Pederson sticking with ‘Big V’ despite pressure on Wentz
Rookie offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled in Sunday’s Eagles loss. But Doug Pederson says he will still start against the Vikings.
PHILADELPHIA >> In the search for guilt in the Eagles’ 27-20 loss Sunday in Washington, Halapoulivaati Vaitai has been declared safe.
Though the 6-6, 315-pound rookie right tackle had his early struggles, and while he has been a popular target for blame since the Eagles dropped their second consecutive game, he will start again Sunday against the visiting Minnesota Vikings.
That’s what Doug Pederson hinted after the game Sunday. And that’s what he stressed Monday at the NovaCare Complex at his regular day-after press conference.
“You look at it from a certain perspective then you get a chance to come in today and watch it again and you get a different perspective,” the Eagles’ coach said. “We felt like he had a slow start but really settled in nicely throughout the game.”
That slow start began immediately, with Vaitai being manhandled by Ryan Kerrigan and sacking Carson Wentz on the game’s first play from scrimmage. And before the Birds’ first series was over, Wentz would be sacked again.
The chain reaction, which began when Lane Johnson was suspended 10 games for flunking a performance-enhancing-drug test, required Pederson to add help to the right side of the line and increase protection in the backfield. That compromised his option to use those players in scoring, rather than protection, situations.
“Was it perfect? Was it pretty? No,” Pederson said.
“Were there assignment errors? Yes. And I’m not going to stand here and point the finger at ‘Big V’ because that’s not what happened. There were enough mistakes all around in this football game that cost us this game. But I thought as the game progressed, he settled in nicely and did some good things.”
Vaitai didn’t drop any passes, wasn’t responsible for an inch of the Redskins’ 230 rushing yards, didn’t call a timeout just to punt and wasn’t as shaky late as he was early. After the game, Pederson even called him a “warrior” and a “battler.” It’s why he started him in the first place, rather than moving Allen Barbre to right tackle and mixing a veteran, either Stefen Wisniewski or Matt Tobin, onto the line. It’s why he took the risk of protecting his rookie franchise quarterback with a fifth-round draft choice making his first career start.
“Listen, there’s a risk every time they take the field,” Pederson said. “Plain and simple, every time we take the field, there’s a risk, regardless of whether it’s a rookie or a veteran out there playing. I can’t get caught up in that. I’m not going to worry about that as much my focus is to get ‘V’ ready to go.”
That agenda was at least curious, given the Eagles’ status as a 3-2 team in a crowded, balanced division. While he is obligated to allow Wentz extended developmental time, Pederson’s decision to favor Vaitai over veterans suggests that he has a long-term view of his program. That’s why he was asked whether he was trying to develop young players … or a playoff team?
“He gives us the best opportunity to win right now,” Pederson said. “He is our backup right tackle right now. Therefore, he’s going to play and he’s going to gain valuable experience week in and week out.”
One week in, Pederson has decided that Vaitai has gained enough experience for an encore.
“He’ll be a lot better this week,” the coach said. “He’s now got a full game under his belt. And that’s valuable experience that he can learn from going into this week.”
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson speaks from the podium after Sunday’s loss to the Redskins in Landover, Md. Pederson hinted Sunday that he wasn’t going to blame rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai for the team’s protection problems, and Monday he doubled down and insisted ‘Big V’ will start against the Vikings.