Birds go fourth into Week 3 at 2-0

Num­bers sug­gest Wentz, Ea­gles tak­ing chances at right time

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Bob Grotz bgrotz@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @BobGrotz on Twit­ter

PHILADEL­PHIA >> If coaches who lis­ten to fans end up sit­ting with them, it must be the same deal with an­a­lyt­ics geeks. Lis­ten to them too much and you’ll end up do­ing an­a­lyt­ics.

Then there is Ea­gles head coach Doug Ped­er­son, the exquar­ter­back who on fourth down has found a seam­less way to bal­ance the in­stinct to con­vert with the num­bers he gets from his an­a­lyt­ics peo­ple.

“It just gives your team an ad­van­tage, I think, when you can ex­e­cute those plays,” Ped­er­son said Tues­day. “And if you do it in a timely fash­ion and in a cal­cu­lated man­ner it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily hurt your de­fense if they have to go back out on the field be­cause field po­si­tion is pretty neu­tral at that time. It’s the con­fi­dence level in the guys. It’s the trust I have in them. And the ex­e­cu­tion is some­thing that’s ob­vi­ously top notch in those sit­u­a­tions, too.”

The Ea­gles are 4-for-4 on fourth down. The con­ver­sions have led to

17 points, ex­tended a classic Bill Belichick, clock-killing pos­ses­sion and made the Ea­gles 2-0, tied for first in the NFC East.

On Monday the Ea­gles bru­tal­ized the Bears with three con­ver­sions on fourth down in a 29-14 vic­tory. How de­mor­al­iz­ing was it? The Ea­gles and rookie quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz seemed to be in four-down ter­ri­tory each time they crossed the 50-yard line.

“Some­times it is a feel thing,” Ped­er­son said. “It de­pends on how your team is play­ing. That’s just a gut feel­ing you have as a play­caller. The other thing is when you talk about math, you’re talk­ing about where you are on the field, the ac­tual dis­tance you need to gain. Does a punt ver­sus field goal help you in those sit­u­a­tions? You’re try­ing to do a quick lit­tle cal­cu­la­tion in all that to make those de­ci­sions. I felt like last night all of those boxes were checked in or­der for us to go for it on fourth down.”

Ped­er­son’s split-sec­ond de­ci­sions to roll on fourth down have meshed per­fectly with Wentz, who hasn’t met a play, much less a drive he didn’t want to ex­tend. The as­sess­ments nonethe­less are aided by an­a­lyt­ics, or as Ped­er­son says, “guys that are al­ways crunch­ing the num­bers for us.

“We’re tak­ing a look at all the fourth-down sce­nar­ios, not only in the league but just in gen­eral,” Ped­er­son said. “It’s hav­ing some good in­for­ma­tion go­ing into each foot­ball game.”

In the season opener, Ped­er­son kept Wentz and the of­fense on the field on fourth-and-four at the 35yard line of the Browns. Zach Ertz’s five-yard catch set up Wentz’s back­break­ing 35-yard scor­ing pass to Nel­son Agholor.

In the Bears game, Ped­er­son didn’t want to give up on the first pos­ses­sion. On fourth-and-two at the 28yard line of the Bears, Wentz found Do­rial Green-Beck­ham with a first-down pass. The Ea­gles even­tu­ally took a 3-0 lead with a field goal.

In the fourth quar­ter Monday, the Ea­gles led, 22-7, with 10 min­utes and change left in reg­u­la­tion when they had fourth-and­goal at the two-yard line of the Bears. Dar­ren Spro­les was stopped at the goal line but the Bears were off­side.

On fourth-and-goal at the 1, Ryan Mathews put the game away with his sec­ond rush­ing touch­down.

Tele­vi­sion view­ers and some re­porters thought Ped­er­son got after the lat­ter fourth down be­cause kicker Caleb Stur­gis had in­jured his ham­string.

“Had noth­ing to do with his sta­tus,” Ped­er­son said. “He was cramp­ing dur­ing the game. My thought there was, fourth-and-goal at the 1, if we don’t get it they’re at the one-yard line and they’ve got to go 99 yards. And if we score, we even sep­a­rate our­selves even more. So that was the de­ci­sion there.”

Stur­gis, by the way, kicked the point-after.

The Bears had a pulse when Ed­die Royal re­turned a Don­nie Jones punt 65 yards for a score with 5:09 to go. But the on­side kick was un­suc­cess­ful, Brent Celek cov­er­ing it at his 49yard line.

Worse, the Ea­gles were in fourth down ter­ri­tory ... again. On fourth-and-six at the Bears’ 26 with 2:13 left, Jordan Matthews hauled in a seven-yard re­cep­tion.

The game ended with three Wentz kneel-downs.

Fourth down, the op­po­si­tion has learned, has be­come an ag­gres­sive down. It should be in­ter­est­ing to see how the Steel­ers, who come to town Sun­day, deal with the Birds. The Steel­ers (20) have al­lowed one fourth down con­ver­sion in three at­tempts.

“It def­i­nitely shows con­fi­dence in the team,” Ped­er­son said. “It just so hap­pened last night when we did, es­pe­cially that fourt­hand-goal, I mean, the guys were fired up. Num­ber 1, we went for it, and No. 2, we scored. De­fen­sively, those guys were jacked up on the side­line. They were ex­cited.”


Ea­gles quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz passes against the Bears Monday in Chicago.


Ea­gles quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz, left, cel­e­brates a touch­down with run­ning back Ryan Mathews Monday night in Chicago. They are two of the rea­sons this year’s Birds squad of­ten seems in­tent on us­ing a fourth down rather than merely punt­ing it away.

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