No 1,000-yard runner or receiver means Doug Pederson's done his job

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No 1,000-yard runner or receiver means Doug Pederson's done his job

Doug Pederson was the designated opening-day starter in 1999, Andy Reid's first year with the Eagles, but we all knew it was only a matter of time before Donovan McNabb would be the starter.

And about a week before the season began, Reid announced that he would actually give McNabb a few series here and there in relief of Pederson to get him acclimated to the NFL game before he became the permanent starter.

That made Pederson the first QB in history to get benched before he even took a snap.

I remember catching up with Doug in the parking lot after practice the day Big Red made that announcement and asked him about leaving games so a rookie could get some reps.

And Doug essentially said, Oh, OK, well, that's great, that's a terrific opportunity for him. It'll help him get a feel for the speed of the game before he becomes the starter. Doug said Donovan was the future of the franchise and he was all for whatever made the team better.

I was floored.

Here was a veteran NFL quarterback who I thought was being almost publicly humiliated by the head coach — I mean, who announces that he's going to take the starter out before the game even starts? — and he was handling it like a total team guy.

Now, almost two decades later, that same team-first mentality has carried the Eagles to a 12-2 record and a first-round bye.

Same guy. Same attitude.

Doug was asked Monday what the biggest challenges of this 2017 season have been, and he first mentioned all the injuries the Eagles have dealt with and the second thing he brought up — on his own — was how tricky it is making sure all the skill guys stayed focused on team goals while getting limited reps and putting up what some may perceive as subpar stats.

The Eagles won't have a 1,000-yard rusher or a 1,000-yard receiver. When the Pro Bowl teams are announced Tuesday night, Carson Wentz (and probably Zach Ertz) will be the only offensive skill players on the list. 

But here the Eagles are on pace for the 20th-most points in NFL history.

Pederson has found a way to keep veterans like LeGarrette Blount and Alshon Jeffery, who are used to being THE MAN, focused on team goals while their individual numbers suffer, and that wasn't easy.

It comes down to this: Every NFL coach understands that stats and Pro Bowls and incentive bonuses don't win football games. But very, very few have the ability to convey that to their players to the extent that they actually buy in.

"Managing all of that can be tough," Pederson said. "But one thing that I know about this football team is it's very unselfish and it's a group that doesn't really care who gets the ball. The bottom line is trying to win the game."

And how do you go about telling former Pro Bowlers and NFL TD leaders that they're going to share the ball?

"Just communicate with the players," he said. "Be open with them and be honest with them and say, 'This is kind of how we see this game unfolding, this is the game plan.' 

"Everybody has to be on the same page and as long as you communicate, there's really never any issues."

Easy to say. Really, virtually impossible to pull off. But Pederson has found a way to convince all these egos, all these personalities, that they have a chance to be a part of something special if they suppress their personal ambitions and just watch the wins pile up.

Balance and unpredictability are two of the Eagles' greatest strengths.

Five different guys have led the team in receiving. Five guys have led the team in rushing.

And when I sit here and try to understand how Pederson has created a culture where team goals are legitimately more important to 53 guys with incentives in their contracts than personal goals, I think back to 31-year-old Doug Pederson in the parking lot outside the Vet 18 years ago and just how excited he was for Donovan, even though it meant he would be getting benched every Sunday.

With Doug, it's all real, it's all genuine. He's lived it, and that allows him to preach it. And they all listen and believe.

Play-calling, personnel decisions, when to punt, when to challenge … all that stuff is important.

But that command of a locker room is what sets Doug Pederson apart. That's what makes him a special coach, and that's what makes this a special team.

Jeffery's role, Pederson's personality, and more in Roob's observations

Jeffery's role, Pederson's personality, and more in Roob's observations

Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis, record-setting third-down conversions, and Vince and Mike Lombardi highlight Monday's edition of 10 random Super Bowl observations, which will appear every day between today and Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis.

That should be 140 total random Super Bowl observations! 

1. You could just sense Nick Foles and Alshon Jeffery building up their chemistry over the past few weeks, and in these two playoff games Jeffery has played like the star the Eagles hoped they were getting when they signed him. Jeffery was 4 for 61 against the Falcons and 5 for 85 with two TDs against the Vikings. Foles targeted him five times and he caught every one, including that 53-yard TD on a scramble drill. Jeffery needs 66 yards in the Super Bowl to break the franchise record for receiving yards in a single postseason (211 in 2008 by none other than Kevin Curtis). Jeffery is just blossoming now. His two TDs Sunday give him 11 this year, and only Harold Carmichael, Tommy McDonald, Terrell Owens and Mike Quick have had more in a season in franchise history. He just looks more and more comfortable each week, especially in the red zone, where he has a real flair for going up and getting the ball. I have a hunch he's going to have a big game in Minneapolis.

2. The Eagles have allowed 15 second-half points in their last five games. 

3. Pretty funny after everything that’s transpired over the past few months that the Super Bowl winner receives the Lombardi Trophy. Definitely not named after Mike! 

4. According to Pro Football Focus, 69 of Jay Ajayi’s 73 rushing yards Sunday night came after first contact. That means 94.5 percent of his yards came after he was hit. That’s remarkable and speaks to just what a tough runner he is. 

5. Corey Graham was such an underrated signing. He’s been very solid as a third safety and like newcomers LeGarrette Blount, Torrey Smith, Chris Long and Dannell Ellerbe, he’s a winner and has a Super Bowl ring. He knows what it takes. Graham’s interception Sunday was his third career postseason INT, and only two active players — Antoine Bethea and Tramon Williams, with four each — have more. Solid guy, solid player.

6. Soon after the media was allowed in the locker room after the game Sunday night, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill snuck over to this panel on the wall and plugged his iPhone into a jack and instantly music began blasting over speakers throughout the locker room. Grugier-Hill closed his eyes and started dancing. Rodney McLeod cracked up but yelled over, “Come on, Kamu. You can’t be playing Lil Yachty in the locker room while the media is in here,” and everybody cracked up. This team is so loose and having so much fun right now. Doug Pederson deserves so much credit for letting these guys show their personality all the time, whether it’s in an end zone celebration, in the locker room before a game or on the sideline with the German Shepherd masks. If you’re loose, you can just go out and play your game. If you’re tight, it’s tough to be at your best. Pederson understands this as well as any coach I’ve ever been around.

7. Amazing that the Patriots’ top two receivers this postseason are former Eagles: Receiver Danny Amendola (18 for 196) and running back Dion Lewis (16 for 111). Amendola spent the early part of the 2009 season on the Eagles’ practice squad before the Rams signed him. Lewis was the Eagles’ fifth-round pick in 2011 and spent his first two NFL seasons with the Eagles before getting traded to the Browns for linebacker Emmanuel Acho.

8. The Eagles’ 456 yards of offense Sunday are the most they’ve ever had in a playoff game, two more than they had in the 2008 NFC Championship Game. It was the second most the Vikings have allowed in their 49 franchise playoff games. The Giants netted 518 in their 41-0 win over the Vikings at Giants Stadium in 2001. The Eagles' 27 first downs are also a franchise playoff record. 

9. I can’t get past the fact that 24 months ago Pederson had never coached above the high school level and Foles was mulling retirement. Twenty-four months ago! Look at ‘em now! This is why sports rule!

10. Maybe the craziest thing about Sunday’s game was the Eagles’ ability to convert on third down against a defense that came into the game historically among the best in NFL history on third down at 25.4 percent. The Eagles were 10 for 14 on third down, good for 71.4 percent. That’s third best against the Vikings in any game — regular season or postseason — since 1991, which is as far back as available records go. To put that 71.4 percent figure in perspective, the Eagles converted more third downs Sunday (10) than the Vikings’ last four opponents had combined (eight). 

Former Eagles assistant named Giants head coach

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Former Eagles assistant named Giants head coach

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has been hired as the New York Giants head coach.

The Giants announced the hiring late Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after Shurmur and the Vikings were beaten by the Eagles in the NFC title game.

The 52-year-old Shurmur replaces Ben McAdoo, who was fired in early December with the team mired with a 2-10 record and owners and fans upset with his handling of the benching of two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo took over for the final four games and posted a 1-3 record.

"He has an outstanding track record in developing young players, and it is clear his players respond to his guidance and direction," co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch said in a statement.

"We interviewed six talented and qualified candidates, and we feel like Pat, with his vision and experience, is the right person to lead our team."

The Giants won't officially introduce Shurmur until Friday. A winter storm in the Midwest is preventing him from coming to New Jersey on Tuesday and he will be at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, from Tuesday night through Thursday.

Shurmur returns to the head coaching ranks for the first time since leading the Cleveland Browns in 2011-12. He takes over a troubled team that posted a 3-13 record a year after making the playoffs.

Shurmur was interviewed on Jan. 6 by Mara, new general manager Dave Gettleman and assistant GM Kevin Abrams.

Following that meeting in Minneapolis, Shurmur had an hour-long phone conversation with Tisch.

"I can't wait to start working with Pat," said Gettleman. "I know he will provide the type of leadership we need to take our team back to where it belongs. I have followed Pat's career for many years, and he has had great success wherever he has been.

"What struck me during our conversation is that being the head coach of the New York Giants is not too big for him. He is made for this moment and this opportunity."

The Giants interviewed five other candidates, kicking it off with Spagnuolo three days after the season ended.

New York also spoke with New England coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and recently fired Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville, who has since been hired as a running backs coach by the Dolphins. Wilks was hired as the head coach in Arizona on Monday

Shurmur has earned a reputation as a quarterback whisperer. NFC title game opponents Nick Foles of the Eagles and Case Keenum of the Vikings were tutored by him.

With the Giants, Shurmur will get to work with Manning and possibly the No. 2 pick in the draft, if New York uses the pick to pick an heir apparent.

But the Giants also had problems in the locker room. Three defensive backs -- Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple were suspended for a game for conduct detrimental to the team.

Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen said Shurmur constantly put players in position to contribute and he doesn't take anything for granted.

"He's not a stubborn guy. He's going to throw stuff out if it's not working, and he's going to find things that guys are good at," Thielen said Monday as the Vikings cleaned out their lockers.

"So I think as a head coach, he's going to do that on both sides of the ball. Special teams, he's going to find guys who can make plays and let them do what they do. So I think he's going to have a lot of success as a head coach."

Shurmur has been a part of teams that have qualified for the playoffs nine times and won seven division titles. He was the Eagles' quarterbacks coach when the Eagles played in the Super Bowl against New England in the 2004 season.

Shurmur is finishing his second year with the Vikings. He began last season as the tight ends coach and for the final nine games was also the offensive coordinator, the title he retained this season.

The Vikings finished 10th in the NFL in scoring (23.9 points), 11th in total yardage (356.9), and seventh in rushing yardage (122.3) this season.

Shurmur posted a 9-23 record in his two seasons with the Browns, going there after a two-year stint as the offensive coordinator with the Rams. He spent three seasons as the Eagles offensive coordinator after being fired.

Shurmur's NFL coaching career began with a 10-year run (1999-2008) with the Eagles. He coached in college at Stanford and Michigan State.