I miss “Big Balls” Doug Pederson.
The Eagles head coach, who famously refused to turtle up against Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl, was nowhere to be seen in Sunday’s 21-17 loss at Lincoln Financial Field.
With 2:10 left in the second quarter against Carolina, Pederson decided to bleed the clock rather than build on a 10-0 lead. Yes, the Eagles were backed up to their own 4-yard line, but gutsy Doug would have aimed for the kill shot. When a long screen pass to Wendell Smallwood got called back for holding, Pederson just packed it in for the half.
I miss balanced Doug Pederson.
Sure, the Andy Reid protégé has always skewed toward the pass. But the Eagles did finish third in the NFL in rushing yards in 2017, and Pederson generally employed the strategy of, pass to get the lead, run to protect the lead.
In Sunday’s shocker, the Eagles took a 17-0 lead into the fourth quarter. From that point on, Pederson called 13 passes and a single run. Most egregiously, the Birds got the ball with a 4:02 left in the game and a 17-14 lead. Three straight pass plays netted zero yards, and the Eagles had to punt back to the Panthers for what turned out to be the game-winning drive.
I miss intelligent Doug Pederson.
In his post-game news conference, Pederson said he told his players, “The pressure is off us now.”
“No one is giving us a chance anyway,” he offered with a straight face. “. . . So I think that’s the pressure that’s off us. And we just have to get back to playing and executing better.”
These are the Super Bowl Champions, who have been favored in every game this season. Their franchise quarterback is again healthy and humming along, they won their previous game by three touchdowns and the stadium was full of screaming supporters on Sunday.
Hey, we know the German shepherd masks galvanized everyone when the Eagles were home underdogs in last year’s playoffs. But Pederson needs to have a better answer for the epic collapse than to pull out the old disrespect card.
I miss confident Doug Pederson.
Or, more accurately, in this case, I miss a defensive coordinator with the guts to go for the kill shot. Okay, Jim Schwartz has never been a fan of selling out for the blitz. But on Sunday – after an aggressive game plan shut down Cam Newton for three quarters – Schwartz shifted to a prevent defense that, as the cliché goes, merely prevented the Eagles from winning.
You can fairly argue that the lack of depth on the defensive line led to the pass rush fading down the stretch. And you can rant about Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby continuing to play soft and bite on double moves – which also calls into question the effectiveness of defensive backs coach Cory Undlin.
But it was obvious that the Eagles’ defense lost its assertiveness in the fourth quarter, hoping the clock would bleed out before they could blow the lead.
It did not.
Last year, Pederson grew into genius status right in front of our eyes. He entered this season telling us that what we witnessed was “the new normal.”
Instead, his team has blown huge leads against Tennessee and Carolina, and lost consecutive home games. Rather than the new normal, last season now seems like lightning in a bottle.