I have defended Doug Pederson for 4 1/2 seasons. I cannot defend Doug Pederson after what happened at East Rutherford, N.J., on Sunday afternoon. It’s impossible to blame this 27-17 loss on anyone besides Douglas Irvin Pederson.
After all, he did.
“It’s on me, that we played the way we did today,” Pederson said.
His Eagles, coming off a bye, came out flatter than a mashed cat. They never matched the efficiency, the discipline, or the desire of the Giants. They remain in first place in the NFC East at 3-5-1 but they clearly have been supplanted by the 3-7 Giants as the division’s best team. The Giants now have won two in a row — it would have been three straight if not for a dropped pass against the Eagles three weeks ago — and they have momentum entering their bye week.
Meanwhile, the Eagles face a five-game stretch against the Browns, Seahawks, Packers, Saints, and Cardinals — a group of winning teams who will destroy them if the Eagles play like they played Sunday.
If it sounds hopeless, understand that Pederson is clueless as to why they played with so little proficiency against a two-win team Sunday.
"It’s hard to explain,” Pederson said. "It came down to execution. It came down to some decision-making on my part.”
He declined to blame the severe COVID-19 restrictions that limited the team’s schedule this week after two coaches and a player tested positive. He did, however, note the absence of people in the seats:
"It was difficult, without the fans.”
It was a road game, Coach.
Pederson’s team played worse as its roster got healthier. Featured back Miles Sanders and Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson returned from knee injuries. No. 1 receiver Alshon Jeffrey returned after missing 15 games with foot and calf injuries.
Thus fortified, the offense went 0-for-9 on third down. And that wasn’t the worst issue.
In Game 9, at a point when his team should be functioning with precision, his team committed a season-high 11 penalties.
"We’ve got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot,” Pederson said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Good plan. Now put away your gun.
We’ve seen this before. Pederson’s teams now are 1-4 after their bye week.
That means they’re predictable. That means they do not self-scout well; that they do not understand their own tendencies. Or, worse, they do understand their own tendencies but they refuse to change their plan, or they refuse, at the very least, to disguise their plays.
This has been the genius of Andy Reid, Pederson’s mentor. Big Red doesn’t always adjust well in games, but give him two weeks, God help you. Reid is 18-3 coming out of a regular-season bye.
There are other issues for Pederson.
His handpicked franchise quarterback, Carson Wentz, has regressed, and not just from his 2017 MVP-caliber form. Wentz isn’t as good today as he was at the end of the 2019 season, when he led a viable offensive attack supplemented by a handful of practice-squad graduates.
Wentz on Sunday actually supplied modest reason for optimism. For the first time all season, he didn’t turn the ball over. Baby steps.
He still leads the league with 16 giveaways, and he wasn’t exactly good Sunday: 21-for-37, 208 yards. He missed high or behind several receivers, so his passer rating settled at 72.8, his fifth-worst of his horrible season. This was mildly incredible, since he didn’t throw an interception for just the second time this year, despite the return of Sanders, the team’s most dangerous weapon, who accounted for 95 total yards, as well as the return of Jeffrey, who accounted for 95 fewer yards.
Meanwhile, second-year Giants quarterback Daniel Jones finished with a 100.9 passer rating. He was clearly the better QB. That was a theme. The Giants didn’t win because, top to bottom, they fielded a superior roster.
In fact, between rookie coach Joe Judge, a Lansdale Catholic product; offensive coordinator and former Cowboys coach Jason Garrett; and Patrick Graham, the 41-year-old rising star who runs the defense; the Giants' coaching staff, in this moment, might be superior, too.
Notably, Giants receiver Darius Slayton, who finished with five catches for 93 yards, is better right now than any receiver the Eagles have had in two years. This is notable because Slayton was drafted three rounds after JJ Arcega-Whiteside, a second-round pick for the Eagles the same draft, who was a healthy scratch for the first time Sunday. He has two catches this season, 12 in his career.
Pederson can’t get anything out of JJAW, either.
Analytics gone wild
He’s always been a gambler, but Dougie Fresh is becoming less and less predictable; less and less logical. He made a few more strange choices Sunday.
He went for it and failed on fourth-and-10 from the Giants' 36 with 5 minutes to play, trailing by just a touchdown. He could have punted. The Giants turned that short field into a field goal, which made it a two-score game.
Pederson twice tried two-point conversions in the second half. He converted the first but failed on the second, so, statistically, it was a wash. But the second decision was questionable.
The first two-point conversion cut the Eagles’ deficit to 14-11, a three-point difference. The second try, at 21-17, a successful kick would have cut it to three. Pederson’s explanation mentioned something about, had they succeeded, they would have known how many points they’d have needed to win.
Rich Kotite had a chart for that. It’s dry now. Maybe Doug can borrow it.
Yes, the Giants are improved, and yes, they’re better than a typical three-win team; their last four losses came by an average of 3.5 points.
Yes, the Eagles faced a challenging week, but they were fresh and reinforced.
Yes, the roster remains flawed, but it’s not this flawed. It’s not miss-the-spread-by-two-touchdowns flawed.
How to fix it?
“It takes intensity in practice. There’s a work ethic,” Pederson said. “It’s a pride thing.”
It’s a coaching thing.