Doug Pederson’s messaging to his Eagles and in public has been off mark | Jeff McLane
Doug Pederson pushed almost every correct button last year as the Eagles won the Super Bowl. But he's gotten so much wrong this year — from his messaging to his handling of practices.
Unlike last year, Doug Pederson gave Eagles players the entire Thanksgiving Day off.
"We kind of pushed some things up earlier in the week to make sure we got the work in that we needed, and the preparation," safety Malcolm Jenkins said Friday. "Was able to spend time with our families, which is a good thing."
It's one of the few alterations Pederson has made this season. Considering the Eagles' struggles, a change of pace could be what the doctor ordered.
Since winning the Super Bowl in February, Pederson has made many off-the-field decisions that were dubious at the time but, in hindsight, were missteps for a team that hadn't won a title in 57 years and acted like it.
Pederson's messaging, both to his team and publicly, has been clumsy since he led the Eagles to an improbable victory over the Patriots.
"Get used to it," Pederson said he told his team three days after winning. "This is the new norm in Philadelphia, playing and hopefully playing into February every year."
While it was nice to finally bask in the glow, and portray confidence about the future, the 2018 Eagles had yet to accomplish anything. A better parting shot would have been to say, "This can be the new norm."
Of course, it wasn't Pederson who decided to slap the slogan on the wall that players walk by every time they take the practice field. And it wasn't the coach who had a "Super Bowl LII Champions" emblem hung in the NovaCare locker room, and a banner of the Eagles grasping the Lombardi Trophy plastered prominently in the indoor practice bubble.
Signs or statues or book deals may seem trivial, but they paint a picture of a team that got caught up in its success and thought that it would come easy just because the team did it once. It didn't take long for Jenkins and other players to voice their loathing of the Super Bowl emblem enough that the organization decided to have it removed.
The "new norm" and the Lombardi banner still stand. Are they the sole reasons the 4-6 Eagles' season is on the line Sunday against the New York Giants? No, not even close. But when you've gone from champions to being in jeopardy of having the worst record for a defending champion, everything gets placed under the microscope.
And that includes the notion of a Super Bowl hangover.
"Super Bowl has no consequence of this year," Jenkins said. "We don't win a game because of the Super Bowl, we don't lose games because of the Super Bowl. Everything that you see this year, you can turn on the tape and look at exactly why we have the record we have."
Practice would be a good place to start. In 2017, when the Eagles first gathered in April, Pederson added more competition to the workouts. Rather than switch things up this year, he kept the status quo during spring practices.
While it was ostensibly business as usual in the spring – aside from the large number of significant pieces returning from major surgery – Pederson took a slightly different approach to training camp. He dialed it back.
He canceled the first three days of camp with rookies and selected veterans. And when camp did start, he lightened the load several days with fewer padded practices, tackling periods, and 2-1/2-hour sessions.
In skipping the three-day early portion, Pederson said that he wanted to give players additional rest coming off the long season. But most of the players who would have been at those workouts hadn't even played in the Super Bowl. It's difficult to run practices with small numbers, but many coaches relish any opportunity to work with new faces.
Many of those new faces have been asked to take on larger roles considering the Eagles' injury woes.
On the first day of training camp, Pederson said about practice, "I can't let things slide out here." The first session was filled with pre-snap penalties, and that was a consistent theme throughout camp. The Eagles have cleaned up some of their mistakes in recent weeks, but presnap penalties were a problem for more than the first month of the season.
On Aug. 7, about two weeks into camp, the Eagles were scheduled to wear pads. But Pederson allowed the players to wear shorts and shells instead because he said that he had been pleased with the effort and that he didn't need to push them with temperatures in the 90s. He had one fewer practice with tackling periods and cut at least another session short.
It adds up.
Pederson pushed the team in what players described as an atypically difficult practice on Aug. 28 – clearly in response to the first three preseason games in which the Eagles lost by a combined score of 73-34 – but was it too little too late?
Pederson pushed almost every right button during 2017. He didn't panic after the Week 2 loss to the Chiefs. He was the picture of poise after Carson Wentz was lost for the season. He listened to his players when they asked for padded practices before the postseason, for instance. And he played the underdog card to perfection.
But he has seemingly been unable to adjust to this season's narrative. The "Embrace the Target" shirts that were given out to every player at the start of camp acknowledged their new status, but every season is its own entity. It took two games and a loss to the lowly Bucs for that slogan to lose its meaning.
After the Eagles coughed up a fourth-quarter lead to the Panthers last month, Pederson said that he told the players, "Nobody on the outside world is giving us a chance to do much of anything. Pressure's off, so we can go play, have fun, and just relax."
Did anyone underestimate the reigning champs? If anything, the pressure was ramped up. And for the most part, the Eagles have crumbled under it since those comments. In the losses since then, Pederson has mostly repeated the cliche about looking in the mirror.
He isn't going to publicly call out the players, and understandably so. But there has been no indication that he has altered his approach behind the scenes. Giving the players off on Thanksgiving – while the Giants practiced – may be Pederson's attempt to alter the process.
The best coaches adapt to the ever-changing winds of a season. Pederson has gotten more wrong than right over the last nine months. Something must change if the Eagles, still more than mathematically alive, are to play the final month with meaning.