Stop criticizing Pederson for trusting his own gut
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 firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ JackMcCaffery
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.