Eagles' Doug Pederson's in-game adjustments are winning hearts and minds | David Murphy
The Eagles have been one of the most impressive teams in the NFL coming out of halftime this season. Doug Pederson deserves credit.
On Wednesday evening, a man walked into a Philadelphia-area liquor store wearing a New York Rangers jacket. This sparked a conversation with the check-out clerk, who urged him to vacate the premises and come back with a Flyers jacket. This eventually turned into a conversation about the Giants, whom the Rangers fan ruefully admitted he also supported.
"McAdoo's got to go," he opined.
"Thank God he turned us down," somebody in line responded.
What a difference a 9-1 record makes in the hearts and minds of men. Last year at this time, the public consensus still seemed to hold that Doug Pederson was little more than a placeholder, a guy whose chief qualification as Eagles head coach was that he actually wanted the job. Adam Gase and Ben McAdoo, two of the higher-profile candidates interviewed alongside Pederson, were both leading playoff teams in Miami and New York. The Eagles, meanwhile, were stumbling down the stretch.
Now, at dinner tables across the Philadelphia area, Pederson's name in being invoked in prayers of thanksgiving. Carson Wentz is probably a bit higher on the list, but the shift in public opinion regarding the head coach has been marked over the last month or so. One positive impression I've heard on several occasions in recent weeks concerns the adjustments that Pederson has made between the first and second halves of games. It's an astute observation, especially when you look at the way the Eagles have outperformed their opponents in the third quarter.
Heading into Sunday's game against the Bears, the Eagles have outscored their opponents 87-30 in the third quarters of games. That's an average of 8.7 points scored per game in the third quarter, the highest in the NFL. But there's another metric that, to me, is a better indication of Pederson's ability to adjust on the fly.
In the table below, you'll find three columns of numbers: average yards per play in the first half, average yards per play in the third quarter, and the difference between the two. As you can see, the Eagles have averaged nearly a yard-and-a-half more per play coming out of halftime compared with the first and second quarters. That's the third-best differential in the game, and it is particularly impressive when you consider that they've averaged a not-too-shabby 5.47 yards per play in the first half. In other words, the improvement isn't a function of poor first-half performance, as is the case with the Dolphins and Titans, whose first-half averages rank 32nd and 25th (the Eagles rank 15th).
None of this is scientific, of course, especially if we're going to arbitrarily dismiss Gase and Mike Mularkey as special exceptions. But it is a good for-instance of something that has been a huge Eagles strength this season. Last week's win over the Cowboys was as good an example as any: After heading into halftime facing a 9-7 deficit, the Eagles scored touchdowns on all three of their third-quarter possessions, with drives of 75, 90, and 85 yards that wiped out a combined 12:20 of game clock.
Another game of note was that Week 6 win over the Panthers, when the two teams entered halftime tied 10-10. The Eagles' last four drives of the second quarter that night went for 1, minus-2, 18, and 12 yards, and overall in the first half they averaged just 20 yards per drive. In the third quarter, though, the Eagles scored on three of their four possessions, including drives of 75 and 45 yards to take a commanding 28-16 lead.
"I think schematically, we don't have to go back and reinvent a lot of things," Pederson said Wednesday. "We just kind of tweak what we have and try to make it better in-game. And then I do feel like our conditioning has been really good. We do so much up-tempo during games that you do see teams kind of wear out, especially in the second half of games. It's just a tribute to the offensive line, their conditioning, being able to sustain blocks, and they do a great job with double teams and things like that."
With four straight double-digit wins in which the Eagles have scored at least 33 points, Pederson's offense should be riding a considerable amount of momentum into back-to-back road games against the Seahawks and Rams. There are a lot of impressive aspects about this team, and the head coach finally seems to be getting his due.