Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer pro football writer Paul Domowitch. This week, the two discuss whether Doug Pederson really is close to benching Carson Wentz, whether he wants to be fired, what’s going on with owner Jeffrey Lurie right now, what the Eagles’ top offseason priorities might be, and the shaky Bruce Arians-Tom Brady marriage in Tampa:
Domo: What do you make of Doug Pederson’s “not today on Wednesday, no” response to a question about whether he was considering making a quarterback change? He later backed off and said Carson Wentz will start Monday. But why would a guy who treats injuries like state secrets open that door with the struggling Wentz?
JB: I don’t know why he did that. But I’d be shocked if it was because he’s truly thinking of making a change. The consequences longer term are just too great. I think he just wasn’t careful or wasn’t thinking through the implications of saying what he said. They’re at a point where they have to kind of rebuild Carson. Try to get him to relax. Try to get him to take a deep breath and take some of the pressure off of himself and start to rebuild his confidence. I’m not sure his comments or the media reaction to them helped that.
Domo: Wentz threw just nine passes in the first half in Sunday’s loss to the Browns. Nineteen of their first 27 offensive plays were run plays. What does that tell you?
JB: Whether you’re for the run or for the pass in the great run-pass debate in Philadelphia, when a team like the Eagles is playing a team like the Browns that is missing their best pass rusher, and their best corner is playing a little bit hurt, and their pass defense this year has been worse than their run defense, and you come out and run it that much — as somebody who believes in the cliché that actions speak louder than words, they’re clearly telling us that there is some internal loss of confidence in Carson, as well as whatever is going on within Carson himself.
The game plan against the Browns, especially with [Myles] Garrett out, should have been throw the ball early, get the lead and try to make them one-dimensional. What to do is easy. Doing it is hard, but what to do is easy. And they came out and did the opposite. That tells us they are trying to figure out themselves what’s going on with him, and are desperately trying to get him to a better place. But that isn’t happening.
Domo: The Eagles appear to have put a hold on expanding Jalen Hurts’ role in the offense. He played just one snap in the loss to the Browns. Do you think they’re worried about the impact using the rookie more might have on Wentz’s fragile psyche?
JB: We’re all human and we’ve all been through phases in our life where we’ve been feeling more or less confident. And we need to accept that Carson is in one of those phases where he’s not believing in himself the way he did in the past; or at least it looks that way. They’re not going to know whether he’s the long-term answer until they take some of that [negative] stuff out of there. Anything that interrupts him and causes him to question his confidence any more right now, I would stay away from for at least the moment. These next few games, it’s going to be tough for them to win them anyway. So why not take the time and see if they can get Carson back closer to what he’s historically been?
Domo: Doug Pederson clearly is frustrated right now with what’s happening. There are people both inside and outside of the organization who have told me he wouldn’t be totally unhappy if he ends up getting fired. He won’t have any trouble getting another head job. He might have more say over personnel someplace else. What do you think?
JB: I’m just gonna make a distinction that may sound minor. There’s a distinction between someone who is just really feeling the pressure and having trouble enjoying even a moment at this point, and someone who actually has reached the point where they’re throwing in the towel in the sense that they would almost be relieved if it happened.
I worked with Doug. I was there when he played. I’m sure he’s incredibly frustrated. I’m sure, like all of us, he sees some things that can be better, and he doesn’t really understand why it’s this bad. But I would be shocked if it was leading to anything other than him being more determined to overcome it and fix it.
Philadelphia is a tough place to play or coach or work in a front office. You’d better have thick skin. It does make it harder than some other places. But there’s also the benefits of the passion [of the fans], which is one of the fun parts of having one of these jobs. The lack of apathy is a plus there.
If he is — and I doubt he is — reaching the point where he’s kind of had it, he’s probably just frustrated with internal dynamics and maybe some things that he had to do that didn’t work out, or things that he would like to do that he isn’t being allowed to do. That’s when it becomes a little hopeless as a head coach and makes you feel like you can’t overcome it. If anything is going on, that’s likely the cause rather than the external pressure of negative stories and talk-show criticism.
Domo: Jeffrey Lurie obviously isn’t pleased with what’s happening. You’ve been with him when he’s made major organizational changes in the past. What do you think he’s doing right now? Do you think he’s keeping his distance from everyone so he won’t be influenced and can form his own opinions on who or what is to blame?
JB: That’s a hard question. Obviously, I’ve known him for a really long time — since we were kids. Fans shouldn’t worry that he’s missing this or underestimating just how bad they’re playing or how inexplicable it is.
What’s harder is being really objective and sitting back and figuring out what’s causing the problem and how do I fix it. I’d be shocked if he has a really clear answer on that yet. I expect he’s certainly talking to the coaches and Howie [Roseman] and everybody. But he’s probably not as interactive and as present as he would normally be. And when he is, I would suspect it’s quite obvious to them that he’s really, really frustrated.
He’s not somebody that runs to conflict or likes to be in uncomfortable situations. So I would be very surprised if he’s isolated himself. But I also would be very surprised if he isn’t interacting less. I’m sure he’s gone through a phase where he had very specific concerns and gave some input.
Teams that look for new coaches, they have to start working on that with three or four weeks minimum left in the season in terms of doing the research and putting together some lists. I’m talking about preparing to do it, not actually doing it. I don’t know if he’s seriously thinking about that or not. My guess is he’s thinking about some [lesser] changes as opposed to massive things. He’s probably doing that within himself at the moment. But soon, he’ll have to bring in one or two trusted people to at least prepare for the possibility.
He won’t make a decision on that first. The first thing he’ll do is actually assign some work to one, and possibly two, people to do to prepare for that. He won’t say, “Listen we’re going to make a coaching change. Let’s get to work on that.” The first thing would be, “This is a real possibility, and we need to start to do the work so that if we decide to move forward with that kind of decision, we’re totally prepared for it.”
Domo: You mentioned that Jeffrey would eventually bring in one or two trusted people to help him if he gets to the point where he’s thinking about making changes. But his top lieutenant, at least on the football side, is Howie, whose own head might be on the chopping block. So how would that work?
JB: This is the problem you have because Howie is who he would turn to. But I really don’t see Howie [getting fired] as a possibility right now. So I think that’s who he goes to. Owners that make changes at both positions [general manager and head coach] often are challenged with respect to how to do their search and who’s going to do the interviews and who the right people are, and who you can really trust to give you references on coaches, which is a very, very big challenge.
And by the way, if they decide to make a head-coaching change, they won’t be starting from scratch. Whether they’ve actually got a file that they are keeping or whether it’s just in their own minds that this can happen to any team at any point, they’ve been keeping lists of names and have a very preliminary, and much too big, list of possible people they would turn to. So they would start to work that list and make sure they had all the possibilities on it, and then actually start to work it down to get to a small enough level to be workable.
Domo: We’re far enough along in this season to draw some early conclusions as to what the Eagles’ priorities are going to be in the offseason. Give me your impressions on what they’re going to need to focus on.
JB: You could look at the defensive line in terms of talent and potential and say, “Let’s just get healthy. We may have to make a few adjustments related to cap situations, but we have the right level of talent there.” But that would almost impossible to prove if you put the tape on right now.
Then you go to the other side of the line and you say, “Well, when we get all of these offensive linemen healthy in the offseason, we’ll be just fine.” But I’m not sure I agree with that either, particularly given the age factor and the frequency of injury of some of those players.
And then, of course, there’s nobody that could possibly be looking at the quarterback right now and be sure whether they have the answer there or not. So before we even get to other stuff, like upgrading the linebackers and getting more help in the secondary, and are the wide receivers good enough, and what to do with [Zach] Ertz and things like that, before you get to those things, you actually have to figure out whether the positions you’re actually prepared to trust going forward are fixed, at least for the short term.
And I will tell you for sure, knowing Jeff and Howie as well as I do, that the first question that they’ll debate is the quarterback, and the second one will be the offensive and defensive lines. As somebody who watches that pretty closely and was part of those [kinds of] decisions, I’m not sure what the answer is. And when you’re not sure, it makes the decisions about what to do next really, really hard.
And then there’s the coaching thing, which is kind of critical, too. Because if they were to make a change, the style and the nature of what they would be looking for in players would be completely different. So, it’s going to be a challenging offseason.
And that’s before we get to the cap, which I’ve said before is not as bad as it looks but certainly does create more challenges than it has in a very long time. That obviously affects everything, too.
Domo: Let’s move away from the Eagles for a minute. Bruce Arians and Tom Brady were supposed to be a marriage made in heaven. But there appears to be a disconnect between the Bucs coach and his quarterback. After the Bucs’ loss to the Rams Monday night, Arians actually said Brady is “getting confused” with coverages. That’s like calling Einstein a village idiot. I can’t imagine Brady is handling the criticism well. Is this marriage doomed to fail?
JB: I’m totally surprised by what I’m seeing. We all know Arians is a shoot-from-the-hip guy. But still, you’re the head coach of the team. You’ve got leaders. I’m not suggesting you treat them differently. But I don’t suggest you drag them through the mud publicly, either. I don’t see anything constructive that can come out of doing that.
There are players that a little smack in the back or some moderate public criticism can help motivate. Tom Brady is not one of those guys. If the point is to show the team that he’s going to treat everybody the same, that, to me, is just foolish. If he’s really that frustrated with Brady, that doesn’t make any sense, either.
It’s possible it just may not be a good fit. We’ve seen Brady talk about this notion of reading the defense back to front vs. front to back. That’s a much, much bigger deal and bigger challenge than an average fan can realize. And it does take longer. Brady’s a guy who’s used to getting the ball out quickly. Even though he’s not mobile, he rarely got sacked. Now we see him getting hit. We see him taking sacks. All of the things you want to avoid happening. It starts with the nature of the play-calling. I don’t think any of us, when we saw him sign there, could have pictured this happening this way.