Blame the GM. Blame the quarterback. Blame it on the 'Rona.
But don’t blame Doug Pederson.
The Eagles are 3-4-1 at their midseason bye because the flawed roster that surrounds the pressing quarterback wasn’t given time to coalesce as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that was killing Americans at a sickening pace this summer.
The Eagles aren’t 0-8 because Doug Pederson has navigated all of that, and deftly. He even beat COVID.
Blame Doug Pederson?
Please. Dougie Fresh is in first place in the NFC East because he’s made the most with the least.
Blame him? Hah.
Give that man a raise.
Is every play Pederson calls optimal for that moment? No. But, to be honest, his play-calling has never been optimal. He goes for it too often of fourth down. He tries two-point conversions when common sense says he shouldn’t. So far he’s shown little feel for incorporating a gadget weapon like Jalen Hurts.
There’s an argument – fallacious on its face – that contends he doesn’t run the ball enough, especially on first down. But that ship sailed a decade ago when the mathematics of winning finally overtook football’s Neanderthal culture. (It turns out that Andy Reid was right all along, and he and Pederson, his protege, have won half of the last four Super Bowls.)
Argue the Pederson minutiae all you like – the quarterback runs too much (my point), he doesn’t trust his defense (he shouldn’t), he’s addicted to trick plays (he should seek professional help) – but when you consider Pederson’s poor tools and the obstacles he’s had to deal with, the fact that the Eagles are in first place with eight games remaining is the stuff of wonder.
And his biggest obstacle has been his head-case quarterback.
The turnover machine
Carson Wentz has committed 16 turnovers in 32 quarters. It’s incredible. He leads the NFL with 12 interceptions and he is tied for the lead with four lost fumbles. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, put it this way:
Carson Wentz has more turnovers than 30 other NFL teams.
Only the Cowboys have more. And the Eagles, who have a total of 17 -- thanks to Carson Wentz.
That quantification it the best way to qualify how exquisitely disastrous Wentz has been in 2020. He played much better than his statistics indicated in 2019, carrying the team to nine wins while committing just 14 turnovers all season, and he finished with a 93.1 passer rating, 12th among regular starters.
This season? Of the 24 quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts, his passer rating, 73.2, ranks 24th. Nick Foles is at only 80.2, so shush that talk. How did he get here?
He stares down receivers. He’s both gun shy and reckless. He can’t feel pressure, he misreads obvious blitzes, and then he fails to deliver the ball to hot-read receivers.
Wentz’s supporting cast has been diminished by injury, yes, but he wasn’t given a $128 million contract to be supported by a cast. He was given a $128 million contract to support the cast.
What is Pederson’s role here?
He helped turn Wentz into a rookie of the year candidate in 2016 as a Game 1 starter coming from a FCS (I-AA) school, then made him an MVP favorite in his second season before an injury to Wentz put Nick Foles on the fast track to Super Bowl immortality. And remember, Foles was coached by Pederson, too.
Yes, in both 2016 and 2017, Pederson and Wentz (and Foles) worked with offensive coordinator Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach John DiFilippo. But after they took jobs elsewhere, Wentz (and Foles) shone in 2018, and Wentz was pretty good in 2019.
Pederson hasn’t changed.
Wentz, suddenly very rich and very pressured, has.
This is on the quarterback, not the coach.
Howie Roseman built an offensive roster that somehow is both too gray and too green.
The gray-hairs – DeSean Jackson, 33, and Jason Peters, 38 – can’t make it through a half without hurting themselves, and 30-year-old Alshon Jeffery apparently heals at the rate of an arthritic octogenarian.
The newbies – receivers Travis Fulgham, Greg Ward, and Jalen Reagor; linemen Matt Pryor, Jordan Mailata, and Nate Herbig' and running back Boston Scott –- average 5.6 career starts. Ward, an undrafted, converted quarterback whom the Eagles have cut four times since 2017, leads the group with nine starts. Herbig, a 22-year-old undrafted guard in his second season, has eight, which are the most among the group this season.
Those seven players were among the 11 Eagles who started last Sunday.
It was the Eagles' second consecutive win in the NFC East, and it sent them into their bye week with a 1, game lead in the division.
So, please, tell me again how Doug Pederson is failing.
The coaching staff
On Jan. 8, Pederson endorsed offensive coordinator Mike Groh and receivers coach Carson Walch. He lauded them for turning a crew of practice-squad afterthoughts headed by Ward and Scott into viable contributors for a team that won four straight games to claim the NFC East title and a playoff spot. He said, “Both those guys will be back.”
On Jan. 9, less than 24 hours later, Pederson fired them. This came after he met with Roseman and owner Jeffrey Lurie. So no, Pederson didn’t fire them; he was told to fire them, league sources have said.
By March, Pederson had been assigned a few new names. Rich Scangerello landed, freshly fired as the Broncos' offensive coordinator, as a “senior offensive assistant." Marty Mornhingweg returned as a “senior offensive consultant.” Andrew Breiner, a 35-year-old college assistant with a PhD in RPOs, came aboard as the Eagles' “pass game analyst” (which, frankly, I thought was my job).
The commonality among these additions: None has a clear role, and Pederson wouldn’t cede any the title of offensive coordinator (nice flex). But all are darlings of Roseman and Lurie.
Also: Carson Wentz has gotten appreciably worse since their arrival.
Doug? He’s still Doug.
A little wacky, a little goofy, and a little football nerdy, but completely aware of his team’s abilities and totally capable of getting the most from his players.
Which is exactly what he’s doing.