PEDERSON LOOKS FOR ANSWERS TO UNLOCKING A PLAYOFF OFFENSE
Doug Pederson will face the biggest challenge of his coaching career over the next eight days as he tries to squeeze two NFC victories out of a team that has been crippled by injuries from their future Hall of Fame left tackle, two special teams players and starting middle linebacker to their MVP candidate quarterback Carson Wentz.
Pederson and his remaining players found a way to forge a 13-2 record (13-3 after pulling starters from season finale) and clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Special teams and defense should be fine. These units were a big part of clinching the top seed.
But Pederson has to find a way to rekindle a running game that at one time was one of the best in the game and to get Nick Foles in a good enough groove to stir the offensive pot.
The coach talked about going back and watching film on Foles from his days with the Eagles, then St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs.
“I’ve gone back and watched a lot of his tape here…St. Louis, and when he was here before when I was here,” Pederson said. “I just wanted to go back and just see the types of plays. As you mentioned, the quick throw was there, a little play-action pass, the shotgun stuff.”
Pederson pointed out most of the plays Foles excelled at are already included in the current Eagles offense.
“Those are all things that are in our system,” Pederson said. “We might just have to dust a few more off and get that ready to go. But that’s kind of what this week is for: to get some of those ideas and thoughts down on paper and execute them this week in practice.”
Pederson was asked this week if he was going with more up-tempo, specifically with Foles, and was that something he feels Foles thrives with.
“Yeah, I think he does,” Pederson said. “I think any quarterback does. Carson obviously has thrived in it when we go up tempo. It’s something we’ll look at and spend some time this week putting our guys in that position.”
Pederson said Foles wasn’t his only focus in preparation for possibly playing the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons or New Orleans Saints.
“We’ve got some good work the last couple of weeks with Nick, and we’ll go back and evaluate all of that,” he said. “We have to get better in the run game. That helps any quarterback obviously, so we have to get better there. Then just taking a look at what his strengths are, strengths and weaknesses. Everything at this time of the year now becomes magnified even more going into the post-season.
We have to make sure we’re doing our due diligence as a staff to put our guys in successful positions.”
The players committee went to the head coach and asked to practice in pads so they could get some kinks out of their play that may have developed over the season. Was he OK with that?
“Again, it’s a fine line,” Pederson said. “At the same time, this is something that the players want. It’s not a punishment thing; it’s not coming directly from me. It’s what the players want. I listen to my guys.
I think they understand that there is a sense of physicality that we have to get back to. I’m not saying we’re not there because obviously football is a physical game, but I think there is a sense over the course of a few weeks when you’ve been in shells, pad level begins to rise, and intensity sometimes can be minimized.
“So you get back into pads and it sort of refocuses the guys a little bit. It’s not like we’re going to tackle. It’s not a training-camp-type-of practice. The fact of just having them on, banging around on one another, but still protecting each other, I think can be a nice asset for us going into our first game.”
On top of all he has on his plate, two if his coaches have been tagged for coaching vacancies. One player said this week “When you’re winning everybody gets paid.” So it is to be expected teams will want to poach your staff. The reports are that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo could interview for jobs this week. Pederson talked about how he is dealing with these added distractions
“Having gone through it a couple years ago myself, the one thing going for these two gentlemen is the fact that this is a bye week for us,” Pederson said. “We’re not game planning specifically for a game this weekend, so it’s a little bit easier from the standpoint of that.
The challenge is having themselves prepared for a potential interview. That’s the challenging part.
At the same time, they have to balance the job they have here and making sure that we’re ready for practice tomorrow and the next day. That’s first and foremost. Listen, they put the Eagles first anyway and will continue to do that while they’re here. It’s a little bit of a fine line, but having an off week helps.”
Pederson was asked what he’s done to gauge Foles’ level of confidence here over the past two weeks and where is that right now?
“Again, just finding and doing things that he’s comfortable with helps in the confidence, “Pederson said. “Again, the run game, we get that back on track and that’s going to help his confidence. Then just getting ball out of his hand where he’s not having to hold it a lot on first and second down. We know that on third down — that’s been kind of our Achilles Heel these last two weeks is third down. We’ve been in some third-and-long situations, which we have to do better on first and second downs.
“We just have to get back to sort of those basics, those fundamental things that got us where we are now and fix that this week, and he’ll maintain and continue to have the confidence with the guys around him.”
Eagles fans hope Pederson makes good use of the extra time off.
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii