The Coach’s Collapse: Examining Pederson’s Role in Eagles’ loss
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Doug Pederson went the cautious route in Arlington Sunday night and it cost his team a win as well as first place in the NFC East as Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys roared back from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to top the Eagles in overtime 29-23.
Despite the disappointing setback Pederson shouldered the blame by admitting he took his foot off the gas pedal in the waning moments, hoping a 23-13 lead would be enough against a Dallas team built to to play with the lead.
"I think just, for me, staying aggressive, No. 1," Pederson answered when asked what went wrong during the post-game eulogy. "I think that's been something I've prided myself on, but being smart with it at the same time."
There were a number of missed opportunities down the stretch for Philadelphia as Pederson continuously failed to put his foot on the Cowboys’ collective throat but the most notable was a third-down play with just over seven minutes left in the contest from the Dallas 30.
A field goal there makes things infinitely tougher for the 'Boys so Pederson went conservative and called a screen pass to Darren Sproles but it was an arcing, misdirection route that Rod Marinelli’s defense easily sniffed out for a 6-yard loss, turning a very makeable 48-yard field goal into a much more difficult 54-yard attempt.
Despite the fact that Caleb Sturgis has been lights out this season and had already banged through a career-long 55-yarder earlier in the contest, Pederson eschewed the opportunity in favor of a Donnie Jones punt.
"(I) felt comfortable doing that, making that decision," the coach said. "The thing is, field position at that time is critical. (Sturgis) did kick the one before half, which was an excellent kick with no time left on the clock. Had we executed on the third-down play, we would have been in a little better position to kick the field goal at that time and we just didn't execute on the play before."
To be fair Jones did his job and pinned the Cowboys deep but it didn’t matter as Dallas went 90 yards for the tying score.
Pederson also failed to call a timeout before the end of regulation with the Cowboys pinned deep, which could have allowed Sproles to do his thing on a potential punt return.
"I just felt too at that time, because our defense was playing extremely well, I had made up my mind at that time to go ahead and get us into overtime," Pederson said. "Hopefully win the coin toss, take the ball and be in a position to score. And/or put our defense out there who had just come off a great drive and they were fired up, to put them back on the field. So it was just my decision to do that."
That decision was specious as the Eagles never got the football in the extra frame as Dallas took the kickoff and drove for the winning TD.
From a larger perspective, though, Pederson is playing things close to the vest in order to protect his rookie quarterback and it cost him against the Cowboys.
As more film is gathered on Wentz moving forward, opposing defenses are starting to realize the coach is calling a lot of quick throws and run-pass options that really don’t have a built-in, stretch the field aspect to them.
To be fair some of that is tied to the fact that the receivers are just not all that explosive but it’s only going to get tougher in coming weeks if Pederson doesn’t at least try to pop the top on occasion.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen