In the minutes following the Philadelphia Eagles’ victory parade down Broad Street after their historic Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots three years ago, head coach Doug Pederson stood upon the Art Museum Steps and made a promise.
“We are not done yet, we have more to go, more to prove. This is our new norm, this is our new norm, to be playing football in February.”
In that moment, all of Philadelphia believed him. And why not? Pederson had just out-schemed and out-coached Bill Belichick, the greatest head coach in NFL history, on the game’s greatest stage. Pederson’s aggressiveness resulted in one of the greatest play calls in Super Bowl history (The Philly Special, of course), and cemented him as one of the best coaches in the league.
Confidence in Pederson was sky high.
Three years later, Doug Pederson is lost. Unable to construct a cohesive gameplan coming out of their bye week with a roster of offensive playmakers that was as healthy as they’ve ever been, the Eagles went 0-for-9 on third down conversions and managed 17 paltry points against the New York Giants’ 22nd-ranked DVOA defense. Momentum-killing Jalen Hurts plays, the refusal to stick with the running game, and unimaginative play calling that once again looked like random ingredients being thrown into a slow cooker with no semblance of a recipe all reared their ugly heads once again this week.
We thought we knew what we had in Doug Pederson. Now, that confidence has been shattered.
When Carson Wentz tore up his knee in Week 14 of the NFL season, he was the presumptive MVP favorite. He had a 60.2% completion percentage, he had 33 TDs and 7 INTs in just 13 games, a 101.9 QB rating and displayed a remarkable ability to make the ridiculous plays look routine.
Fans were crestfallen after his injury. The season appeared lost, and the city was devastated. But after the knee injury, everything changed. Nick Foles led the team to a Super Bowl and, the following season, another late-season surge and postseason run. Wentz’ teammates constructed a shrine to the back-up. Articles critical of Carson’s leadership emerged, the offense suffered a deluge of injuries, his QB coach left, and someone in the locker room shared some uncomplimentary thoughts about him to Josina Anderson. Still, Wentz led the team on a four game winning streak to finish 2019 and fans generally felt good about his prospects in 2020.
Nine games in the 2020 season, those illusions have been shattered.
Wentz has a QB rating of 73.1, 31st out of 33 quarterbacks in the NFL. Only Drew Lock (66.5) and Sam Darnold (65.9) are worse. He’s 24th out of 30 QBs in Expected Points Added (EPA), and leads the league in interceptions (12) and sacks (35). He’s not as agile in the pocket, his accuracy has disappeared, and his decision-making has severely regressed.
The most disturbing thing about the 2020 Eagles season is that it appears as though the things we thought we knew about the two most important members of the organization, the head coach and franchise quarterback, we no longer know.
We don’t know if Doug Pederson is a quality head coach. We don’t know if Carson Wentz is a franchise QB. Evidence mounts every week that neither are who we thought they were.
Despite the inconsistencies of the defense, a litany of awful drafts, and injuries up and down the roster, it was assumed the competency of Pederson and Wentz would keep the Eagles afloat. Maybe they wouldn’t be Super Bowl contenders year-in and year-out, but they would at least be a decent football team most weeks, and certainly one that would take advantage of the worst division in modern football history.
On Sunday, Wentz wasn’t awful. He didn’t turn the ball over and, for the most part, took what the defense gave him. He was mediocre. Unfortunately, mediocre constitutes an improvement for Carson in 2020. That’s how far the bar has been lowered. The Eagles have little choice but to keep running him out there and hope he gets better.
Could they bench him for Jalen Hurts? Sure, and they may have to do that for a spell if Wentz doesn’t improve, but that creates a hornet’s nest of issues the organization may not be prepared to handle (though they brought it on themselves by foolishly drafting Hurts in the second round to begin with).
How good would Hurts be with an offensive coaching staff that seems to have no answers? The addition of Rich Scangarello has done nothing to help the Eagles become more dynamic. There’s no excuse for not finding ways to get Dallas Goedert, Miles Sanders, Travis Fulgham and Jalen Reagor the ball in creative ways. Calls for Pederson to relinquish his play-calling duties abound, but if it’s not Doug, who calls the plays? Scangarello? Press Taylor? Duce Staley? Are those better options? And of course, the Eagles could perhaps have benefitted from hiring an actual offensive coordinator, but if Doug isn’t the de facto coordinator and isn’t calling plays, then what is his role? Is he any better than a Jason Garrett 2.0?
In September, I wondered if time could actually be running out on Doug Pederson and at the end of the day, I just couldn’t see how it made sense to fire a Super Bowl winning head coach after what would have essentially been one bad season.
Pederson is by no means a perfect coach. The offense has looked stale at times and, let’s face it, he’s not great at press conferences. Sometimes Doug gets himself into trouble when he reveals too much or tries to make up a reason for some decision that has been made above his pay grade (such as the Jason Peters-to-left tackle issue this summer).
But Pederson is clearly among the best coaches in the NFL. If he were to be dismissed, who would the Eagles hire that could do a better job? We’ve seen so-called “geniuses” like Sean McVay fail to even reach the postseason one year after going to the Super Bowl (and losing with his offense performing as poorly as any team in Super Bowl history), while Pederson has continued to take his teams to the tournament. Had Wentz not been knocked out of last year’s wild card game against Seattle on a cheap shot by Jadaveon Clowney, who’s to say they don’t beat a flawed Seahawks team and move on to the divisional round?
Certainly Pederson needed some help this off-season. Bringing in outside voices was vital, because echo chambers rarely churn out a good product, and adding speed to the offense was critical as well.
But even if the offense struggles a bit in 2020, even if the Eagles finish on the outside of the postseason looking in, it would be monumentally short-sighted and stupid of the front office to even consider moving on from Doug Pederson.
Two months later, things have changed. No one expected this. Pederson’s inability to have his team ready to play a terrible football team, in a terrible division, was eye-opening. Yesterday’s loss was the worst of the Pederson era, a lifeless, listless “effort” in which every facet of the team was bad. Despite all the “QB Factory” talk before the season, Wentz’ regression falls, in some part, on the shoulders of the coaching staff, which is headed by Pederson, although Wentz should shoulder a considerable load of the blame, too.
Confidence in both men has been shattered and the staggering decline of Wentz and Pederson is terrible news for a franchise that seems farther away from the Super Bowl than it has ever been.