There are 14 coaches on Doug Pederson’s staff who have some share of responsibility for the Eagles' offense, including Doug Pederson himself. They range in power and experience from Duce Staley and Rich Scangarello and Marty Mornhinweg to T.J. Paganetti and Nick Williams. Back in the 2017-18 season, when they won the Super Bowl, the Eagles had just 10 such coaches. That’s a 40% increase, yet for all those personalities and opinions and ideas, there apparently isn’t a coach on Pederson’s staff who can prevent Carson Wentz from dropping the football to the ground or throwing it to the other team.
The reasons for this ineffectualness are wide-ranging. Wentz’s carelessness and reluctance to take the safe way out of a bad play are big parts of the problem, for sure. But there are other significant issues and only so many options to correct them.
Injuries among the team’s presumed starters along the offensive line and at the skill positions have forced young players into the lineup, and among those players, only Travis Fulgham has settled in without at least some growing pains. Twitterati and talk-show callers can complain that Pederson ought to bench Wentz for rookie Jalen Hurts and won’t. But Hurts is just that, a rookie, and while he has been productive at times operating out of the wildcat formation, he has given no indication yet that he’s ready to become a full-time, or even a part-time, NFL starting quarterback.
That Pederson has 13 offensive-minded coaches working under him suggests that a too-many-line-cooks-fouling-up-the-Whizwit dynamic has established itself, and the one who is supposed to work most directly with Wentz, Press Taylor, is less a coach to him than he is a peer. If you’re looking for someone on that staff to deliver some jagged-edge instruction to Wentz, you’re going to be searching for a while. Frank Reich is in Indianapolis, and John DeFilippo is running it back with Nick Foles in Chicago.
Mostly, though, all the anguish and frustration over Wentz’s 16 turnovers this season – his 12 interceptions and four lost fumbles – is to a certain degree just wasted energy. As much as it might help Wentz and the Eagles to have a head coach who would call a more conservative game, who might run the ball more frequently or play field position to prevent an inferior opponent from stealing a victory, these eight weeks have reaffirmed that Pederson isn’t inclined to do it. He just isn’t, and one has only to re-read Pederson’s book, Fearless, which he and collaborator Dan Pompei wrote in 2018, to understand how deep-seated his thinking on this topic is.
From his playing days, especially his seven seasons with the Green Bay Packers, until now, Pederson has been consistent about this: In his heart of hearts, he doesn’t particularly admire a cautious quarterback, and he sure as hell doesn’t want to coach one. His years as Brett Favre’s teammate inform his entire coaching philosophy. He doesn’t want Wentz to play less aggressively. It doesn’t matter whether the primary receiver is DeSean Jackson, who can track a deep pass like a Gold Glove centerfielder can track a tricky fly ball, or John Hightower, who veers around the field as if he has no clue where the pass might land. Pederson wants Wentz to be daring, to take those shots down the field, regardless of how many turnovers result.
“There was no question that watching Brett Favre play gave me a greater appreciation of taking risks,” Pederson wrote on page 42 of Fearless. "He was a true gunslinger and someone who did whatever it took to win the game. He dropped back and threaded the needle when his receiver was covered by two guys, and he somehow fit the ball in there. Watching him shaped my philosophy – don’t worry about tomorrow; let’s figure out how to do this today.
“It’s true he threw a lot of interceptions, but the thing is, he didn’t care. He believed he would beat you. He might throw three picks but would throw for four touchdowns, including the one that beat you at the end of the game. And that’s how I approached things as the (2017) season went on. I’m not worrying about tomorrow, man – let’s figure out how to win this game today.”
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For anyone who might argue that Wentz hasn’t earned or doesn’t deserve the same measure of trust that Favre did, Pederson has an answer on page 98: “He does things you’ve seen Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers do. With guys like that, it’s not about them. And it’s not about Carson Wentz. He’s about wanting winning and success. He’s a natural leader, with the ability to raise the talent level around him. I saw something similar in Dan Marino and Brett Favre when I was their teammate.”
So unless Pederson claims, Charles Barkley-like, that he was misquoted in his own autobiography or that his views have changed or evolved in the years since the book was published, no one should expect the Eagles' bye-week break to lead to some epiphany for him or Wentz. This is who Doug Pederson is. This is who he is likely to be. Everyone will have to hope for the best, and learn to live with the wreckage.