How did Doug Pederson get to the point where he could get fired this offseason? The Eagles coach is just three seasons removed from winning the Super Bowl, and just a season from qualifying for the playoffs for a third straight year.
But the Eagles have regressed in each of the last three seasons and with Sunday’s 37-17 loss to the Cowboys will finish with double-digit losses for the first time in eight years. They were supposed to have advantages with the lone returning coaching staff in the NFC East, and yet, they became the first team to be eliminated from winning one of the worst divisions in NFL history.
Maybe Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie will look at Pederson’s overall accomplishments and view the 2020 season as an anomaly. Maybe he’ll chalk up his team’s 4-10-1 record and its sudden decline to injuries and issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.
And maybe, just maybe, too much is being made of Pederson’s job security. Lurie has typically been patient with his coaches. It’s unlikely he has said much to anyone about his offseason plans. But he is also likely to be very despondent about the direction of his Eagles under the 52-year-old coach.
“You look at decisions, you look at opportunities to put the team in better situations — all things I will evaluate when I look back on the year,” Pederson said when asked to assess his performance this season. “But I’m part of the solution moving forward, too, and I got to look at myself as the leader of the football team.”
Lurie can’t view Pederson through a narrow microscope. If the fifth-year coach’s job is to be on the line, shouldn’t the same be said of general manager Howie Roseman, who assembled an old and expensive roster, and helped create a quarterback controversy with the drafting of Jalen Hurts?
Lurie extended Pederson’s and Roseman’s contracts together in August 2018 after his franchise’s greatest achievement. They were signed through 2022 as essentially a partnership. Roseman has been GM longer, but it’s not as if his previous resume grants him a reprieve.
But Lurie is said to have no inclination to fire Roseman. The owner’s frustration with his team — he has left practices early and skipped the Eagles’ trip to Cleveland as a result — is believed to be related to how the product has executed on the field.
If true, it’s hard to disagree. The Eagles have been one of the more mistake-prone teams in the NFL. Penalties don’t tell the full story of their sorry state. Overall, they’re not near the bottom of the league. But pre-snap penalties speak to a lack of preparation and the Eagles are among the worst in that category.
They had a whopping six false starts out of 12 total penalties Sunday. On the season, they have 25 false starts and entering the game had the fifth-most in the NFL. All told, the Eagles have 53 pre-snap penalties with one game remaining. In the three previous seasons they averaged just 40.
“It can’t happen,” Pederson said of the false starts. “You might get one every couple of weeks. But to have as many as we did today, it can’t happen.”
But there have been errors all over the field, from Week 1 to 16. Three more turnovers gave the Eagles 26 on the season — their most since 2015 (31) when Chip Kelly was fired as coach with a game remaining.
Pederson’s dubious play-calling and decision-making have been just as head-scratching. He had a strong start on offense. The Eagles stuck to the ground against the league’s worst rush defense and the result on the opening drive was a ground-and-pound-led touchdown.
On the ensuing series, Pederson called a shot play off play-action and Hurts hit wide receiver DeSean Jackson in stride for an 81-yard touchdown. But the Cowboys adjusted and Pederson couldn’t counter as Jim Schwartz’s defense folded under mounting injuries.
The Eagles had plenty of opportunities to climb back from a 30-17 third quarter deficit. Faced with fourth and 3 at the Dallas 46, Pederson called for a dummy play to get the Cowboys to jump. But Hurts didn’t even try a hard count and the Eagles took a delay penalty.
“The fourth and 3 — I had to burn a timeout because we had 12 on the field earlier in the game there in the third,” Pederson said. “I didn’t want to burn another timeout in that situation, so that backed us up and took us out of that situation.”
But why not just go for it? Heck, going for it on fourth-and-8 made sense, too, especially when a series later Pederson gambled on fourth-and-15 at the Dallas 33. A 51-yard field goal may have still kept it a two-score game, but it was early in the fourth.
“We had to make something happen,” Pederson explained.
Hurts, though, checked down and the Eagles turned the ball over. The rookie quarterback’s late-season starts have added some intrigue and did improve the offense after Carson Wentz’s struggles. The team, overall, did look better in the upset over the Saints and even in the loss to the Cardinals.
But the drubbing in Dallas was more of the same. Hurts had three dreadful turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Lurie may place more blame for the Eagles’ season on Wentz. Hurts did show that Pederson’s offense wasn’t solely the reason for the setbacks. When you’ve had 13 different offensive line combinations, it’s hard to completely fault Pederson for the quarterback issues.
And the players have seemingly given effort no matter how bad things have gotten.
“I think Doug did a great job,” Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said. “He’s a great motivator. I mean, I love Doug. At the end of the day, I understand that [coaching firings] are part of it. Hopefully, things happen the way we want them to with him being back.
“But that’s above my pay grade.”
The Eagles were the only NFC East team, however, to have the same head coach, offensive and defensive schemes and supposedly elite quarterback return.
“Listen, we had a lot of expectations going into the year,” Pederson said when asked if that advantage was fumbled away. “And I think key positions on the staff were back and had to have some moving parts on offense, obviously. Then things began to slowly unravel with the injuries and different things of that nature … that are out of your control.”
Lurie forced offensive coaching changes last offseason. Can he go to Pederson again and ask for more, or for him to give up play-calling? Maybe, but Pederson also doesn’t have to oblige, which would seemingly end his tenure in Philadelphia.