Stop crit­i­ciz­ing Ped­er­son for trust­ing his own gut

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - Jack McCaffery Colum­nist

There was still 6:12 left in a close NFC East game when Doug Ped­er­son re­lied not on a chart, not on the mood of a crowd, not on some un­writ­ten foot­ball rule, but on him­self.

The Ea­gles were trail­ing by eight and were fac­ing fourth-and-nine from the New York Gi­ants’ 46. Go? Go. “I felt com­fort­able in ev­ery­thing we did,” Ped­er­son would say, a day later, “and the way I called the game.”

He ran a play good for 25 yards, a Car­son Wentz pass to Jor­dan Matthews. Four plays later, Caleb Stur­gis would kick a field goal to draw the Ea­gles within five points. Five plays af­ter that, as he in­vari­ably will against the Ea­gles, Eli Man­ning buck­led, cough­ing up an in­ter­cep­tion at the Gi­ants’ 34. And that put the Ea­gles in po­si­tion to win. They didn’t win, fall­ing, 28-23. But they had a chance.

That par­tic­u­lar and suc­cess­ful fourth-down call was buried un­der a cou­ple of ear­lier Ped­er­son de­ci­sions. Those where in the sec­ond quar­ter, when twice he or­dered fourth-down plays in clear field goal range, each one fail­ing. Mon­day-morn­ing math­e­ma­ti­cians were able to cal­cu­late that with six more points the Ea­gles would have won a game they in­stead lost by five. And then they would smother Ped­er­son with that data, as if his smart­phone doesn’t have a cal­cu­la­tor too.

But that’s what he does. That’s what the Ea­gles coach be­lieves. That’s what he was praised for do­ing af­ter go­ing 4-for-4 in his first four fourth-down de­ci­sions, the cho­rus hap­pily singing along about how he’d al­ways had that idea as a player and as an as­sis­tant coach and that he is fi­nally in a po­si­tion to put it into place. That’s what the short­term crit­ics do. They pick, they choose, they de­cide when to praise some­body for a phi­los­o­phy and when it is con­sid­ered ob­scene.

“It’s a mo­men­tum thing,” Ped­er­son said, af­ter the game. “I get what you’re say­ing. Lis­ten, it’s an op­por­tu­nity for us to score seven points over three. I truly be­lieve in our de­fense and spe­cial teams. They showed up and made some great plays in those two phases of the game. If we don’t start the ball­game the way we do, it’s dif­fer­ent. It’s to­tally dif­fer­ent. I’m go­ing to con­tinue to show con­fi­dence in our guys and be­lieve in our guys.”

Fi­nally, at long last, af­ter all these cen­turies: A coach un­will­ing to be black-jacked by some un­writ­ten pro­pa­ganda pam­phlet. Bet­ter still, a coach will­ing to stand up, a day af­ter a loss, and rather than bab­ble out half an apol­ogy, show the belly to an­nounce that he would make the same calls again.

So it was when Ped­er­son was asked if he had any sec­ond thoughts about his fourth-down ag­gres­sion in a game the Ea­gles needed to avoid dip­ping into last place.

“No,” Ped­er­son said. “Not yes­ter­day.”

No­body will ever match the day-af­ter de­fi­ance of Buddy Ryan, who never apol­o­gized for a decision. Among his pref­er­ences was the quick-kick, giv­ing the ball away on third down (and once, on sec­ond down). The idea was to catch a de­fense un­aware, al­low­ing punts to roll long enough that the tread wore off the ball. “We picked up a lot of grass on that play, didn’t we?” Ryan would say, grin­ning.

Ped­er­son is not so brash. He is, though, equally hon­est and self-con­fi­dent. Ul­ti­mately, Ryan failed as an NFL head coach. His ideas — among them of­ten just al­low­ing Ran­dall Cun­ning­ham to cre­ate some­thing on of­fense rather than to or­der a scripted play – didn’t al­ways help. Ped­er­son, too, may some­day roll onto the list of for­mer NFL head coaches.

Coaches who don’t rou­tinely go for it on fourth down lose, too. And they are fired, too. And they are laughed at, too. Rich Kotite would have kicked the field goal in those sit­u­a­tions. Re­mem­ber that.

At some point, Ped­er­son will be judged by his record. His courage Sun­day did not help that. But his core con­vic­tion might. And long term, a con­fi­dent leader will work well in any sports locker room.

Do decades of foot­ball cal­cu­la­tions sug­gest Ped­er­son was wrong to de­cline two field goals Sun­day in a breezy sta­dium? Prob­a­bly. But that’s why coaches are hired to make de­ci­sions, and why they are not turned over to a com­puter print­out.

For that, Ped­er­son was ready to take the crit­i­cism.

“Yeah,” he said. “This is my job. This is the Na­tional Foot­ball League. I trust in our team. I trust in our guys. I trust in that locker room.

“There’s a fine line be­tween be­ing crazy, bor­der­line crazy, and do­ing the right thing. But at the same time I felt like, at that time, it was the right thing to do.”

He’s paid for that. And if af­ter a rea­son­able time his pro­gram shows no progress, he will stop be­ing paid for that. Ei­ther way, he’ll keep his dig­nity and let some­one else have that worn-out, phantom book.

To con­tact Jack McCaffery, email him at jm­c­caf­fery@21stcen­tu­ry­media.com; fol­low him on Twit­ter @ Jack­McCaf­fery

DON WRIGHT — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Philadel­phia Ea­gles head coach Doug Ped­er­son has been crit­i­cized for go­ing for nu­mer­ous fourth-down at­tempts in a loss to the New York Gi­ants on Sun­day.

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