Doug Pederson was hired as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles exactly 22 months ago. At the time, sports talk radio shows, the newspaper, and even the fans bashed the Eagles for hiring an amatuer—someone who was just two years removed from coaching high school football.
During Pederson’s first season as head coach, many questioned his play calling and late game decisions, further hurting his perception. His biggest fault was that he was unable to adapt based on what he saw on the field, and, thus, did not make the necessary improvements. In his first season, Pederson called many screenplays, frustrating fans because the Eagles did not vertically advance the football. His play calling failures continued this season when he called ill advised screenplays on critical third down situations. But, as the season has progressed, Pederson has learned from his mistakes, and, instead, exploited the tendencies and deficiencies of opposing defenses. An example of Pederson’s improved play calling was on full display against the Denver Broncos.
Pederson’s improvement was highlighted from the beginning of the game. On the first third down of the game, Pederson called a beautiful run-pass option, which resulted in a touchdown. The design of the play was complex with many factors, but the execution of the played made it even more beautiful.
Going into the game, the Eagles knew that the Broncos liked to go after the quarterback and play tight defense against wide receivers. Knowing the Broncos’ tendencies, the Eagles took advantage of two of the best players on Denver’s defense – edge rusher Von Miller and cornerback Aqib Talib. First, Wentz faked the handoff to Jay Ajayi and then rolled to the right. At the same time, Jeffery turned toward the quarterback as if he were receiving a screen pass. That made Talib plant and turn his eyes toward Wentz, and by the time he realized the screen was a fake, Jeffery was by him with a full head of steam. As Von Miller closed in on Wentz, he threw the ball over the top to hit Jeffery in stride for the first touchdown of the game. Below is a clip of the play.
There is another play that I must breakdown to fully display Pederson’s improvement as a play caller. This play also happened on a third down in the red zone. Wentz lined up under center, faked the handoff to Clement, rolled back and hit Clement for a short pass, which Clement scored for a touchdown. The key to the play was that Von Miller was coming at Wentz full speed, but Clement slowed him down just enough so that he could get open before Wentz got hit. The second marveling part of the play was Brandon Brooks’ block, which allowed Clement to score the touchdown. What is alluring about the scheme of the call is that it took advantage of Miller’s aggressiveness by letting him come after the quarterback but as he came after Wentz there was just enough room for Wentz to get off the throw to a wide open Clement. Below is the clip of the play.
During post game interviews, Broncos cornerback Chris Harris said “They knew everything we were going to do today”.
The Eagles have arrived as one of the best teams in the NFL partially due to Wentz’s MVP play but also Pederson’s ability to out coach opponents.