McMullen: Pederson Walking the Fine Line Between Chemistry and Dysfunction
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - From the definition of chemistry to the danger of dysfunction in eight months.
How's that for fluid?
In the NFL the synonym for chemistry might as well be winning. Conversely, the substitute for dysfunction might as well be losing.
The Eagles just dropped two in a row for the first time in 20 months and viola, Jay Ajayi questioned the playcalling before heading to injured reserve with a torn ACL, Stefen Wisniewski believes there is a conspiracy keeping him out of the starting lineup, and Fletcher Cox in yelling at Jalen Mills on the football field.
That's not a coincidence but Doug Pederson steered the conversation away from the negative connotations at his Monday press conference.
"I see their frustration when things don't go our way," the coach said. "And I see leaders on the football team standing up and leading, and that's what we need right now. We need those guys. We're sitting here at 2-3."
Pessimists need not apply for head-coaching jobs in the NFL. There is no time for hand-wringing or wild mood swings during the season because another game is always right around the corner. This week the grieving is even more condensed for Philadelphia, which will be on the field again in North Jersey just 96 hours after an unexpected loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
So Pederson spent his Monday deflecting before a walkthrough practice instead of playing 18 holes.
He started with Ajayi, agreeing with criticisms while adding a little context, although not letting on that the lead back in his committee approach would not be playing again this season and may have played his last down as an Eagle due to the torn ACL
"Yeah, I do," Pederson responded when asked if he agreed with Ajayi's run-the-ball-more assessment. "If we're having success running the football, sometimes we continue to run the football. I look at the beginning of the second half, I think there were seven runs in that drive. We ended up turning it over."
Ajayi, by the way, turned it over with one of the biggest unforced errors of a game which featured quite a few of them.
"Look, it's definitely a fine line," the coach explained. "You’d love to have balance. We just got in a situation where we fell behind, and even in the third quarter, it was 20-to-3 and we were working ourselves back. I love to run the football. I think our guys are good at it, and we've been successful at it. But at the same time, we can't get behind in football games because sometimes the running game won't allow you to get back fast enough."
As for Wisniewski's veiled accusations, Pederson demurred at the Oliver Stone aspect and veered toward meritocracy even though Wiz isn't the only one with an eye on Howie Roseman and Jason Peters.
"I have no idea what the other theory would be because everything in this business is performance-based," Pederson insisted. "If we feel as an offensive staff like we need to make a change somewhere, then we'll make that change. We feel comfortable with Isaac [Seumalo]. ... He's done well in practice and he has earned an opportunity to play, and so we felt like this past week it was a good opportunity."
As for the Mills-Cox dust-up on the field, the All-Pro was simply trying to get the Mills calmed down to avoid a penalty because the cornerback was jawing with Vikings star Adam Thielen after making a play in the red zone.
"Our guys are competitive," Pederson said. "I think that's the culture we've created, and … if we didn't have that, there would probably be some more issues going on. But the fact that the guys want it so bad, and they are standing up and holding each other accountable, I think that's a credit to the players."
Bill Parcells rules always apply in the NFL, however.
"You are what your record says you are," the Hall of Fame coach once famously said. Last season the Eagles lost three times in 19 games. This season they've already lost three in five outings and even playing 19 again at this stage seems like a fantasy.
Label the struggles any way you want: Super Bowl hangover, human nature, self-inflicted wounds or a lack of urgency but none of that is going to fix anything.
Any coach will tell you getting to the top of the mountain is difficult. Staying there is even harder.
"It is a challenge, quite honestly," Pederson said. "I had an opportunity when I was in Green Bay to do this back-to-back, two Super Bowls back-to-back. Historically, you watch teams that have had success and gone back. The Patriots have probably been the team that have been the most consistent at it. That's the thing you guard against. You guard against so-called burnout or the energy level is down. You also have to guard against what success looks like to everybody and how that can pull on people and distract people."
Just like the run-pass ratio, it's a fine line. To date, the Eagles haven't figured out how to handle success.
"There is a sense of urgency, I think, to obviously get better, to fix it," Pederson said. "We're on a short week this week. But our guys are professionals and they will get it done."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen