as a microcosm for the season as a whole.

Benching Carson Wentz was the biggest gamble of all. It looked like it might pay off after the first two dazzling starts of Jalen Hurts, but when Dallas climbed back from a double-digit deficit to take one of their own, Pederson did little to help his rookie who was left wallowing in the deep end.

The list of small bets placed and lost by Pederson this season are endless. Keeping Alshon Jeffery away from IR and depriving players who could actually contribute of a roster spot was one of the first dominos to fall, while Alshon’s eventual return and bleeding out of Travis Fulgham’s snaps was one of the last.

What is arguably the most deeply concerning gamble of all, is the one Pederson placed on himself. For weeks, the Eagles’ offense didn’t change. Now, it didn’t help that Carson Wentz was playing terribly and missing most of the minimal opportunities the offense was able to conjure, but instead of adjusting for the fact that the offensive line couldn’t stop a shopping cart by drawing up shorter passes, relying on the run-game, and getting Wentz outside of the pocket, Pederson continued to double down on his gameplan again and again.

Not much changed from week one through to week 12. Carson Wentz is still the most sacked player in football despite not playing for 3.5 weeks. The majority of the plays called by Doug Pederson involved long-developing routes. This is great…if your receivers can separate and linemen can block – neither of which happened very often to the Eagles this year. Giving up an average of 4.1 sacks per game paint a painful picture of the ball being in the hands of Wentz too long. Some of it was on him, some of it the offense. But as Jalen Hurts proved, it certainly wasn’t all on him.

Through negligence to adapt until it’s too late and unwavering confidence in his own ability, Pederson has one last hand to play. The game won’t matter. The result won’t matter. The way the locker room sits afterward, however, certainly will. If Pederson was hired for his ’emotional intelligence’, it’s time to see whether he has enough of it to recoup many of the funds lost through terrible gambles throughout the year. His hands are tied at this point…it’s all down to the dealer.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire