Pederson’s fourth-down formula fails the Birds
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. >> It was obvious in the first half that Eagles head coach Doug Pederson wasn’t himself Sunday.
Not because of the weather, 56 degrees and sunny, the bonus hour from daylight savings time or the week-long distraction we’ll call Josh Huff.
No, Pederson was having fourth-down flashbacks. You can trace them to the first quarter of the Dallas Cowboys game, when he regretted kicking a field goal instead of taking a penalty that would have given him fourth-andshort at the seven-yard line. The Eagles lost by six points in over-
time and he felt he’d let his guys down playing it safe.
It was déjà vu time for Pederson early in the first half against the New York Giants. Staring at the same type of situation as last week, Pederson, who entered the game 4-for-4 on fourth down, wasn’t going to have any second thoughts this time around.
Instead, Mr. Fourth Down made a series of fourth-andshort decisions that cost the Eagles at least two field goals in a 28-23 loss to the Giants. You do the math.
“There’s a fine line between being crazy, borderline crazy and doing the right thing,” Pederson said. “But at the same time I felt like, at the time, it was the right thing to do. It’s momentum. It was an opportunity, the way we were playing and moving the ball, to really show confidence in our offense.”
Timing is everything on fourth down and this week Pederson’s timing was awful. Maybe not even necessary. Unlike the Cowboys, the Giants will beat themselves if you get out of the way. You really don’t need fourth down to defeat Big Blue. The Eagles had won four straight in the series, including three in a row at MetLife.
Pederson tried anyway and it dug a deeper hole for the Eagles, Carson Wentz fooling no one on a bootleg that lost yardage on fourth-and-one at the 23yard line. It’s safe to say the stop roused the Giants, who led, 14-3, courtesy of backto-back Wentz interceptions.
Stubbornly, Pederson laid all his cards on the table again later in the second quarter. This time Darren Sproles was stopped on fourth-and-one at the sixyard line of the Giants. The Eagles got nothing out of Sproles’ 66-yard punt return to the 15. Who needs another field goal anyway?
“I felt really good about the way we were moving the football,” Pederson said. “It was my decision, again, to stay aggressive on the field and stay aggressive with our team. It just came down to the way we were operating at that time.”
By the time Pederson regained his senses, trying a field goal on fourth down at the 22 of the Giants with 1:07 left in the half, the tone had been set. Jason Pierre Paul snuffed Caleb Sturgis’ 40yard field goal attempt, ending a streak of 18 straight makes, and the Giants swaggered into the intermission with a 21-10 advantage.
The flashbacks, and the Giants, kept on coming at Pederson.
After the Eagles and Giants traded third-quarter touchdowns, Pederson went out of body with 6:32 left in the final frame.
With time running out, he ordered a pass on fourthand-nine at the 46-yard line of the home team. Wentz dropped a postcard perfect throw into Jordan Matthews for a 25-yard gain.
The conversion led to a 38yard field goal, pulling the Eagles to within five points with two timeouts and 3:51 left.
At that point Pederson couldn’t tell you the difference between recklessness and aggressiveness, although there were lucid moments.
Pederson, for example, actually called a go route … remember that? The receiver runs and runs, the quarterback airs the ball out and two of the things that can happen on such plays are positive. Rookie Bryce Treggs hauled in Wentz’s 58-yard ball to set up the first Philly TD of the game, an eight-yard run by Ryan Mathews.
Pederson’s confidence in the defense was rewarded with two takeaways, Jordan Hicks and Nolan Carroll picking off Eli Manning, who otherwise found all the holes in the secondary with four TD passes in another typical Eagles-Giants war.
The Eagles could even make a case for a costly officiating gaffe. Billy Vinovich, the best referee in pro football, missed an obvious roughing the kicker penalty that should have given the Eagles a first-and-goal around the 8-yard line rather than a field goal.