Less than 24 hours after benching his struggling $128 million quarterback, Doug Pederson said Monday that he has not made a decision yet on who will be his starter Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.
Pederson benched Carson Wentz early in the second half of Sunday’s 30-16 loss to the Packers and replaced him with second-round rookie Jalen Hurts. It was the Eagles’ fourth straight loss and dropped them to 3-8-1.
Hurts provided a spark to an offense that scored just three points in the first half and had 90 yards in total offense.
“I’m not prepared right now to make a statement” on who will be his starting quarterback against the Saints, Pederson said. “I’m still processing a lot of things and going through a lot of things before I make that decision.
“The big picture is the football team. We’ve got a lot of injuries coming out of this football game. There are a lot of moving parts again. So I’ll take all of that into consideration moving forward.”
It wasn’t clear what “moving parts” he was referring to. The Eagles used their 11th different offensive-line combination against the Packers. But aside from right guard Jason Peters leaving the game early again after aggravating his turf-toe injury, there didn’t appear to be any new injuries to offensive personnel.
Pederson said he was waiting “on one more [medical] report to come back” on Peters’ injury. But it seems hard to believe that the coach is going to make his decision on who starts at quarterback based on the availability of a struggling 38-year-old offensive lineman.
Pederson almost certainly will make a decision by Wednesday when the team begins its practice preparations for the Saints.
Wentz has been struggling all season behind an injury-ravaged offensive line. He’s been sacked an NFL-high 50 times already, including four more times Sunday, and has a league-high 15 interceptions. He completed just 6 of 15 passes for 79 yards before he was lifted following the Eagles’ first possession of the second half.
Hurts completed only 5 of 12 passes , but those five completions included a 32-yard touchdown pass to Greg Ward in the fourth quarter and a 34-yard completion to fellow rookie Jalen Reagor. Hurts also rushed for 29 yards and two first downs on five carries.
Asked how he felt Hurts played, Pederson initially only offered, “He played OK.” Asked to expand on that, he said, “I thought he was the spark that I was hoping for when I made the change. He came in and did some [good] things. One thing obviously, he extended plays with his legs. He made a nice throw to Jalen. It was good to see that. And obviously the throw to Greg Ward on a scramble.
“But there are things that if and when he looks at the film, that we can clean up and that he can improve upon. But I thought it was the spark that got us back in the football game.”
If he looks at the film? Seriously?
As badly as Wentz is struggling right now, it’s still hard to believe Pederson and the Eagles would be willing to sit him down for the remaining four games, unless the coach is just convinced his confidence level has reached a point of no return this season.
Pederson frequently has said that he is “married” to Wentz, in that the quarterback’s success is his success, as well as his failure. Pederson was hired in 2016, the same year that the Eagles traded up in the draft to select Wentz. Asked about that Monday, the Eagles coach said, “You’re absolutely right. We are married to this. It’s something that I pride myself on. He and I are definitely in a situation that we’ve got to work ourselves out of.
“My job is to help him, and to help him improve and get better. Help this football team win. My job also is to look at the big picture and look at the whole football team. Those are all things I’ve got to consider as I move forward.”
Even though he is just four years removed from a Super Bowl title, even though the Eagles have made it to the playoffs the last three years, Pederson may be coaching for his job right now. Which makes the Wentz-or-Hurts question even more interesting. Married to Wentz or not, if he thinks Hurts gives the Eagles a better chance to win right now and help him save his job, would he more willing to do it and ignore the potential long-term consequences to the quarterback that the team already has made a major investment in?
Wentz’s salary-cap number jumps from $18 million to $34 million next year. And his contract structure, which includes more than $60 million in “rolling” bonuses, pretty much makes him untradeable until after the 2021 season.
“My job is to do what’s in the best interest of the football team,” Pederson said. “And that’s what we’ll do moving forward.”
Interestingly, Pederson said he will not ask for the advice of either team leaders or his top offensive assistants in making this critical decision. Maybe he doesn’t want anyone else to become collateral damage if it blows up in his face.
“This will be my decision,” he said. “I don’t feel I need to communicate with anybody. [Not] players or other coaches. It’s obviously my decision. It’ll solely be up to me.”
Pederson said he didn’t want to be “swayed” by other people’s opinions. “Sometimes that can cloud your judgment,” he said.
Asked if that included Press Taylor, who doubles as the team’s passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Pederson said, “I don’t necessarily feel the need to ask him. I definitely will think about some of the conversations we’ve had in the past and all that. But again, I don’t need a whole lot of outside influence to make a decision one way or another.”
Pederson wasn’t interested Monday in detailing what finally convinced him to bench the 27-year-old quarterback. But he’s clearly been frustrated all season with Wentz’s decision-making, accuracy, and tendency to hold on to the ball too long. All of those things were present again Sunday.
“I really don’t want to get into specifics,” he said. “This is between me, the coaches, and the team. I don’t necessarily need to publicly air all our critical mistakes and errors that our team made. There’s enough to go around. All three phases.
“But at the end of the day, we didn’t get it done. Quite frankly, we had an opportunity to get it done even late in the game and we didn’t do that. So I’m not going to sit here and point the finger or point blame. Especially at the quarterback position. Because there’s enough [blame] to go around.”