If you didn’t like Doug Pederson often attempting fourth down conversions last season, I have some bad news for you. The Philadelphia Eagles head coach said he has no plans to change his strategy moving forward. In fact, PhillyVoice notes that Pederson talked to some of the Eagles’ analytics people and they said he should be even more aggressive moving forward.
How could this be? Surely Doug was reckless last year, right?
Jimmy Kempski put together a detailed breakdown of Pederson’s decisions to go for it on fourth down in 2016. Check it out for yourself, but here are his findings.
So, in conclusion, I'm personally on board with about 95 percent of the fourth down calls in which Pederson went for it last season. Pederson's aggression on fourth down a season ago should be applauded, not knocked.
There’s obviously some subjectivity involved in Kempski’s assessment. But the data backs up Pederson’s decisions as well. According to this chart from The New York Times’ 4th Down Bot, all of Pederson’s decisions were reasonable.
No one is saying Pederson was a perfect head coach in 2016. Though his play-calling was fine overall, there were some instances on the fourth down attempts where the design was not good. He made some questionable challenge decisions. He awkwardly called out his players before back-tracking.
Still, the good outweighed the bad. And Pederson’s aggression shouldn’t be labeled in the bad category. I know people want to point to the Cowboys games and Giants games last season as examples of Pederson’s decision-making costing them the game. I can totally agree that the third-down swing pass to Darren Sproles against the Cowboys on third down that lost yardage wasn’t great. And then the decision to punt instead of kicking a field goal made things worse. In that case, Pederson wasn’t being aggressive enough!
As for the Giants game, however, I don’t believe Pederson deserves major criticism. The team was down in a hole after Carson Wentz threw two interceptions to start the game. Pederson reasonably tried to dig them out of that hole by maximizing their scoring opportunities.
Speaking of, that’s a huge reason Pederson HAD to be aggressive last year. It’s no secret the 2016 Eagles offense was pretty trash for the most part. It wasn’t like Philadelphia could count on the NFL’s worst wide receiving corps to help them get into scoring position on a regular basis. He needed to create advantages where he could.
I’d say one of the most disappointing parts about the Chip Kelly era is that he was so surprisingly conservative in the NFL after being real aggressive on fourth down in college. Pederson is not your average head coach who likes to play things safe. Unfortunately, it’s these coaches who have set a standard in the NFL which makes people think being conservative is the right decision. That’s often not the case.
Before you accuse me of being a homer, please realize that I was among those most skeptical of the Pederson hire. I’m not fully sold on the Eagles’ head coach by any means. He did have an overall decent rookie season, in my view, but he still has a lot to prove.
I do respect the hell out of Pederson for not having fear. Herm Edwards infamously once said “You play to win the game.” By being aggressive, that’s exactly what Pederson does. I’m glad to see he doesn’t plan on changing.