Eagles tight end Zach Ertz and right tackle Lane Johnson clarified comments that were interpreted as critical of coach Doug Pederson’s play-calling.
Several Eagles players lamented the lack of offensive balance following the Eagles’ 27-20 loss to the Chiefs in Week 2, with Ertz’s postgame interview in particular drawing attention (watch here). The fifth-year veteran’s statements about the lopsided run-pass ratio were viewed by many as a direct indictment of Pederson — evidence, perhaps, the head coach runs the risk of a locker-room mutiny, if he runs nothing else.
Ertz attempted to set the record straight on Wednesday.
“Those were definitely misconstrued,” Ertz said after practice. “I would never second-guess Doug’s play-calling. I’ve never been a guy to question the head coach. People kind of took it way out of context.”
While Ertz acknowledged balance was an issue in Kansas City, he explained the ratio was a symptom of the problem, for which some of the responsibility falls on the players.
“I said, ‘It started with myself in the run game. I’ve got to be better,’” Ertz said. “And I said, ‘Ideally, in a game, it would be 50-50 if the situation presents itself,’ but that game, it never presented itself to be the opportunity to run the ball because we were down. We had to throw the ball 17 straight times at the end of the game, so the numbers were very skewed.
“People took my comments way off. I was pretty disappointed with how they were perceived, but I guess it is what it is.”
Pederson’s play-calling has been closely scrutinized since last season, but the fervor over offensive balance reached new levels this week. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz dropped back to pass a whopping 56 times, compared to only 14 handoffs in the loss.
Everybody, including Ertz, seemed to recognize it’s difficult to beat an NFL opponent that way.
“You can't be throwing the ball 40 times in a game,” Ertz said Sunday postgame. “How many times did he throw today?
“That's not ideal. Low 30s is probably where you want him at. Thirty runs, 30 passes, if you're going to get 60 plays.
“We want to be a balanced offense. We’ve got the linemen to do it, we've got the running backs to do it, we've got the tight ends to block, we've got the receivers to block, we've just got to go out there and put it together.”
At the same time, the Eagles have struggled to run the football consistently in 2017, averaging only 3.5 yards per handoff. Furthermore, the passing game was working against the Chiefs, allowing Wentz to throw for 333 yards. The Eagles offense never took the field with a lead at any point during the contest, either, and therefore maintained an aggressive approach throughout.
Johnson appeared to question the run-pass ratio postgame as well, saying the Eagles have to run the ball to take pressure off of Wentz. On Wednesday, however, Johnson defended the game plan against Kansas City’s defense.
“(Pederson) felt outside on the edge that they couldn’t guard Zach, they couldn’t guard (Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery). You saw (Ertz and Jeffery) made big plays, so they really couldn’t.
“That’s what he saw, pretty much was mismatches all week. You saw Ertz with a big game. That’s why we threw the ball so much.”
Ertz also feels Pederson’s plan was appropriate plan given the circumstances.
“You’re going to put your team in the best position,” Ertz said. “Whatever he thinks the matchups are to benefit the team, whether it be in the run game or the pass game, that’s going to be the majority of the play calls.
“It’s going to differ each and every week, and that’s why you build an offense like we have, because we’re able to be so different each and every week, and it’s just going to depend on the week, on the matchup.”
There’s no denying that Ertz, Johnson and probably the rest of the roster would either agree with or wouldn’t mind a little more play-calling balance from Pederson. That’s not a sign of a head coach losing the locker room. The players are confident in Pederson to make the correct calls and right the ship – and for their part, that they will be able to execute in the run game when the time comes.
“We have a lot of great pass-catchers on this team,” Ertz said. “That’s not a knock on (our run game). I think we’re a very balanced team. Our O-line can run the ball when we establish the run game.
“We’re going to be better at it this week, the rest of the season hopefully. We have a lot to improve on as an offense. We’re not going to be where we are now in five weeks or so. We’re excited about having the opportunity to play a really great front this week, and we have to establish the run game.”