While Carson Wentz’s hot start has dominated the early-season headlines, he is not the only Philadelphia Eagles rookie who should be garnering attention. His head coach, Doug Pederson, is also impressing early in his career. When things are going well for a team in the NFL, the quarterback naturally gets a lot of attention. But we shouldn’t overlook the job Pederson has done in his first games as lead man in Philadelphia.
The reception to Pederson’s hire in Philadelphia was lukewarm at best. He didn’t have the big-name appeal of a Tom Coughlin or a Hue Jackson, and he wasn’t the next-big-thing college coach like his predecessor Chip Kelly. Philadelphians remembered Pederson from his days as a stop-gap at quarterback until Donovan McNabb was ready to take the reins. All they knew about Pederson the coach was that he was an offensive coordinator in Kansas City under another former Eagles coach, Andy Reid. The hire didn’t inspire much in the way of excitement or optimism.
Two games into his head coaching career all that is starting to change. Pederson has the Eagles off to a 2-0 start and has managed his rookie quarterback beautifully. His Eagles have been playing crisp, inspired football and have been fun to watch. They own the best point differential in the league and have yet to commit a turnover. The Eagles had the privilege of opening against the lowly Browns and Bears, but they have defeated each opponent soundly. Good teams handle their business against bad ones, and so far, Pederson and his Eagles have been successful at that.
This Sunday will provide the first major test of the season, as the Steelers head to Philadelphia. An Eagles win would send the hype train into overdrive and generate a lot of "division championship" talk on sports radio. A loss wouldn't do too much to dampen the excitement, unless it's a blowout. Nobody expects the Eagles to go 16-0, and many people had this one penciled in as a loss before the season anyway. It will be interesting to see how Pederson and his team respond to their first true test.
Offensively, the Eagles have been wonderfully balanced. They have a nearly even run-pass split. Pederson has mixed in traditional downhill running with some read-option looks while throwing in occasional wrinkles with things like jet sweeps.
In the air, Pederson has held nothing back from the rookie Wentz. The Eagles have attacked through air on the outside as well as in the middle of the field and have utilized short, intermediate and deep balls. They have mixed in play-action as well as demonstrating some well-designed bootlegs.
The offense has shown a rhythm that has been lacking in Philadelphia since the league began to catch up to Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense, and it has been a breath of fresh air for Eagles fans.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Birds have been equally impressive. They have generated four turnovers and tallied six sacks. The defense has made big plays at big moments, helping turn a tight game against the Bears into a blowout on the strength of three second-half turnovers. They have done an excellent job of getting off the field on third down. Perhaps most importantly, there has been a minimum of complete defensive breakdowns, something the fans in Philadelphia had grown accustomed to seeing over the past few seasons.
Beyond the quantitative statistics, the team has a look about it that has been lacking for some time. There seems to be a noticeable change in body language. The players are clearly having fun. During the opener, they were hyping up the crowd and asking for noise, and the crowed responded in a way I haven’t seen in some time. They look prepared and like everyone is on the same page. The team looks cohesive, and all of this is a credit to the head coach.
There is room for improvement. The team’s 26 percent third-down conversion rate isn’t great (however, the Birds are four out of four on fourth-down tries.) They will need to convert in the red zone more consistently. And there have been some key penalties, although that is as much an indictment of the NFL as it is the players and coaches. Despite the issues, a 2-0 start with a steady offense and an inspired defense is more than anybody could have hoped for heading into the season.
Yes, this is a very small sample size. The opponents have been below average. And things haven’t been perfect. But the Eagles are playing the most steady and entertaining football since Chip Kelly had Mike Vick at quarterback. It’s too early to be handing out any Coach of the Year Awards or planning any parades down Broad St., but the once uninspiring hire of Doug Pederson now has Eagles fans feeling confident about the direction of the team, and the new coach deserves some attention.
Josh Naso aka The Silver Fox has a love for all things sports that borders on disorder. Here, he aims to share his thoughts on and passion for those sports with you.