Doug Pederson spent last weekend playing in a celebrity golf tournament out west, and along the way he placed a friendly wager (and won) for charity with Colts head coach (and former Eagles offensive coordinator) Frank Reich, begging this question: How much will Pederson, who has never hesitated to go for it on fourth down, no matter how critical the situation, gamble on the field this season?
“I’m always going to be aggressive,” Pederson has said many times. “That’s just my nature. Sometimes I’m going to play the odds and sometimes I’m going to go by feel. I want my players to know that I believe in them. That’s the message I’m sending to the team. I’m going to be aggressive when I think we’re going to make it.”
We all applaud Pederson for his mentality. His “new norm” is an extension of what we’ve seen in Pederson’s three seasons – a 7-9 first year that set the stage for a Super Bowl triumph over a spate of injuries and then a 2018 campaign during which the Eagles surged in the final month to reach the playoffs and then went two games deep in the postseason. Pederson has a great knack for knowing his team and understanding the situation and giving the Eagles every chance to win each week.
But how much does Pederson hold in the reins in 2019, especially with quarterback Carson Wentz coming off consecutive seasons in which he did not finish due to injury? On a fourth-and-1 play, when calling a Wentz quarterback sneak in the past was always money to be converted, does Pederson rethink his strategy and not expose Wentz to a barrage of helmets and defensive players barreling at No. 11? Or, in a fourth-and-3 instance, would Pederson be as willing to let Wentz drop back and throw his way into a first down or, even, design a play that utilizes Wentz’s legs and, yes, exposes him to the defense?
There is going to be a period of discovery in 2019 as it pertains to Pederson’s approach. How does he balance the head and the heart knowing that with so many pieces in place, a relatively healthy Eagles could mean great things? Is there a way to “coach” a team to better health?
“I know that I need to stay healthy and I’m working on that in every way,” Wentz said in the spring. “I’m doing everything I can. I feel great and I’m excited to see what we can do this year.”
Pederson has turned out to be the calculated – and sometimes not-so-calculated – riverboat gambler that Chip Kelly never turned out to be, and that aggressiveness has paid Lombardi Trophy-sized dividends. But this year? With a quarterback who needs to be on the field for the duration of the season? With a team that has some age at particular spots – offensive line, defensive line, wide receiver – and could use a break in the health department?
The odds are that Pederson won’t tamp down his go-for-it attitude very much. That’s just the way he is. He likes to push things, and who can blame him with the results he’s provided for the Eagles in his three seasons here? A word of watching, here, though: Pederson knows what’s at stake here. He knows how important it is to have the franchise quarterback – and many other invaluable pieces – on the field all year. There may be an instance or two where you say, “What? Why?” Just remember, health is at stake here. The Eagles need some good news in that department this season in a big, big way. ••