Birds go fourth into Week 3 at 2-0
Numbers suggest Wentz, Eagles taking chances at right time
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.