Doug Pederson might share your frustration with the 3-4-1 Eagles at the midway point of their season, but clearly, he does not share your despair.
The team’s head coach made this apparent in his news conference Monday, the day after a clumsy 23-9 victory over the woebegone Dallas Cowboys.
First, Pederson shut down any thought that he might bench Carson Wentz, even if it were for a little while, just to give the struggling quarterback a fresh perspective. Then Pederson insisted his team is just a few more healthy bodies and a few adjustments away from being more than just the least-awful team in a terrible NFC East.
“Carson’s our starter, and we’ve got a lot of trust and faith in him that he can get the job done,” Pederson said as the Eagles entered their bye week, in first place in the NFC East despite their record. “By no means was I in a position to make a decision or make a move” Sunday night to go with rookie backup Jalen Hurts, who has played just 27 snaps and thrown only two passes. Wentz lost four turnovers against Dallas -- two fumbles and two interceptions.
“It’s just something that we’ve got to continue to coach; we’ve got to continue to get better. He understands he has to get better in that [turnover] area.”
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Asked to explain why he “wasn’t in a position” to make a move Sunday night, as his offense flailed and stumbled against the worst defense in the NFL, Pederson said: “It’s pretty simple. My mind wasn’t there. I wasn’t going there. I was going to give Carson every opportunity to win that game for us. He’s capable of doing that, and I wasn’t in that frame of mind.”
Wentz’s 16 turnovers lead the NFL.
“We’ve got to get better,” Pederson said.
Asked why he thinks fans greeted the mistake-filled victory over Dallas as something of a loss, Pederson said: “Because you and the fans don’t get a chance to go back and watch the tape today like we did. To see the plays that are left on the field. … Listen, we understand we have to get better. We know that -- myself included, we all have to -- we are all toeing the line the same direction, and we have to get better there.”
Pederson said he wasn’t going to use youth as an excuse, then said that first-round rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor “just came back for the first time [since breaking a thumb Week 2]. Was it perfect? No. But there’s room to grow. Travis Fulgham has been a bright spot on the perimeter and [John] Hightower has been a bright spot on the perimeter, and these are guys that are getting better each week.”
Hightower, with three targets Sunday, no catches, and an interception that occurred because the Cowboys’ Trevon Diggs tracked a windblown Wentz bomb better than Hightower did, was not any sort of bright spot against Dallas, and overall, he needs a lot of work to become a functioning part of the offense. But Pederson’s Reagor point probably was valid.
“You go back to 2017 in that championship run … there was consistency and there was stability around our offense,” Pederson said, tiptoeing past the fact that two of the team’s best offensive players at the time, left tackle Jason Peters and running back Darren Sproles, missed more than half that season, and that running back Jay Ajayi joined the team at the trade deadline.
"We had the same three receivers. We had the same three tight ends. We had the same running backs. The offensive line was intact, and so we had continuity and things were flowing.
“With so many moving parts, offensively, right now, with the amount of injuries, so many guys are shuffling in and out of the lineup that it’s hard to get continuity and rhythm and timing and flow. It makes it look really bad on the outside when, quite honestly -- you probably don’t believe it, but it’s encouraging from our side that … we won the game, right? We’re a game-and-a-half up in the NFC East.
"We have a chance to get healthy here at the bye. We have a chance [after the bye] against the Giants to hopefully get some more starters back and see what happens, and correct some of the things that are going on.”
Pederson concluded that there is a lot of season left, and that the Eagles could easily have a better record, with a few breaks. (They could easily have a worse record without a few breaks, but Pederson didn’t go there.)
“There’s a lot of positive that we see, as coaches on the inside, that gives us the encouragement and the opportunity to get better as a team,” he said.
Tight end Dallas Goedert wasn’t part of the game plan against Dallas, because apparently the coaches were surprised he was able to come back from injured reserve and play. He will have a bigger role. Presumably, so will Reagor, who caught a touchdown pass and a two-point conversion pass Sunday night but finished with three catches on six targets for just 16 yards.
Right tackle Lane Johnson is expected back against the Giants, from knee and ankle injuries, as is running back Miles Sanders, who has been sidelined by a knee problem.
Whether Wentz will protect the ball better after those players return, and whether Pederson will be less inclined to try trick plays on third-and-6, remains to be seen.