His future as a head coach is in peril. Almost certain losses loom in Green Bay on Sunday, then when the Saints visit a week later. So, Doug Pederson has settled on his scapegoat:
A re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-reconstituted offensive line.
With unusual candor, Pederson blamed his feeble front five after Monday night’s toothless loss to the Seahawks. He did it again in Tuesday morning’s afterglow.
“You know me. I’m not going to sit here and throw people under the bus,” Pederson said Tuesday, right before he started the bus’ engine, closed the bus’ door, then steered the bus over left tackle Jordan Mailata, right tackle Matt Pryor, and 38-year-old, first-time right guard Jason Peters.
“We’ve got a lot of moving parts, a lot of moving pieces, particularly in the offensive line,” Pederson said. “We’ve got a left tackle that this is — basically football is new to him. He’s just learning how to play this game. A right tackle that doesn’t have a ton of experience. He’s learning how to play the game. Gosh, we took an All-Pro left tackle, and he has given of himself, to play right guard.”
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Pederson isn’t wrong. His line is awful. It’s why the screen game stinks; screens require precise timing. It’s why the run gets stuffed. It’s the main reason why quarterback Carson Wentz has been sacked 46 times, almost 25% more than the No. 2 turf-eater, Russell Wilson. It’s even a reason why Pederson is reluctant to move the pocket and roll Wentz out to the right; defenses expect that, Wentz said, and load up their left edge to squash it.
We call it a re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-reconstituted offensive line because, on Monday night, Pederson used a 10th combination of linemen in 11 games, the most combinations in the NFL this season. It looks like they’ll use an 11th version in their 12th game Sunday evening, as fourth-round rookie Jack Driscoll saw practice time at right tackle Wednesday.
Coincidentally, Packers coach Mike McCarthy used 11 combinations in 2017. Not coincidentally, McCarthy was fired before the end of the next season.
If the same fate awaits Pederson, whose team was favored to win the NFC East but stands at 3-7-1, he’s got his reasons all lined up.
“I think it just comes down to, offensively, we’ve battled with a lot of injury, a lot of different moving parts up front with the offensive line,” Pederson said. “Guys in and out. It’s just we haven’t had the consistency and continuity you would like week-in and week-out.”
That is true. That is also, to a degree, Pederson’s fault.
Peters will enter the Hall of Fame as a left tackle, and he made his first career start at right guard Monday night. But he was signed off the street to replace right guard Brandon Brooks, who was lost for the season in June. Peters trained at right guard all of training camp. He should be better. He also should’ve been better at tackle.
Peters’ move to guard might save Wentz’s life. According to profootballfocus.com, of the 27 left tackles with at least as many as Peters’ 415 snaps this season, Peters ranked 18th. No tackle in the NFL had given up more than Peters’ seven sacks, and those came in just six starts at tackle. The cliff from age 37 to 38 must be pretty steep: Peters surrendered seven sacks in the last three seasons combined.
The only reason Peters started at left tackle is because projected starter Andre Dillard was lost for the season just before it began. Also, neither Mailata nor Pryor was good enough.
Granted, Mailata is a converted rugby player. Granted, at this point, Pryor looks like he’ll be a rugby player in his very near future. Neither was ready to play tackle. That remains true.
In fact, it was Driscoll who started twice in place of right tackle Lane Johnson early in the season. Mailata did replace Peters from Games 4-7, and when Johnson needed a replacement in Game 8, Mailata got the chance. Predictably, Mailata has been just as bad as Peters. Pryor has been worse.
The tackle and right guard spots are not occupied as planned, but part of Pederson’s job was to prepare the current occupants for duty. He failed.
When owner Jeffrey Lurie comes reckoning, whether it be in two weeks or at the season’s end, Pederson can point to his general manager’s chronic draft delinquency.
From 2014-18, Howie Roseman drafted just one offensive lineman before the fourth round: left guard Isaac Seumalo. Pryor and Mailata came in 2018 as seventh-round projects.
Incredibly, Seumalo has been worse than Peters, Pryor, or Mailata. And, unfortunately, the leader of the line is playing the worst football since his rookie season.
Wentz might be able to avoid a sack or two if he stepped up in the pocket, but these days he can’t step up in the pocket without running over center Jason Kelce, who spends most of the game performing his own five-step drops.
Pederson acknowledged the offense’s other issues. His young receivers don’t get open. Wentz misses reads and targets. Pederson’s own play calling can be predictable and unwise, if not reckless.
What Wentz misses most, though, is the confidence that he won’t get crushed.
On Monday night, the Seahawks entered with the worst pass defense in the NFL but still sacked Wentz six times, which accounts for about 20% of their season’s total of 31.
Why not run it? Because, when Pederson called the eight running plays for Miles Sanders and Boston Scott, they netted 22 yards. That’s 2.8 yards per carry. Sanders’ first four runs went for zero, 1, 8, and zero yards.
Like litigious election loser Donald Trump, Sanders had no path to success.
Neither does Pederson. Not with this offensive offensive line.
“Whether it’s execution or sometimes physically you just get beat. It’s a frustrating thing,” Pederson said Monday night. “If it goes back to simplifying game plans, we can keep simplifying as much as we can.”
Pederson knows he can’t dumb down his scheme any further. He also knows that, without better blocking, the season is over — and, possibly with it, his tenure as a head coach in Philadelphia.