Doug Pederson talks a lot about doors. When he gathers his players around him for his post-game victory speech, he reminds them that their goal was to walk through the doors to the locker room with an additional win. Having done so eight out of nine times this season, it’s hard to criticize his methods, or anything else he’s doing.
While Pederson talks to his players about home renovation projects, perhaps we should talk about Pederson in terms of landscaping, as he’s establishing himself in the league’s biggest coaching tree, and might be planting his own soon.
Andy Reid, himself a branch from Mike Holmgren’s coaching tree, who came from Bill Walsh’s, who came from Paul Brown’s, has cultivated an impressive coaching legacy. Eight coaches who came up through Reid have been or currently are head coaches. Together they have a Super Bowl win and loss, and five additional conference championship appearances. Four of his protegees are currently head coaches, three have winning records. None are having a better season than Pederson, including Reid.
It’s not just that Pederson has the best record in the league, it’s how he’s achieved it. Just about every button Pederson has pushed this season has been the right one, and he’s been consistent with it.
Through 25 games, Doug Pederson has what seems to be a pretty clear, if traditional, game plan: control the game through clock management. In 2016, with his offense 20th and defense 19th on 3rd downs, the Eagles were still 1st in time of possession. This year, the offense is 2nd and the defense is 3rd on 3rd downs, and the Eagles are 2nd in time of possession.
But time of possession doesn’t win games. It’s how you control the clock that does.
One of Pederson’s biggest strengths this year has been game planning. Every team scripts their early play calls, but no team has done it better this season than the Eagles, who average a league high 7.1 points per game in the 1st quarter, scoring four touchdowns and a field goal on their opening possession, and a touchdown and four field goals on their second possession.
As good as the early stages of games have been, making the Eagles 4th in scoring in the first half, the second half has been even better: the Eagles are 1st in second half scoring. They’re getting out to early leads and they’re putting teams away. That’s more than just a good game plan, it’s good in-game adjustments as well. Carson Wentz’s efficiency actually drops in the second half; in 150 first half attempts, Wentz has a passer rating of 108.4 in the first half (a rate that would be 2nd best in the league over the whole season), in 141 second half attempts, a rating of 99.4 (equivalent to 8th best). But everything else improves.
Wentz has taken 18 first half sacks, but just 5 in the second half. LeGarrette Blount’s efficiency skyrockets in the second half, from 3.9 yards per carry to 5.2. Cory Clement’s smaller workload has an even bigger split of 1.7/4.9, and that can’t be explained away by red zone usage: he has two first half red zone attempts to four in the second half. Wendell Smallwood’s decrease from 4.0 yards per carry to 3.8 in the second half may be a contributing factor to him being the odd man out in the Jay Ajayi trade, and to the trade itself. Pederson and his staff are consistently making the right adjustments.
Cleaning up issues is a recurring theme for Pederson. Every coach has their flaws, but Pederson seems to be fixing his fairly quickly. Last year the the team was pretty much devoid of in-house options to turn to, and it being a rebuilding season there was every reason to stick with young players through their struggles. But this year expectations were raised to start the season, and they’ve only increased as the season progressed. Pederson has made adjustments that meet them. Isaac Seumalo struggled at the beginning of the season and was quickly benched. The rotation that followed him end after a few games. The over reliance on screen passes to start the season is gone. Pederson has balanced allowing Torrey Smith to play through his struggles and not letting it handcuff the team, Smith played at least 71% of snaps in the first four games, he’s played a high of 63% of snaps in the next five. Wendell Smallwood’s playing time steadily decreased in his last five games while Corey Clement’s steadily increased in his last four. And Pederson, after being extremely aggressive on fourth down last season and stating a desire to do so again this season (along with going for two in unconventional spots), has wisely kept his aggression in check. In 2016 it was a difference maker, this season he hasn’t needed it yet.
One area that Pederson hasn’t had to adjust much is his team’s mentality. The Eagles have started strong, on both sides of the ball, in part because they have come out sharp week in and week out. The defense is giving up 1.3 points per game in the first quarter, with 2 turnovers and 5 three and outs on opponent’s first two drives to just 0 touchdowns and 4 field goals given up. The one game the Eagles offense came out flat, Monday night against the Redskins, the offense got itself together and had back to back 80 yard touchdown drives before halftime. Talking about doors works.
Then there’s Carson Wentz. His ascent to an MVP candidate is part Wentz’s natural talent, the increase in talent around him, and Pederson and his staff’s coaching. Everyone is going to feast off of it, some sooner than later.
In January the Eagles denied quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo from interviewing with the Jets to be their offensive coordinator. The need to keep DeFilippo on staff to continue Wentz’s progression was obvious, but they can’t stand in the way of him progressing his career forever. Teams will come calling for the coach who works most closely with Carson Wentz this offseason. They’ll probably come for others as well. Jim Schwartz will at least be a top head coach candidate in the media if not in real life. Frank Reich is a darkhorse candidate. Cory Undlin’s resume working with young defensive backs has grown this season, he’s one to watch when teams go shopping for defensive coordinators. Mike Groh, already an established WR coach, is only bolstering his reputation with the career turnaround of Nelson Agholor. With 12 years of college experience, a college offensive coordinator job may be on offer for him, if not one in the NFL. Any team looking for a head coach would be smart to interview Dave Fipp.
Not all these guys will will leave, and depending on how long the Eagles season goes, it might not be this year, as teams are reluctant to hire coaches who are still coaching in the playoffs, though the Falcons waiting on Dan Quinn might break that ice. And while none of them are “truly” descendant from Pederson the way that Reid’s acolytes are, Pederson is playing a role in them moving up in the football world.
Doug Pederson has built a pretty good frame for those doors.