Eagles coach Doug Pederson started his weekly press conference by defending his wide receivers. By the time he ended it, he was defending himself. And, just like that, the honeymoon was over.
Pederson met the press on Monday afternoon about 12 hours after his team blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and fell to their arch-rival, the Dallas Cowboys, 29-23 in overtime. And as soon as the press conference began, the questions started to fly about the Eagles’ wide receivers and their lack of production, which included, once again, several dropped passes and no big plays.
But the wide receivers aren’t the only ones to hear criticism this week – a few of Pederson’s fourth-quarter decisions were second-guessed by media and fans alike and, for the first time since he took over as coach back in January, Pederson is feeling the heat — and he doesn’t deal with it very well.
That could be a problem moving forward and, just like his mentor, Andy Reid, Pederson could end up alienating much of the Eagles fan base.
The problem is simple – the fans and the media want honesty. They don’t expect the coach to rip his players or reveal his game plan, but they do want him to treat them like reasonably intelligent human beings.
Instead, Pederson talks about learning experiences and being proud of his players for playing hard and not giving up and all the stuff that nobody wants to hear when you lose, especially if you lose like the Eagles did against Dallas. Learning experiences? This is the NFL, not high school. Playing hard? Well, that’s their job and they only have to do it once a week and they get paid millions of dollars to do it.
That working-hard mantra was the same one used by Reid on a weekly basis. How many times did you hear him say that he had to put his players in better position to make plays, and that he and his coaching staff would fix their problems? And how many remember his infamous exchange with a reporter who wanted to know how he was going to fix those problems and Reid answered “That’s for me to know and for you to find out.”
Reid won more regular season and playoff games than any other coach in Eagles history, but he wasn’t popular with the fans because he constantly insulted their intelligence by failing to acknowledge things that even they could see. And now Pederson is playing the same game. Again, the fans don’t want to be told that the Eagles are learning and playing hard and showing character. All they know is that the Eagles have lost three games they could have won, and they’re 4-3 when they probably should be 5-2 or even 6-1.
It’s a fact of NFL life that the coach gets the blame when a team coughs up a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, and especially when so many of his late-game decisions were questioned – just as so many of Reid’s were over the years. Granted, if Pederson’s moves had worked out everyone would be praising him. But they didn’t, and you can do the math.
One of those decisions came with 7:17 left in the game and the Eagles leading 23-16. They had the ball on the Dallas 30, facing third-and-8, and were already in field goal range for kicker Caleb Sturgis, who earlier had connected from 30, 55 and 34 yards. Pederson called for a screen pass to running back Darren Sproles, a play that lost 6 yards.
Inquiring minds wanted to know why Pederson called for a play that threw the ball across the field instead of down it, especially when any positive yardage would have made Sturgis’ job easier. But Pederson didn’t fault the decision and much as the execution – he said it was a good call for the defense Dallas was playing at the time, and a missed block on the play allowed Dallas linebacker Sean Lee to drop Sproles for the loss.
“It’s assignment football,” he said. “It’s one of our basic, fundamental plays that we’ve [practiced] the entire season in a ‘man’ situation, which we got. It just comes down to assignments – we busted one assignment and a negative play happened.
“If we make that play, we’re inside the [Dallas] 20-yard line with a first-and-10.”
The other big question for Pederson was about his decision on the play immediately following the botched screen pass. Even with the 6-yard loss, Sturgis would have been looking at a 53-yard attempt and he had already made one from further than that, with plenty of room to spare. That would have made it a two-score game with a little more than six minutes to play. Instead, Pederson punted the ball away and the Cowboys quickly drove downfield for the game-tying touchdown.
This time, Pederson said his decision had nothing to do with his offense or his special teams – it had to do with his defense.
“I was trusting my defense in that situation,” he said, “to pin them back inside the 15, at the 10, to make them drive the length of the field. I felt real comfortable in that situation.”
But he didn’t look comfortable at the podium during his post-game press conference as he came up with weak-sounding reasons for his late-game decisions and the play of his wide receivers and how his team lost another game it probably should have won.
Throughout training camp and the preseason, Pederson talked easily with the media and actually looked reporters in the eye as he answered questions fully and honestly, and that was a welcome change from the Chip Kelly Show of the last few years. Even the people in the NovaCare Complex raved about how much more human Pederson was than his predecessor – he would actually say “hi’’ to them in the hallway.
But it was easy for Pederson then – he hadn’t lost a game or made a decision that blew up in his face. Now he’s lost three games and been criticized for some of his moves and now he’s starting to sound more and more like, well, you know who – his former boss with the Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs.
A head coach in the NFL is much more than somebody who designs Xs and 0s. He’s the head of a billion-dollar corporation, and when you’re the head coach of the Eagles you become the face and spokesman of a franchise that has one of the toughest fan bases in the America. So far, Doug Pederson hasn’t done much to soften them.