Just a few minutes into the game Sunday, every Eagles fan was probably wondering what Doug Pederson would do.
After a pass to Josh Adams on 3rd-and-11 picked up 10 yards and left the Eagles with a 4th-and-1 on their own 24-yard line just 87 seconds into the game, Pederson faced his first huge decision of the day.
Do you risk going for it, knowing that if you fail the Saints will probably score in just a couple plays but understanding that if you convert you could really set a positive, aggressive tone for the day?
Or do you punt, flip field position and take the conservative way out?
As we now know, the Eagles punted, the Saints took a 3-0 lead eight plays later, led 17-0 by early in the second quarter and rolled to a 48-7 win.
Pederson admitted on Monday he seriously considered going for it on that 4th-and-1.
Would the ending have been different? Probably not. Even if the Eagles converted there’s no guarantee they would have gone down and scored. But it was impossible to watch that sequence and wonder if 2017 Pederson would have gone for it and if the game would have played out differently from that point.
“I was real close,” Pederson said. “I know we were way back on the 30-yard line or 25-yard line, somewhere in there. But that was one that possibly, you get that, and you stay on the field and you see what happens. But that's one I look at that maybe you do something different right there.”
Under Pederson, the last three years, the Eagles have converted 81 percent on 4th-and-1 (25 for 31), including 5 of 7 this year. That’s fourth highest in the NFL since 2016.
When they run, they’re 17 for 21 during that span. When they throw, they’re 8 for 10.
League-wide, 4th-and-1 is a 66 percent play since 2016 and a 73 percent play this year.
When Wentz keeps it on 4th-and-1, he’s 10 for 10.
Here’s a breakdown of the Eagles’ 4th-and-1 attempts under Pederson (with all these stats coming from Pro Football Reference):
Carson Wentz: 10 for 10
Nick Foles: 2 for 2
Corey Clement: 2 for 2
LeGarrette Blount: 1 for 2
Ryan Mathews: 1 for 2
Jay Ajayi: 1 for 1
Darren Sproles: 0 for 1
Josh Adams: 0 for 1
Carson Wentz: 5 for 7
Nick Foles: 2 for 2
Trey Burton: 1 for 1
Sam Bradford was 1 for 1 in 2015, and actually the last time the Eagles failed to get a first down on a 4th-and-1 quarterback keeper was Dec. 29, 2013, when Foles was stopped for no gain in the third quarter of the Eagles’ 24-22 win over the Cowboys.
Obviously going for it on 4th-and-1 inside your own 25-yard line is a rarity. The Eagles have tried it only once in the last 25 years, and that was trailing the Vikings, 24-9, in 2013, and LeSean McCoy was stopped for no gain.
League-wide, there have been 24 tries on 4th-and-1 from inside the 25 the last 10 years, with offenses converting 67 percent of the time.
What about in the first quarter of a scoreless game?
That’s happened only twice in the last 25 years and both were fake punts — by the Packers with Tim Masthay in 2011 (he ran six yards for a first down against the Bucs) and by Kevin Huber of the Bengals against the Steelers in 2013 (he lost a yard and fumbled).
The only recent first-quarter 4th-and-1 attempt that wasn’t a fake from inside a team’s own 25-yard line came in 2016, when RG3 — then with the Browns — converted from the Browns’ 21-yard line with Cleveland already trailing the Bengals, 13-0.
The Eagles needed about half a yard for the first down, although there was no measurement.
Wentz can fall down and get half a yard.
“I think it just sends a message to the team that we're going to maintain that aggressiveness that we have established here,” Pederson said.
So why not go for it?
“Early in the game, it was the first drive,” he said. “Just punted the ball right there.”
And got killed.
The Eagles won a Super Bowl last year by defying the norm, and it’s impossible not to wonder if things would have been different if Pederson did it again in the first quarter Sunday.
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