Ped­er­son: Birds can’t bask in lime­light

Wentz de­serves ku­dos, but Sam could still have been the man as Ea­gles QB

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - Bob Grotz Colum­nist

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 bgrotz@21stcen­tu­ry­media.com; fol­low him on Twit­ter @ BobGrotz.

MICHAEL PEREZ — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Ea­gles’ Car­son Wentz looks to pass dur­ing the first half against the Steel­ers, Sun­day.

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