Pederson: Birds can’t bask in limelight
Wentz deserves kudos, but Sam could still have been the man as Eagles QB
PHILADELPHIA >> We’ve just about run out of adjectives to describe the brilliance of Carson Wentz.
There is, however, another quarterback who could have led the Eagles to a stunning 3-0 start. It’s Sam Bradford. Let’s be honest about what really has happened in the first month of the season. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson installed a misdirection offense that’s rooted in the run and relies on run-afterthe-catch ability in the pass game. The Eagles huddle. They’ve rebirthed time of possession.
Unlike the up-tempo offense, the Pederson offense works when you work at it.
Add that to a defense playing to the strengths of its personnel (not to mention an outfit with fresher legs), a special teams unit that hasn’t substantially changed at all and a team that doesn’t turn the ball over at all or make the stupid mistakes it did the previous season and you have a winner.
Near the end of training camp, Pederson told me how he truly believed the Eagles would win with this team, including Bradford, because of the veteran leadership at key positions and its strengths on special teams and defense. He’s proven it to me.
Almost lost in the transition from Chip Kelly to Pederson is that special teams is basically the same. Dave Fipp remains the coordinator and all of his schemes and most of his key personnel are intact.
The Eagles are bidding to rank in the top five in special teams for the third straight season, no small feat with roster turnover these days.
Most recently Bennie Logan blocked a Steelers field goal attempt on the first series of the game, and it set the tone for the visitors in a 34-3 loss to the Eagles.
The defense with coordinator Jim Schwartz has allowed a league-low 27 points. Schwartz, like the late Jim Johnson, absolutely has to play downhill in a 4-3 alignment. The scheme suits the existing personnel better than the 3-4 with which they were uncomfortable in previous years.
The defensive line has
dominated so much this season that the Eagles haven’t had to blitz much. The pass defense with its zone coverage, run with a lot of new faces, has been better than the coaches anticipated.
It’s not an accident the Schwartz defense is playing so well. The unit is averaging 54 snaps a game this season, not 76 as the Eagles defense did last season. Add those extra snaps together over the course of a season and the Schwartz ‘D’ is playing almost a handful of games less than its predecessor. The Eagles haven’t look fatigued on defense all season.
Additionally the defense hasn’t been put in a bad spot all year. You can thank Pederson’s offense and special teams for that. In three games the best starting position an opponent has had is the 48-yard line of the Eagles. That’s the only time an opponent has begun a possession in Birds territory.
Wentz has done an outstanding job directing the offense. His 103.7 rating speaks volumes about his preparation and skills. He’s the franchise, unquestionably.
He has done things no rookie quarterbacks have done before him. Then again, some of the names of the guys you see associated with those records in their first three starts
haven’t sustained the success. Mark Sanchez comes to mind. Last week one of the names on those rookie records was Ryan Leaf.
Bradford could make all of the throws Wentz does in the Pederson offense, to the same receivers, including the tight ends. Does Wentz look downfield more than Bradford? Absolutely, although it’s not like Wentz is throwing deep every other series.
The Eagles would be controlling the football with Bradford in much the same way as they are now with the ground game and the possession passing game … and maybe better.
The Eagles aren’t exactly tearing it up on third down, as they converted just 30 percent in the first three games. How could that not be any worse with Bradford?
Wentz clearly has the edge over Bradford in mobility, and on Sunday he showed it. Wentz drew the Steelers defense in and lobbed the ball over its collective heads to Darren Sproles, who rolled 73 yards for a backbreaking score to pretty much secure the Birds’ third straight victory.
Three games without a turnover is every bit as impressive a feat for Wentz.
Bradford hasn’t turned the ball over, either, albeit in two games. The Vikings have a terrific defense and their special teams are good. The Vikings are the
only other NFC team with a 3-0 record.
The lack of turnovers is a product of coaching and the plays scripted by Pederson, who said he plays the game in his mind during the week to come up with the plays that best suit Wentz to the opponent. Think it would be any different if Bradford was the guy?
To segue off that, the Eagles have scored on their first possession in every game this season. What reason is there to think Pederson couldn’t sync Bradford up with plays that would make him any less productive?
As well as Wentz has played, the Eagles almost certainly would be 3-0 at this point with Bradford.
Would the Eagles be any worse off with Bradford than Wentz?
Decide for yourself Oct. 23, when the Vikings oppose the Eagles at the Linc.
To contact Bob Grotz, email firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ BobGrotz.
The Eagles’ Carson Wentz looks to pass during the first half against the Steelers, Sunday.