After the Eagles' first game against the New York Giants, coach Doug Pederson was grilled over his decision to go for it four times on fourth down. Before the second game against the Giants, Pederson explained his rationale for attempting a two-point conversion that failed, resulting in a loss.
Neither week was far from the norm this season.
Pederson will coach his 15th NFL game Thursday night when the Eagles host the Giants, and the sample size is becoming big enough to develop a sense of how Pederson coaches. He is unabashed about his aggressiveness. The Eagles have attempted 25 fourth-down conversions this season - eight more than any other team. Pederson has sent his offense onto the field for six two-point conversions, ranking third in the NFL. In some respects, he's coaching with the defiance of convention expected of his predecessor when Chip Kelly came to Philadelphia in 2013.
Jeffrey Lurie hired Pederson as much for how he managed the team during the week as how he operated on game day - remember the emphasis on emotional intelligence? But a big part of the job is how he manages the game for three hours each week.
"You want to stay aggressive," Pederson said. "You want to trust your players, and that's what I've done and I feel like I've done this season. . . . It just comes down to relying a lot of times on the information, the data that's given, and your chances for success. A lot of factors go into that."
Pederson is often left answering for the result more than the decision. The two must be separated, though, to evaluate the merits of Pederson's approach.
After the first Giants game, there was an outcry about passing on a field goal to risk going for it on fourth down, but it was because the Eagles went 1 of 4 on those attempts. The Eagles are 13 of 25 on fourth-down attempts this season, so they convert more than half of them. And he was hailed in his debut when the Eagles benefited from a gutsy call that worked.
The Eagles have converted 4 of 6 two-point conversions, which is one of the best percentages in the league.
Pederson said earlier in the year that he combines gut instinct and probabilities when making the decision, but he acknowledged this week that he relies "more and more" on statistical analysis. The Eagles have an analytics team that supplies Pederson with data from a five-year period broken down by down-and-distance and field position, and he tries to use that to complement his intuition.
"We understand all the situations - where you are at on the field, defense, punt vs. a field goal - all those things go into play," Pederson said. "And we take into consideration, too, you are on the road, you are the underdog, what are the classic scenarios. So, I rely on those guys to give me the right information."
Because the information is believed to be proprietary, it is not publicly known what numbers are crunched. So when Pederson said the Eagles had less than a 50 percent chance of winning in overtime last week, it was difficult to know how the team reached that conclusion.
Pederson strayed from his aggressive nature in an Oct. 30 loss to Dallas, and he endured criticism for the conservative approach. The Eagles passed on kicking a 53-yard field goal while nursing a seven-point lead and instead punted. The Cowboys drove down the field to tie the score and won in overtime.
Pederson stood by that decision by saying he trusted his defense. But what he said he regretted in that game was not going for a fourth down earlier, when he could have passed on three points to try to get seven. One week later against the Giants, he made sure to keep his offense on the field in the same situation.
"I like his aggressiveness," said defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, a former head coach. "I really respect his decision to go for two to win [the Baltimore] game. I think that sends a good statement, not only to the team, but to the city. It lets them know he's trying to win. . . . Going for it on fourth down. There would probably be a lot of defensive coordinators that might bristle at that. I embrace that, also. . . . I really respect those things."
That sentiment was echoed throughout the week, including from the locker room. Quarterback Carson Wentz said he "loved" Pederson's decision to go for the two-point conversion. The decisions don't always work - look at the discussion after the first Giants game and this week - but Pederson is already developing a reputation with his players.
"It's the mentality of this team," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "Doug said he was going to be like that, that he's going to be aggressive earlier this year. And you don't want to see a coach go back and forth. He stuck to his guns. . . . That's what you love to see out of your head coach."
The Eagles listed the following players as questionable: wide receiver Jordan Matthews (ankle) and offensive linemen Allen Barbre (hamstring), Isaac Seumalo (ankle), and Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee). Barbre is expected to play and start at left guard. Matthews is also expected to be in the lineup. Every player on the 53-man roster practiced Wednesday.