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Doug Pederson says Eagles won’t be less aggressive, but he and Carson Wentz can manage risk better

If you live by the sword, every now and then you cut yourself, and it hurts.

This Carson Wentz fumble sealed the Eagles' fate at Washington on Sunday.
This Carson Wentz fumble sealed the Eagles' fate at Washington on Sunday.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Doug Pederson thinks that if you want your team and your quarterback to have an aggressive mindset, you have to cultivate it. If that mindset backfires, and you lose a game you would have won by being more cautious, you live with it.

You try to fix the mistakes that caused your aggressiveness to bite you in the rear end, but you don’t change who you are, who you want to be. Basically, if fans want the Philly Special, they have to be able to endure an unblocked blitzer leveling Carson Wentz on fourth-and-4 in the third quarter, as happened Sunday.

“I have to do what I feel is in the best interest of the football team,” Pederson said. “We practice these situations all the time. I do have to be smart. Game-by-game, you have to make smart decisions, and you gotta trust our players, trust our quarterback, trust our schemes. How well is our defense playing? There’s all of that, that factors into the aggressiveness factor for us.”

Pederson spoke Monday afternoon via Zoom, fewer than 24 hours after he and Wentz threw Eagles fans into a smash-the-TV-screen frenzy, in turning a 17-0 lead into a 27-17 season-opening loss at Washington.

Throughout a horrible second half, Pederson and Wentz seemed oblivious to the fact that the Eagles' patchwork offensive line was getting dominated by Washington’s formidable defensive front, to the tune of eight sacks. The ball did not come out quickly. Wentz did not roll out, though throughout his career he has been more effective outside the pocket.

The home team, whose longest gain of the afternoon was 21 yards, right after a terrible Wentz interception, started six of its final nine possessions in Eagles territory. Washington converted just five of 18 third downs, and still scored 27 points, because of Eagles turnovers, and a pair of fourth-down conversion attempts that didn’t work.

» READ MORE: Five reasons the Eagles lost to Washington

Had the Eagles just run into the middle of the line three times and then punted on every offensive series after they took the 17-0 lead, they probably would have won, given that Washington’s longest scoring drive of the day went 48 yards, and needed 13 plays to accomplish that.

“I guess you’re asking me if I could have run the ball when we were up 17-0, the rest of the game, yeah, that’s being less aggressive, but I’m going to do what I feel is in the best interest of the football team,” Pederson said. “We cannot turn the ball over. There’s all kinds of things that we can point the finger at. I can do a better job with a couple of play calls, throughout the game.”

Wentz’s interceptions set up two of Washington’s three touchdowns. A failed fourth-down conversion set up a field goal. Both interceptions came on passes to rookie wide receivers, and both times, the corner followed Wentz’s eyes and jumped the route.

The pick Wentz threw with a minute and 37 seconds left in the first half changed the game.

“We just missed. We missed on the throw. … Ball could have slipped a little bit, coming out of his hand. It was left inside. It happens, right?” Pederson said. "Those are things that are gonna happen, especially when it’s warm. It’s part of the game.

“As far as the aggressiveness goes, I’m still going to maintain the aggressiveness. … A 17-0 lead or a 27-10 lead in any football game in this league is not enough. You have to continue to maintain aggressiveness, especially when you have momentum, right? … You gotta use that to your advantage.”

» READ MORE: The Eagles had better get their offensive line right, or it could sink the 2020 season | Jeff McLane

Going for points at the end of the half, with your team set to receive the second-half kickoff, is a familiar, winning strategy. That doesn’t mean you throw a jump ball to the sideline. Wentz, in his fifth NFL season, keeps talking about taking better care of the ball without really doing it.

“We’ve just gotta keep talking that it’s OK to throw the ball away, it’s OK to ‘dirt’ the ball on a screen pass, or something of that nature,” Pederson said. “It’s something that we’ve just got to continue working through. ... I do believe he can learn that. I do believe that we can coach it better. You’re probably going, ‘Well, it’s a broken record,’ but it’s what we have to do.”

Pederson noted that Wentz might not be the only one to blame.

“If he’s holding the ball, maybe there’s a reason," he said. "Maybe we can coach the routes better. Maybe I have to call the play better.”

» READ MORE: Doug Pederson needed to save Carson Wentz from himself. He didn’t, and it cost the Eagles dearly. | Mike Sielski

Developing storylines

The Eagles converted four of their first six third downs, including third-and-22. They converted one of their remaining eight, that coming on a 2-yard Carson Wentz quarterback sneak.

From what Doug Pederson said Monday, it seems Nate Herbig might get a chance to keep that right guard spot. Pederson did not say that about Jack Driscoll at right tackle. Might be good to give Jordan Mailata more work there.

Fletcher Cox was credited with two tackles and no stats that involved pressuring the quarterback. He was handcuffed much of the afternoon by Washington center Chase Roullier, except on the game-winning touchdown, when right tackle Morgan Moses drove Cox out of the hole and almost down the tunnel to the locker room.

» READ MORE: Washington showed Eagles that efficiency, not flashy football, can be effective | Early Birds

Two of Zach Ertz’s three receptions came on the game’s first two series. Of course, he had the fourth-down drop late, after the Eagles decided that a crucial third-and-3 was a perfect time for a long throw down the sideline to DeSean Jackson, which did not connect.

Montez Sweat’s 12-yard sack came courtesy of one of the worst chip blocks ever, attempted by tight end Richard Rodgers.

The Eagles' punt coverage was little short of amazing. Washington averaged 3.4 yards on five returns, and that included an 11-yard return. So the other four returns averaged 1.5 yards.

Thirty-nine of Washington’s 80 rushing yards came on two plays, one of them a 19-yard ramble by quarterback Dwayne Haskins. The team’s other 34 runs gained a total of 41 yards. Peyton Barber scored two touchdowns while averaging 1.7 yards per carry on the day.

Who Knew?

That you could give up 27 points on just 239 net yards? If you figure a touchdown is worth seven points, that’s a TD for every 34.14 yards gained.

Obscure stat

According to Washington’s stat department, in 171 games against the Eagles, the 17-0 deficit Sunday was the biggest Washington has ever erased in coming back to win.

Extra point

If you were looking for a little good injury news, at least, from Doug Pederson on Monday, there really wasn’t any.

Defensive end Vinny Curry, who started against Washington in place of injured Derek Barnett, joined Barnett among the legion of hamstrung Eagles. Pederson called it a “significant” injury, and he used the same term for special teams core player Craig James. It isn’t clear what injury James sustained.

Pederson also confirmed that defensive end Brandon Graham is in the league’s concussion protocol.

Pederson did not predict that Barnett, running back Miles Sanders (hamstring), or right tackle Lane Johnson will return this Sunday in the home opener, against the Los Angeles Rams.

“We are going to increase their practice time this week,” Pederson said. “We’re going to see as the week goes on where they are, and hopefully, they will be available for the game on Sunday.”

It’s possible Pederson has just decided to be more cautious in his statements, after reporters were surprised that Sanders and Johnson couldn’t play in Washington, given Pederson’s optimism as late as last Friday.