Doug Pederson does not think it's time for "panic mode" one day after the Eagles' 26-23 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans, but the coach did not hide from the predicament, either. He said the "sense of urgency from players and coaches needs to heighten" and he did not rule out personnel changes when the Eagles host the Minnesota Vikings this weekend.
"We have to be careful that we are not just on a whim swapping people out," Pederson said. "If you start doing that, it starts moving other people around as well. We're going to take these next couple of days and really evaluate everybody, evaluate us as coaches, too, and see if there's a change to be made, we'll make it. If not, then we'll leave it alone. At the same time, we can also coach a little bit better and get our guys prepared in a situation to play."
These conversations take place every week when the coaching staff evaluates the film from the previous game, but Pederson reiterated how the Eagles must be "more efficient" and was honest about his team's weaknesses during his news conference Monday.
There are problems to fix on both sides of the ball, although the lasting memory from the loss was a defense that allowed the chains to move on three fourth downs in overtime before letting up a game-winning touchdown. The defense has carried the Eagles in their two wins this season – both home games – but opposing offenses have been unafraid to test the Eagles deep. That continued on Sunday, when the Titans completed passes of 51 and 28 yards, and had close calls on other deep passes.
"It's not scheme related and until we stop it, teams will continue to do it," Pederson said. "You saw Tampa Bay do it. Now you saw Tennessee do it. … I think it's not personnel. I think it is just each man understanding his job and doing his job that much better. We talk about getting one percent increase every day, one percent better every day. And everybody has to take a look at themselves in the mirror and see and ask themselves are they doing that and until we can fix it and stop it, I think it is going to continue to happen."
>> READ MORE: Eagles issues in the secondary go beyond Jalen Mills
Jalen Mills, who was in coverage on the Titans' two biggest gains, has been a target of fan criticism this season. That can often come with the territory of a cornerback. Mills has been productive for the Eagles, starting during their Super Bowl campaign. But he's also given up big plays and been penalized too often this season, including three pass interference calls in the last two weeks.
Pederson admitted that offenses are challenging Mills. He said the Eagles "have a lot of confidence in him," that Mills is "working through" his struggles. But with a deep cornerback corps and a need for help at safety, that could be one area for the coaches to at least look.
"I don't necessarily think they are attacking him as much as they may be attacking the defense," Pederson said. "The fact that we have given up a few big plays. …If we are studying tape and we notice the defense is suspect to the deep pass, or a play action pass or something, then we're going to try to do it. We did it on the first play of the game and it was something that we had seen and we just missed by about six inches on the play. So, until we can address it and fix it and get better at it and practice, as you guys know, teams will continue to do it. It's like if a team can't stop the run, keep running. And that's just where we are right now."
Mills was not the problem in overtime, when safety Corey Graham allowed a wide receiver behind him on a fourth-and-15. Pederson said the mistakes on fourth downs were "all fixable" and not related to the scheme.
Pederson's offense cannot be let off the hook, either. If the Eagles could score a touchdown instead of a field goal in the red zone at the end of regulation or the beginning of overtime, there would be no fourth downs to gripe about. The Eagles have failed to score more than 23 points in a game this season. Last year, they scored at least 26 points in 12 games. The Eagles are still waiting for big games from the offense.
Pederson believes the Eagles' biggest problems are self-inflicted and correctable. He has tried to move on from last season and avoid comparing this team to the one that won the Super Bowl, but he cannot escape a standard the Eagles set last season. He wants his players to remember how they played one year ago.
"For us to play like champions, first of all, we have to understand that we are champions, and…you're expected to play a certain way," Pederson said. "When you don't live up to that expectation, we need to just zero down on it and figure out why. The sense of urgency from players and coaches needs to heighten just a little bit. It's not a panic mode, but it's a heightened awareness of who we are as a football team, where we want to get to and we have to eliminate these penalties because they're coming at the wrong time and turnovers are coming at the wrong time."
Pederson puts thought into the approach he takes with his team each week. He's had weeks when he's tried to raise the heat on his team. He's had weeks when he tried to build them up while their public approval rating had dipped. Pederson said he'll do "a little of both" this week.
"You've got to show them what's going on and why we're making these mistakes and then, at the same time, you have to encourage them because there is still a lot of positives out there," Pederson said. "There's still a lot of players busting their tail and they're working hard and they're sacrificing their bodies for the cause and to help us try to win a game. So, we've got to be hard on them. At the same time, we've got to make sure they stay positive and we stay aggressive."
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