There have been 54 Super Bowls. The Philadelphia Eagles have played in three of them. They lost the first two and won the third, beating the greatest head coach, greatest quarterback and most dominant sports dynasty since the Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls in the process. All in the most offensively dynamic Super Bowl anyone has ever seen.
Doug Pederson was the head coach who did that. So is it really possible that his stock could fall enough in 2020 to push the Eagles front office to make a change in the near future?
It seems ludicrous, doesn’t it? After all, in the two seasons after winning Super Bowl 52, the Eagles have made the playoffs each season, won a playoff game, and beat out the Dallas Cowboys to win the NFC East last season. And yet, a new piece by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane sheds light on the inner workings of the Eagles front office and this off-season’s coaching decisions that seem to indicate confidence in Pederson may be waning. Make sure to read Jeff’s full piece for all the gritty details.
To be clear, McLane’s article does not say, nor does it hint, that a change at the top could be imminent if the Eagles fail to make the playoffs this year. What it does do is show that the decision to make coaching changes this off-season came from the voices above him, namely general manager Howie Roseman and owner Jeff Lurie, and that Lurie has been dissatisfied with the direction of the offense the last two seasons.
The Search For New Voices
It should not be lost on anyone that, one day after Doug Pederson said his offensive coordinator, Mike Groh, and wide receivers coach, Carson Walch, would not replaced, Pederson did a 180 as the team announced both men would not be retained moving forward.
And he became “irritated,” “frustrated,” “pissed off,” — descriptives used by sources to describe the coach — because he had already given Groh and Walch his word. But at some point over the next day, after meetings with owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman, “Doug suddenly became OK with firing both,” a source close to Pederson said.
Kinda weird, right?
Maybe Pederson was convinced it was the right thing to do by Lurie and Roseman. Perhaps he was forced to do it. If Pederson’s hand was forced, it was a mixed blessing. Groh and Walch presided over an offense that struggled for much of last year and most fans believed it was important for the Eagles to go outside the organization to freshen up the offense. But it would also be a bad sign that the head coach doesn’t have total control over his own staff, especially one with Pederson’s past success.
Pederson is a Super Bowl winning head coach, and it wasn’t a lucky victory, either. He outreached the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick, the guy with six Super Bowl rings, on the game’s biggest stage, with daring play calls and decisions that will live forever in NFL lore. One would think a coach who had accomplished that, all in his second season as the top guy, would be left to make coaching decisions unfettered.
That doesn’t appear to be what happened.
Lurie Wants Offense
In the Eagles’ Super Bowl season of 2017, they averaged 28.6 points per game, tied for 2nd-most in the NFL. In 2018, that number fell to 22.9, 18th in the league. It improved slightly last season, to 24.1 points per game, 12th in the NFL, but it was clear the offense had lost some explosiveness and effectiveness. McLane reported Lurie was not happy with how the offense had grown stale and didn’t give Pederson much credit after their wild card win over the Chicago Bears in January of ‘19,
For instance, when the Eagles beat the Bears in the 2018 playoffs, his celebration was muted because the offense had scored only 16 points. And that can often place Pederson under additional owner scrutiny. But Pederson’s affable manner mostly makes it work.
McLane reported Lurie wades into matters of personnel when it comes to his offense, and it’s obvious that happened after the 2019 season. But to what degree? And if the offense struggles this year, how upset is the Birds’ owner going to get?
It’s important to remember the headwinds this offense has faced over the last two seasons. In 2018, Wentz was coming off a devastating knee injury and missed the first few weeks of the NFL season as he recovered. It was clear upon his return that he was never 100% right, and he ultimately missed the last three weeks of the season with a back injury. Nick Foles had to once again come in and go on a late, three-game winning streak that landed the team a wild card berth.
It was a miracle they even made the playoffs. According to Football Outsiders, they were the most banged-up team to make the postseason that year, the second-most injured team in the NFL, per player games lost. Last year, the situation improved slightly, as they were the 12th-most injured team, but many of those injuries were clustered at key positions, specifically wide receiver.
Injuries can devastate an offense, and losing DeSean Jackson for virtually all of 2019, along with underperformance and additional injuries to Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and JJ Arcega-Whiteside, was debilitating. Pederson was also given a roster with virtually no team speed. There’s a reason Roseman drafted Jalen Reagor in the first round, John Hightower in the fifth, Quez Watkins in the 6th and traded for Marquise Goodwin during the draft. He recognized that the pieces with which Pederson had to work were not good enough.
And yet, when the team had to win four straight in order to make the postseason, the offense performed better, with Wentz getting hot and getting practice squad players to make huge plays down the stretch. Doug Pederson had something to do with that.
Who’s Doing What?
After Groh and Walch were fired, the team brought in numerous voices from other organizations for a fresh perspective and new ideas. Rich Scangarello, who had been fired as the offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos after last season, was hired as a senior offensive assistant after spending years under the NFL’s newest coaching genius, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. Marty Mornhinweg, who is close to Pederson, is back as a senior offensive consultant. Press Taylor was promoted from QB coach to pass game coordinator, and Andrew Breiner is aboard as a “pass game analyst,” whatever that means.
As McLane noted in his piece, Pederson is the one who has to cobble all these different voices together into one harmonious message. He calls the plays and he is the de facto offensive coordinator. And while Pederson is renowned for his low-ego and aw-shucks mentality as a head coach, always willing to listen to ideas and fold in suggestions from others into his game plan, he’ll have many new voices to filter through. Can he find the right combination?
Pederson Shouldn’t Be Going Anywhere
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.