McMullen: Did Doug Pederson Really Downplay Carson Wentz?
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — Perhaps my favorite piece of football wisdom comes from Tom Moore, the now 78-year-old assistant head coach under Bruce Arians with the Arizona Cardinals.
Once upon a time, Moore was the offensive coordinator in Indianapolis when Peyton Manning was winning games at a historic pace and he was asked why the backup quarterbacks didn't get more repetitions in practice just in case.
"If [No.] 18 goes down [Manning] we are f@#$ked," the gruff veteran coach answered in a not-safe-for-work kind of way, "and we don't practice f@#$ed."
If you watched Green Bay on "Monday Night Football" you kind of get what Moore was trying to say: if you lose a superstar quarterback in the NFL, there isn't all that much you can do.
Doug Pederson, on the other hand, spent part of his Monday afternoon press conference explaining that the 8-1 Eagles are far more than their superstar signal caller, Carson Wentz.
It's not that the Eagles coach doesn't understand who is the most important player on his football team but he also wants to ease up on the expectations of what is still a second-year player with just 25 NFL starts under his belt.
The midseason NFL MVP, Wentz has taken off in his sophomore campaign, fast-forwarding a narrative that projected him as a future superstar. Forget the future part, Wentz has already arrived as perhaps the NFL's most dynamic player now that Aaron Rodgers has been sidelined with a broken collarbone.
From a national perspective, Wentz is the face of the Eagles but he is not the only one who has helped turn this team from a 7-9 afterthought into a legitimate Super Bowl contender and Pederson took the opportunity to explain that when asked about his quarterback epitomizing the team's unselfishness this season.
“There’s a lot of guys that way that are unselfish, disciplined ballplayers, in the way they prepare and study,” the coach explained. “I think with Carson leading the offense and kind of being the face right now and getting the accolades, he is the most humble guy you will come across. But he understands that this is a team game."
Whether it's Malcolm Jenkins and Brandon Graham on defense, Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce on the offensive line and even injured leaders like Jason Peters, Darren Sproles and Chris Maragos, so many have contributed to Philadelphia's meteoric rise.
That said they all fall in line behind Wentz, a natural leader who doesn't seem to be affected by the outside noise that can often envelop an athlete in the city.
"Everything he is getting, he deserves, for the way he prepares and studies," Pederson said. "But I think there’s a lot of guys who do the same thing. They may get overlooked, but they prepare to the best of their abilities.”
While some may raise an eyebrow at Pederson playing down Wentz's impact on this team, the second-year coach has been a master at managing the personalities in his locker room.
In this instance, it was simply an effort to insulate Wentz from the enormous pressure put on star quarterbacks in this league.
In a short-attention-span culture built on headlines designed to generate clicks, it's always about Wentz versus Dak Prescott not the Eagles against the Dallas Cowboys.
“Listen, I don’t like to put it all on one guy,” Pederson said. “I think [Wentz] is a part of the standard. But it is not, ‘Carson, you set it, and I’ll follow your lead,’ even though he is playing extremely well.”
Pederson has done a wonderful job building up a team atmosphere and he's intent on having 53 players moving in one direction to accomplish "something special," not 52 following one.
“You’ve got to look at our defense, too, and the way they’ve studied, and the way they understand our defense,” Pederson said. “Those standards are being set all over the place. Our players pride themselves on playing well each week. And if it’s Carson, if it’s Fletch (Fletcher Cox), if it’s Brandon (Graham), Malcolm (Jenkins), whoever it might be, they want to make sure that they want to do everything they can to win that next game.”
Wentz is the most important player on this team but he's also part of something Pederson hopes ends up with more than just an MVP award.
That said, you can cue Moore if No. 11 goes down because the Eagles are f@#$ed.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen