Eagles

Doug Pederson, the unorthodox play-caller

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Photo: NBCSP

Doug Pederson, the unorthodox play-caller

In a key moment of the Eagles' 15-10 divisional round win over the Falcons, Doug Pederson dialed up a screen pass to Jay Ajayi on 2nd-and-10. It didn't really work, gaining just three yards. 

So he called it again. 

The next time, Ajayi caught the ball, got some tremendous blocks in front of him and ran for a huge 32-yard gain on third down that eventually led to an enormous field goal in the fourth quarter. In the biggest moment in the biggest game of the season, Pederson ran virtually the same play on consecutive downs. 

Why? 

"Back to back? There you go," the gutsy Pederson said with a smile. "Sometimes you can catch a group off guard when they don't expect two screens back to back."

When asked what he's learned about Pederson as a play-caller in their two years together, offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Pederson is "a little more unorthodox at times — in a good way."

Pederson was certainly unorthodox last Saturday at the Linc, but as he has all season, he just seemed to push the right buttons at the right times. In just his second full year as a play-caller, Pederson, aggressive in nature, has blossomed into one of the best and most unique play-callers in the NFL. 

The Eagles will need another gem from him on Sunday against the NFL's best defense if they hope to advance to Super Bowl LII. 

"I don't think I go in there consciously saying, ‘I'm going to be unorthodox,’" Pederson said. "I think you either have it or you don't. Listen, if you just look at what I've done in two years, you'd probably call me unorthodox with some of the decisions I've made on fourth downs and going for it, two-point conversions, things like that. And I've told you guys this before that sometimes you just don't do the norm, just don't do what everybody expects you to do and sometimes that can help you.

"I'm calculated about it but at the same time, I'm going to make sure that I'm putting our guys in a good position."

Nick Foles hasn't had the benefit of being under Pederson as a play-caller for as many games as Carson Wentz, but Foles said he's "absolutely" on the same page as Pederson. Whenever the play gets called into his headset, he said he knows immediately what Pederson is thinking. 

That includes the times when Pederson might call something that's just a bit unorthodox and aggressive. 

"I love it. I love it," Foles said. "That's how I think, too. I think just keeping a defense off balance in those situations. The fact that we're continuing to talk about the back-to-back screens is sort of shocking to me because it's just one of those things when you're in the game and you play, like you want to keep the defense off balance. You don't want them to hone in on what you're doing because if they do, especially [the Vikings'] defense, they are very good."

Of course, there are other examples, aside from the back-to-back screen passes — which he had done once before in Kansas City — that illustrate Pederson's unorthodox style. There are all the times he goes for it on fourth down; Vikings coach Mike Zimmer noted the Eagles sometimes go for it on 4th-and-1 in a close game and 4th-and-6 in a blowout. 

There are even plays like the 21-yard Nelson Agholor run Pederson dialed up in the second quarter on Saturday. Reich explained that with a play like that, the way it often works is a coach will have an idea from watching film or from their past and the staff tries to debug it and figure out how that play or idea might fit with the Eagles. They work on it in practice until it's ready. If it isn't, they "keep it in the Crock-Pot for another week or start over with a new recipe." 

The influence of Andy Reid on Pederson's career is obvious, but on Wednesday, Pederson pointed toward two other guys who helped create his play-calling style. His former head coaches in Green Bay, Mike Holmgren, an innovator of the West Coast offense, and Mike Sherman, who was more creative in the run game. 

However Pederson's play-calling style developed, it has turned into a huge advantage for the Eagles and it's been one of his greatest strengths. 

"There [are] things that he's called that at the time I thought, that's unique, I'm not sure that would have hit my brain like that, and many times those things have worked out," Reich said. "So that's been fun to see and fun to work with."

Nick Foles vs. Tom Brady matchup headlines Eagles' 2nd preseason game

Nick Foles vs. Tom Brady matchup headlines Eagles' 2nd preseason game

Will it actually finally happen? Will Tom Brady actually shake Nick Foles’ hand?

That might be the biggest drama going into the Eagles’ second preseason game, Thursday night against the Patriots at Gilette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.

Brady famously blew off Foles after the Eagles beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII Feb. 6 in Minneapolis.

Instead of meeting his counterpart at midfield for the customary postgame handshake, Brady slunk back to the Patriots’ locker room, never to be seen again.

Foles has downplayed the lack of a postgame handshake, but it was definitely perceived by many as a lack of class by the four-time Super Bowl MVP toward the 2017 Super Bowl MVP.

“It’ll happen when it happens,” Foles said after practice Tuesday. “We practiced with the Patriots (in 2014) and I got to stand there and talk to Tom quite a bit he’s a great guy. I have all the respect in the world for him.

“I think everyone’s making a big deal about this and it’s not a big deal at all. I’ve already talked to him before, he’s a guy I’ve always looked up to. You’ve got to admire someone who’s probably the greatest ever and still going strong at even at his age.

“He seems to get better and better. I already had a conversation with him before when we practiced. If we have one in the future, we have one and it’ll be cool.”

Foles didn’t play in the preseason opener against the Steelers because of neck spasms, but he’s practiced this week and will start Thursday night in Foxboro.

Head coach Doug Pederson wouldn’t say how long Foles will play or which of the other quarterbacks would play.

“I do expect him to get in the game,” Pederson said. “For how long I don't know, but I do expect him to get a few plays in this game.”

Obviously, Carson Wentz won’t play and presumably Christian Hackenberg isn’t ready, so Pederson will have Foles, Nate Sudfeld and Joe Callahan available.

And even though Foles won’t say it, there is a certain irony that he’s making his 2018 debut against the team he beat six months ago in one of the most exciting and dramatic Super Bowls in history.

“Pretty familiar with the opponent,” Foles deadpanned.

But as far as seeing deep meaning in a Super Bowl rematch? Foles isn’t having any of it.

“We’re in training camp right now, we’re grinding through it, we’re growing as a team, we have new players, guys rotating in and out, so you stay pretty busy throughout the day.

“Now that we’re getting closer to gametime, we’ll be honing in on who they are and what they do, what coverages they like, what they like to do on defense, but not any reminiscing.

“This is a new season, new people, new players. Obviously we wear the same logos as last year but we both have a new identity. This is the time of year we grow together as a team and that’s really all I’m focusing on.”

More on the Eagles

Roob Knows: Jason Kelce trivia with … Jason Kelce

Roob Knows: Jason Kelce trivia with … Jason Kelce

On the latest edition of Roob Knows, Reuben Frank explains why this is the deepest roster Doug Pederson has had in Philadelphia. The Eagles are loaded at wide receiver. Why there is absolutely no downside signing Christian Hackenberg. Also, Roob tests Jason Kelce with trivia questions about Jason Kelce.

1:00 - Deepest team Doug Pederson has had.
5:00 - Injury updates.
8:30 - Eagles stacked at WR.
12:00 - Looking forward to preseason game 2.
14:30 - Why did the Eagles sign Christian Hackenberg?
18:30 - Jason Kelce answers trivia questions about Jason Kelce.

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