Doug Pederson was five for his first five attempts on fourth down this season. He has been consistent this season that he wants to stay aggressive and he trusts his offense to get the job done.
To his credit, Pederson has been true to his word, continuing to trust his offense on fourth downs. And yet, the Eagles went for two fourth down plays with the team in chip-shot field goal range early in Sunday’s game against the Giants and converted neither. That’s six points the Eagles took away from themselves to try to extend drives in the red zone.
The Eagles lost by five.
Now, there was a lot more game to play at the time of both of those attempts, and the fact the Giants blocked a field goal attempt only served to validate the decision to go for it on fourth down, if a little. Still, to lose 28-23 to the Giants when your team gave up six nearly automatic points leaves the first-year coach with some explaining to do.
“There is a fine line between being crazy, borderline crazy and doing the right thing,” Pederson said after the game. “But at the same time I felt like at the time it was the right thing to do. It was momentum…it was an opportunity to really show confidence in our offense.”
The Eagles were 1-for-4 on fourth down in the game, converting on a 3rd-and-9 halfway through the fourth quarter, but also failing to score on the 4th-and-10 play that ostensibly ended the game. When the Eagles were gifted a short field after an interception with a chance to win the game, Pederson’s offense couldn’t even muster one yard.
When pressed if the lack of success on fourth down will change his philosophy, Pederson said he’s not going to change.
“I think I’ll stay aggressive. I think I have to,” he said. “There’s opportunities there to be had, there’s plays to be made.
“This is part of our growth process on offense. We’re trying to build this thing. We’re trying to do it right. By putting [the offense] in these situations, they’re going to be better for this. They’re going to be better, down the stretch; somewhere it’s going to pay off for us. It’s going to pay off for all of us, so I’m going to continue to be as aggressive as I can and try to send a message to our football team.”
Pederson stressed multiple times that if the team started the game better they wouldn’t be in position to feel the need to be that aggressive. And yet, Pederson continues to say he trusts his offense, so why not take the points and trust that your offense can get the ball back and get another chance at another score?
“I’m going to continue to stay aggressive, trust our guys and let our guys play,” Pederson said. “It’s an opportunity for us offensively to score seven points over three. I truly believe in our defense and special teams and they showed up today and made some plays. Again, if we don’t start the ball game the way we do, it’s different, it’s totally different. I’m going to continue to show confidence in our guys.”
The debate of whether or not going for it in those situations shows more confidence in the defense or a total lack of confidence will continue to be had, because Pederson will continue to put the Eagles in these situations.
And for those of us on #TeamNeverPunt, going on fourth down is always good, except when six points are better than zero points. And the bigger issue isn’t the decision to go on fourth down, it’s the decision on his specific plays call and personnel.
Why would Pederson ever call a play against an aggressive, blitzing defense that put Wentz in a situation with the ball in his hands seven yards behind the line of scrimmage — nine yards behind the first down marker — running toward the sideline?
As bad as that was, on the second fourth-down attempt, Pederson called a run off-tackle…to Darren Sproles.
Sproles is a great player, but not on 4th-and-1 and not when the Eagles have three backs who are more equipped physically to get one yard if a hole doesn’t present itself to slip through.
That, or let Wentz sneak it there, when there is one yard to gain, not two.
This is another close loss for the Eagles, and another game where the Eagles probably should have won, if not for mistakes by Pederson and his coaching staff.
“We’re going to learn from this as a team,” Pederson said after the loss. As a coach, he’s going to have to.