EA­GLE EYES

Ped­er­son’s touch de­serves coach of year con­sid­er­a­tion

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - Martin Frank Wilm­ing­ton (Del.) News Jour­nal USA TO­DAY Net­work

PHILADEL­PHIA — Re­mem­ber that time ear­lier in the sea­son when for­mer NFL gen­eral man­ager Mike Lom­bardi called the Philadel­phia Ea­gles’ Doug Ped­er­son the least qual­i­fied coach he had ever seen? Yeah, that was funny. Ped­er­son won’t come across as pol­ished, or par­tic­u­larly funny, or, well, in­volved on de­fense dur­ing his news con­fer­ences.

Yet Ped­er­son is prov­ing that he’s the per­fect coach for this Ea­gles team in so many ways, and that’s espe­cially true with his play-call­ing on of­fense, which is ap­proach­ing bril­liance.

That was ev­i­dent all through­out the Ea­gles’ 51-23 dis­man­tling of the Den­ver Bron­cos last week­end.

A dis­claimer: De­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jim Schwartz runs the de­fense, but give Ped­er­son credit for al­low­ing him to do so.

On of­fense, it was like Ped­er­son was in the Bron­cos de­fen­sive hud­dle and knew all of their sig­nals. And that’s from Bron­cos cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris.

“They knew ev­ery­thing we were go­ing to do to­day,” Har­ris said.

On the Ea­gles’ first touch­down, Car­son Wentz faked a hand­off to Jay Ajayi, know­ing that would freeze Pro Bowl cor­ner­back Aqib Talib for a mo­ment. In that split sec­ond, Al­shon Jef­fery took off downfield.

Wentz rolled to his right and lofted a pass over Talib and into the arms of Jef­fery, who saun­tered into the end zone for a 32yard touch­down.

“It’s been in our play­book,” Ped­er­son said. “Just kind of dusted it off and worked on it all week and ex­e­cuted it to per­fec­tion.”

Another such play hap­pened in the third quar­ter, when Wentz lined up in the pis­tol for­ma­tion, then started run­ning to his right be­fore pitch­ing the ball to run­ning back Corey Cle­ment, who scored from the 2-yard line.

“Take ad­van­tage of their de­fen­sive ends and those out­side LBs,” Ped­er­son said. “Ac­tu­ally, we kind of got the idea from Kansas City on Mon­day night (in the Chiefs’ win against the Bron­cos). They did the same thing. Car­son’s very ath­letic to do it. Corey did a great job.”

Another dis­claimer: Yes, Wentz is hav­ing a mag­i­cal sea­son, with 23 touch­down passes against five in­ter­cep­tions. He has a passer rat­ing of 104.1. He’s ob­vi­ously a fran­chise quar­ter­back and the mid­sea­son fa­vorite to win the MVP award.

But a dis­claimer to that dis­claimer: Ped­er­son, a 10-year backup quar­ter­back in the NFL, along with of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Frank Re­ich, a 14-year NFL backup quar­ter­back, and quar­ter­backs coach John DeFilippo were hired to de­velop a fran­chise quar­ter­back.

Shouldn’t Ped­er­son get credit for that?

Wentz was asked if Ped­er­son’s play-call­ing keeps de­fenses off bal­ance.

“You nailed it,” he said. “He keeps them off bal­ance. With the nakeds (boot­leg runs and passes) that we do — the sprint­outs, the drop­backs, the quick game — we have a bunch of dif­fer­ent run­ning sets. ... We just mix it up so well.”

And here is another of Ped­er­son’s strengths: his abil­ity to re­late to the play­ers.

Con­sider that the Ea­gles are 8-1, yet they have not had a wide re­ceiver get 100 yards or more in a game this sea­son. They have had only one game in which a run­ning back has rushed for 100 yards or more.

This is from a team that came into the game ranked sixth in to­tal of­fense, at 372 yards per game.

Wentz called it “spread­ing the love.”

The Ea­gles racked up 419 yards of to­tal of­fense against the NFL’s stingi­est de­fense. They ran for 197 yards against the No. 2 rush­ing de­fense in the NFL. Yet Jef­fery was the lead­ing re­ceiver with 84 yards and Ajayi was the lead­ing rusher with 77 yards.

You won’t hear Jef­fery, or any­one, com­plain about that. Jef­fery can be a free agent at the end of the sea­son, yet he’s not on pace for 1,000 re­ceiv­ing yards.

“Hey, we’ll take the Su­per Bowl to­day if that’s what it takes to get to the Su­per Bowl,” Jef­fery said. “No mat­ter who’s out there, we all be­lieve in one another.”

De­fen­sive end Chris Long, who played for the Su­per Bowl cham­pion New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots last sea­son, has watched this at­ti­tude de­velop all sea­son.

“It’s un­be­liev­able,” he said. “No­body is self­ish. That’s the cool thing. We have so many mouths to feed, but no­body is worried about who eats. It’s all about the re­sult at the end of the day. We have that on the de­fen­sive line as well. ... We’re all about each other.”

Four run­ning backs car­ried the ball against the Bron­cos, and all had at least five car­ries. That in­cluded Ajayi, who had a 46-yard touch­down run on his fifth carry as an Ea­gle. He had 138 car­ries in seven games with the Mi­ami Dol­phins this sea­son and didn’t score a touch­down.

Yet run­ning back LeGar­rette Blount, who’s likely to lose car­ries to Ajayi, couldn’t have been hap­pier for his new team­mate.

“I’m ex­cited to have him, be­cause I’ve been a fan of his all the way back to last year,” Blount said.

He con­tin­ued: “Our of­fen­sive line played lights out. On Jay’s run, he didn’t even get touched. On Corey (Cle­ment’s 15-yard) screen, I don’t think he got touched by one per­son. ...

“You can count a lot of plays where our of­fen­sive line did ex­tremely well block­ing those guys.”

That’s part of be­ing a coach, too — mak­ing sure ev­ery­one is happy.

A fi­nal dis­claimer: For­get about be­ing un­qual­i­fied, Ped­er­son is well on his way to be­ing the NFL’s coach of the year.

PHILLY’S 8-1: DOUG PED­ER­SON HAS THE EA­GLES’ OF­FENSE SOAR­ING

ERIC HART­LINE/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Ea­gles head coach Doug Ped­er­son is an ex­pert at call­ing of­fen­sive plays and has his team off to an 8-1 start.

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