Eagles head coach Doug Pederson bucking NFL's conventional wisdom

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Eagles head coach Doug Pederson bucking NFL's conventional wisdom

There was a moment early in Thursday night's game against the Falcons that I just can't seem to shake. 

The Falcons were facing a 4th-and-1 from the Eagles' 1-yard line. After his third-down pass fell incomplete, Matt Ryan began walking toward the sideline. Eventually, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn told him to stay on the field for fourth down.  

No, the Falcons didn't get in the end zone, but it was absolutely the right call to go for it. And then I thought about Nick Foles and Carson Wentz. No way they start walking off the field. 

They would know Doug Pederson was going for it. 

In his third year as an NFL head coach, Pederson has established himself as one of the most aggressive coaches in the NFL. Whether he's going for it on fourth down instead of punting or kicking a field goal or dialing up plays like the Philly Special or Philly Philly, Pederson keeps the gas pedal to the floor. 

The realization I came to Thursday night is that Pederson seems so aggressive because a lot of the NFL is still living in 1985. So conservative. The rest of the league is stuck in the past and Pederson is living in the future. 

I just think conventional wisdom in the NFL — and in football in general — is outdated. 

So I asked Pederson about that: 

"I don't know about outdated, but I just know that — I know what works for our football team. I know what works for the personality of our guys. I know who I am as a coach and what I want to get done and accomplished. But I feel like those situations that are well thought out and calculated give us an advantage, give us — if we execute properly and make the fourth down or the Philly Philly play, it just gives us another set of downs and ultimately a chance to score.

"I try not to do things as conventional at times, but at the same time, I want to make sure that I'm doing the best for the football team and giving us a chance to succeed."

The brilliance of Pederson is that he's not afraid to fail. At times, he will. It's inevitable. There will be plays when his team doesn't execute on fourth down or he makes a questionable play call. There will be times a gadget play doesn't work. There will be times when we're going to look back and think Pederson probably should have been a little more conventional. But the Eagles are better off with him breaking conventions. 

A lot of Pederson's decisions are based on analytics. The Eagles, over the past few years, have made a concerted effort to at least collect any data that could be useful to them. Unlike some baseball teams, though, the Eagles don't seem beholden to the numbers but use them to make wise decisions, decisions that sometimes buck the trend. 

The beauty of Pederson is that he's found a perfect blend of using data and his gut. Because calling a play like Philly Philly is about more than calling a play he thought would work. It was about calling a play that would bring some life back into his team and into the building. Numbers don't account for that. Emotional intelligence (I know, I know) does. 

The one example that still stands out is what Jacksonville did against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Doug Marrone sat on a 14-10 lead to go into halftime even though they had enough time to put together a drive and get some more points. In his book, Pederson said he was screaming at his TV and would never do that. 

He wouldn't. A lot of the outdated NFL would.

That's why Pederson's aggressive nature stands out so much.

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Eagles mailbag: Derek Barnett's potential breakout, Carson Wentz's durability and contract concerns

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Eagles mailbag: Derek Barnett's potential breakout, Carson Wentz's durability and contract concerns

Part 1 touched on Sidney Jones, Josh Adams and my pick for Eagles Rookie of the Year.

Part 2 answered questions about Corey Clement, UDFAs and Big V’s future as a guard.

Here’s Part 3:

I guess this answer depends on your definition of “break out year.” Barnett’s 2018 season ended prematurely with a shoulder injury that hampered him before the Eagles shut him down. But early in the year, I thought he was the best defensive end on the team (by that point Michael Bennett hadn’t played well and Brandon Graham was getting over his ankle injury). In six games, Barnett had 2 1/2 sacks. But before the shoulder injury, he had 2 1/2 in four games before he missed Week 5 with the shoulder injury that eventually ended his season. So Barnett was on pace for 10 sacks before the injury. With plenty of opportunity this season, I think Barnett can be a double-digit sack guy. Sure. That’s a good bar to set. Before Fletcher Cox did it in 2018, the last Eagle to top 10 sacks was Connor Barwin in 2014.

One thing is for sure: this is a big year for Barnett. The Eagles traded away Bennett, Chris Long just announced his retirement (see story) and the Eagles passed on taking an edge rusher early in what was supposed to be a historically deep class. Barnett needs to not just be a starter, but be extremely productive in Year 3.

This is an interesting question and there really aren’t many contracts from this offseason that even qualify. So many of these contracts done by Howie Roseman are one-year deals. The long-term ones were: DeSean Jackson, Malik Jackson, Brandon Graham, Isaac Seumalo. Seumalo’s deal is cheap enough that I won’t count him.

If I had to pick the most likely, it would be DeSean Jackson’s deal. He’s 32 and his game is predicated on speed. So even though we haven’t seen it, there’s a chance that speed disappears and the Eagles are left with a speed receiver sans speed. That’s possible. For the record, I’d be willing to take that risk, as the Eagles did, because Jackson’s speed was exactly the element the Eagles needed. I was tempted to say Graham because the Eagles did kind of overpay him, but even if he can’t get after the QB, he can at least stuff the run. If Jackson loses his speed, what good is he?

Yeah, eventually they’ll return as an alternate in my lifetime, which would make me thrilled because I could finally stop reporting on a jersey color. (Just kidding, love you guys.) The hold-up here is that the NFL has this antiquated rule that won’t allow teams to have more than one helmet for each player. It’s an old safety rule. Jeff Lurie says he wants kelly green jerseys, but they don’t want them without matching helmets. Before you bring up the Rams, they use the same helmets with different decals. The Eagles say decals aren’t an option for them. It’s alternate helmets or bust. A couple of years ago, competition committee chairman Rich McKay told me he was optimistic this rule would eventually be changed. For now, we wait.

I’ll say 14 or 15. I really don’t know. I think he’ll be healthy at the start of the season but maybe he gets hurt during the year and misses a game or two. I can’t see the future.

It’s fair to say the Eagles are in win-now mode, but none of their contracts really tie their hands long-term. That’s the interesting thing about what the Eagles have done. They have some real flexibility with their roster. They are clearly playing to win a Super Bowl this year, but they’ll have the ability to keep signing free agents and should have plenty of draft picks coming up. That’s important because they’ll need cheap talent to surround Wentz when he’s making $30+ million per year soon enough.

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Eagles defensive end Chris Long announces retirement

Eagles defensive end Chris Long announces retirement

After a few months of contemplation, Eagles defensive end Chris Long has made his decision.

He’s calling it a career.

The 34-year-old announced his official retirement from the NFL on Saturday night and he did it, of course, on Twitter.

Not long after his official announcement, the Eagles congratulated Long, who became a fan favorite in Philly during the two years he played here.

Back in 2008, Long was the Rams’ No. 2 pick in the draft out of Virginia. He played his first eight years in St. Louis, before winning a Super Bowl in 2016 with the Patriots and then winning again in 2017 with the Eagles. He reached legend status in Philly during that Super Bowl run for helping create the dog mask phenomenon and for then rocking out during the parade down Broad Street.

And it was Long who pressured Case Keenum to throw that pick-6 to Patrick Robinson in the NFC Championship Game. In two seasons in Philly, he had 11 1/2 sacks and forced six fumbles.

In his 11 years in the NFL, Long piled up a clean 70 sacks to go along with 15 forced fumbles.

The Eagles will miss Long on the field and off it. Aside from being a highly productive player in his two seasons with the Eagles, Long was also a very highly respected member of the locker room. He was a favorite among teammates and his sense of humor — he created a Nick Foles shrine last year — was infectious at the NovaCare Complex. (The funniest part of the Foles shrine was watching Long’s mischievous smile as he watched a bunch of reporters gobble it up.)

Long had a long and productive football career, but, really, his legacy will be the work he’s done off it. That work is not finished.

Long was named the 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year for his charitable efforts through the Chris Long Foundation. He clearly deserved the honor.

He’s given away his salary, raised millions for educational initiatives in cities across the country and, through his Waterboys initiative, has provided access to clean water for communities in East Africa for years.

While his teammates and coaches will be happy for Long, his departure does leave the Eagles a little light at defensive end. To his credit, Long told the Eagles to plan as if he wouldn’t be back. Long wasn’t interested in returning for a reduced role, which the Eagles told him he would have in 2019.

Without Long, the Eagles have Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, Josh Sweat and Shareef Miller, Daeshon Hall and Joe Ostman as their defensive ends. Malik Jackson, signed this offseason, will play on third downs as a defensive tackle, taking stress off the ends, but the Eagles will still miss Long, who had been a third-down specialist during his time with the Eagles.

Last season, the Eagles entered the year with Long and Michael Bennett as their top rotational defensive ends. That was incredible depth they won’t have this season unless they make another move.

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