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Another week, another challenge for Doug Pederson

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Redskins are the first divisional hurdle to clear

Philadelphia Eagles v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Each week seems like a new test for Doug Pederson and his team. Week 1 it was basically “can this guy even coach?” Week 2 was “yeah but it was the Browns, what about on the road on MNF?” Week 3 was “but that was the Bears, how bad will he get beat by the Steelers?” And last week it was “how would his team do off the bye?” No coach is flawless, but for a first year coach Pederson has been pretty close to it.

This week presents two challenges for Pederson, one of which that on the surface is absurd. First, how does he get his team to bounce back? Second, can he (and his staff) outcoach Jay Gruden? Yeah, it seems silly to question if someone is more competent than Jay Gruden, who hitched his wagon to Kirk Cousins in 2015 after leaving him by the side of the road in 2014, and who entering this season was 2-10 vs teams with a winning record.

But Jay Gruden was 3-1 vs Chip Kelly. That alone was reason enough to fire Kelly. Two of those losses eliminated the Eagles from the playoffs. Sunday’s game won’t have that kind of impact, but it is the first measuring stick within the division. Pederson was hired to bring back the Andy Reid era of dominating the NFC East, and one reason Reid was so successful in the first half of his career was that he was far and away the best coach in the division. His peers were Dave Campo, Jim Fassel, Norv Turner and Steve Spurrier, though he did have to face Marty Schottenheimer for a season. Pederson’s peers are an equally uninspiring bunch: Jay Gruden, Ben McAdoo and Jason Garrett.

In the heyday of the Andy Reid era, the Eagles went into nearly every divisional game with an advantage in coaching, which is massive. The Patriots and Seahawks do as well, and it’s one reason why they’ve consistently been the best teams in the league for years. We’ll start to get an idea of if Pederson can match Reid’s coaching advantage this week.

Four Downs

1 Wentz makes everything better

If you haven’t read Shamus Clancy’s guest post from earlier in the week, please do so. It’s a tremendous read. And it hits on a point that I was thinking of after the game on Sunday: Carson Wentz has made everything better this season. The Eagles lost a game they really should have won, and Wentz threw a pass he shouldn’t have, but it didn’t piss me off. It didn’t make me upset the way it would have in the past. Because Wentz looked good. Every week he does nothing to make you think his hot start is a mirage and everything to make you believe he’s the next big thing.

2 We haven’t seen the entire offense

One of the disappointing things about the Lions game was that Detroit is really bad at defending tight ends and Doug Pederson didn’t use his enough. In the preseason Pederson used three tight end sets and they looked pretty good, but with injuries to Trey Burton and then Zach Ertz, he wasn’t able to use them in the regular season until the Lions game. Which he didn’t do. Until he breaks that out, we still haven’t seen the full potential of the team that is third in the league in points per game.

3 We have basically seen the entire defense though

On the other hand, we’ve pretty much seen everything we can out of the defense. Which has mostly been really, really good, but it’s worth noting that there isn’t much room for growth. This is a mostly veteran unit, any improvement will be largely marginal or through line up changes. But we’ve seen line up changes, and they were a mistake. We saw what the defense would look like with more playing time for Mychal Kendricks and Stephen Tulloch, and it wasn’t good. We’ve seen the secondary down a starter and it’s been fine, but if both the injury prone Leodis McKelvin and the injury prone Nolan Carroll are out at the same time? Ouch. The only place for real potential is the growth of Jalen Mills and if and when Vinny Curry gets more playing time over Connor Barwin, who hasn’t played well enough to warrant getting more playing time than any defensive lineman. The defense is playing extremely well, so this isn’t a huge concern, but we should be mindful that while one unit has yet to fully reach it’s potential, the other is operating near it’s ceiling. But fortunately has a really high floor.

4 Somebody, anybody at wide receiver: step up

Jordan Matthews had a huge game in the season opener but then has been relatively quiet. At his best, Nelson Agholor has looked like a low end #2, which compared to last year is a huge improvement but compared to his draft status is a massive disappointment. Josh Huff has been invisible, Dorial Green-Beckham nearly so. Somebody, anybody, put together two straight good games. We’re nearing the point where jobs will be on the line.

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