Everyone loves a good trick play.
By Dave Spadaro
It’s a good thing style points don’t matter in the NFL, because the Eagles have just enough pieces missing in these early weeks of the 2018 season to play a clunky, sometimes ugly brand of football. In an 18–12 win over Atlanta to open the 2018 season, the Eagles played ineffective offense for most of three quarters before calling on the gadget play that seems to have no limits to wake up the gang.
Head coach Doug Pederson dialed it up with 7 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the third quarter with the Eagles trailing 7–3 in the lackluster affair. Quarterback Nick Foles took the snap lined up in the shotgun, gave it to running back Corey Clement, who flipped it to wide receiver Nelson Agholor. Agholor took a few steps running to his right and threw to Foles, who made the catch and run and gained 15 yards to convert a third-and-5 situation. Five plays later, running back Jay Ajayi capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, and from there it was game on.
And the Legend of Philly Special and Philly Philly took a new turn.
“Everyone loves a good trick play,” Foles said.
Ain’t that the truth. Philly Special, called late in the first half of Super Bowl LII with the Eagles facing a fourth-and-goal play from the New England Patriots’ 1-yard line, helped the Eagles win their first world championship, as Foles caught the touchdown pass from tight end Trey Burton. Philly Philly helped the Eagles open this regular season with a win in what was, up to the that point, a sloppy and ineffective offensive performance.
Maybe that’s the way the Eagles are going to have to win until they welcome back quarterback Carson Wentz and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery to the offense. Nobody really cares how pretty it looks as long as the Eagles win. And how many times can Pederson go to the well with the gadget plays to wake up the offense? He’s got a good thing going with Philly Special/Philly Philly, but can it become more than that? Are there sequels in the near future? Does Foles become, almost laughingly, a “decoy,” in the offense as a receiver?
“We’ll see which way we go with it,” Pederson said. “If I think the offense needs a spark, I’m going to do something to get it going again.”
This is the genius of Pederson, who has been as willing as any coach in the pantheon of NFL play-callers to ignore the odds, push the percentages and show absolute trust in his players to open up the playbook. Whether it’s keeping the offense on the field on fourth down or dialing up a running play for wide receiver Nelson Agholor or, yes, calling Philly Philly, Pederson is unconventional. His approach keeps defenses off balance and his offense excited.
“I love being unpredictable,” Ajayi said. “As long as you don’t forget the running game, you’re going to be able to move the ball and score points.”
Ah yes, the running game. The Eagles ran for 57 yards on eight carries in the fourth quarter of the opener as Ajayi scored the winning points on an 11-yard run. Pederson has shown his commitment to the ground game in his two seasons-plus as the head coach.
That isn’t going away anytime soon. Pederson believes he has the best offensive line in the league and the best running back group in the NFL.
“We’re going to run the ball,” Pederson said. “I believe in balance and keeping the ground game going.”
It may not be pretty, but it’s working. That’s the formula for the Eagles in this early part of 2018. ••