McMullen: ‘Running’ Toward the Problem
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - NFL fans tend to be like first responders when it comes to issues involving their favorite team.
Instead of avoiding the problem, they run toward it. The difference comes in the result. In Philadelphia's case, instead of helpful heroes, the well-meaning advocate exacerbating things.
From a black-and-white standpoint during the 21-17 loss to Carolina on Sunday, the Eagles had the football on two different occasions between the Panthers first touchdown, a 14-yard Curtis Samuel end around, and their third consecutive one, a Cam Newton 1-yard score to Greg Olsen. They dropped back to throw it nine consecutive times.
Typically sitting on leads isn't the way to win in the modern NFL and Pederson's aggressiveness is always championed when it works. When it doesn't, however, it's back to the 1975 mentality of you've got to run the football.
Feeling the heat after a 3-4 start in the sequel to a Super Bowl LII championship Pederson seemed to be sporting rabbit ears in the wake of the 17-point fourth-quarter implosion at his press conference on Monday.
It started when the coach was asked what he believes is missing from his offense from a personnel standpoint, an open-ended query that could have been steered toward a deep threat, blocking tight end or even decision-making from the superstar quarterback in key situations. Pederson, though, went straight for the talk-radio fodder that pollutes the airwaves after every setback: the run-pass ratio and Philadelphia's heavy emphasis on throwing the football.
"If you look at the stats, if you're talking about the running game, a lot of our runs are RPO runs, there are throws mixed in," Pederson explained. "You're talking about a big, physical, powerful Carolina defense. Tough team to run the football against anyway. But yet, we came out with 300 plus yards passing, very efficient there and took advantage of some things in the passing game."
A frustrated Pederson even offered context to the 9:0 pass-to-run ratio in the key part of the game to the Monday morning quarterbacks.
"Take out the two-minute drive and I had three runs, six passes. I called three runs, two of them were RPOs and they were completed, kept the clock running, positive gains. So I called three runs, six passes to break it down," Pederson explained.
In other words, there was a built-in mechanism to run it depending on what the Carolina defense was showing.
The bigger issue, though, is the identity of this offense and Pederson himself.
Do you want aggression or not? In an effort to put games away do you want the ball in the hands of Carson Wentz or Corey Clement/Wendell Smallwood?
Maybe if Jay Ajayi wasn't injured or Le'Veon Bell was here things might be a little different but advocating Clement or Smallwood taking you home while eschewing Wentz and the philosophy that brought Philadelphia a championship seems specious.
As a coach, Pederson can't point out the obvious and throw his limited backs under the bus but getting flustered and combative because that is difficult to understand for some is not the proper way to handle things either.
"Let me ask you to block 700-pound men sometimes. It's not because of lack of effort. It's not because of scheme," Pederson lamented. "Listen, they get paid over there, they being the defense, get paid a lot, Carolina, to make plays on us. When it breaks down, it breaks down. You run the ball on a first-and-10, and you lose two, you're second-and-12. Next thing you know, you go a little RPO pass or a play-action pass, you get sacked, you’re third-and-18. Those are all breakdowns that we need to correct and we need to fix.
"It's not that I lose confidence in the run game. It's not that at all. I got a lot of confidence in the run game."
Things boiled over further when the lack of blitzing on defense (anyone remember DeSean Jackson in Tampa, Corey Davis in Nashville and Adam Thielen at Lincoln Financial Field gashing the secondary on blitzes?) was added to the run-the-football conversation.
"I mean, you're asking me should I run the ball more, should we blitz more. What do you want me to do?" an exasperated Pederson said. "You know what I'm saying? It's crazy."
Pressed on why it's crazy, Pederson took those ears and went further down the rabbit hole.
"You guys aren't in there watching the tape like we are for 18 hours a day and putting game plans together," he said. "It's easy to sit in a press box and say, “They should run the ball. Come down and stand on the sideline with me and make decisions. I should run it here, I should pass it here, let's throw a screen here, let’s get the quarterback out of the pocket right here. No, there's 15 seconds left on the clock.
"Until you're down there with me on the sideline making in-game decisions, then I guess you can ask all you want."
The questions will continue to come even if the answers are obvious. And the coach needs to deal with that in a more constructive way.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen