What Doug Pederson wants for Eagles creates a huge challenge

What Doug Pederson wants for Eagles creates a huge challenge

Alshon Jeffery isn’t going to come anywhere near his career high of 89 catches, and DeSean Jackson isn’t going to come anywhere near his career best of 82.

Zach Ertz set an NFL tight ends record with 116 catches last year but that figure is likely to plunge.

With four legit receivers, two big-time tight ends and a stable of talented of running backs — and just one football — Doug Pederson is facing quite a challenge.

Keeping everybody happy.

Combine the Eagles’ unprecedented offensive skill depth with Pederson’s insistence on spreading the ball around and you have a potentially tricky situation.

To run offense the way Pederson wants, you need complete buy-in and that's not always easy, because stats equal money.

Stats get guys to Pro Bowls. Stats trigger incentives. Stats get guys big new contracts.

They don’t win championships.

We won a championship without a [1,000]-yard receiver [or] 1,000-yard rusher. It can be done. You can move the ball around a little bit and still be successful.

- Pederson

The Eagles won a championship because Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount set aside personal goals to do whatever the team needed. As did Jeffery, Ertz, Nelson Agholor and everybody else on that unforgettable 2017 team.

The Eagles didn’t even have a running back with 800 rushing yards that year or a wide receiver with 800 receiving yards.

But they had the No. 2 offense in the NFL at 29 points per game. And a parade.

Pederson knows it’s not always easy for skill guys to sacrifice personal accomplishments for team goals. No wide receiver or running back has made a Pro Bowl under Pederson, and no back or receiver has come close to a 1,000-yard season.

But the Eagles win. A lot.

The key for Pederson is constant communication with his guys and continually reminding them of the bigger picture.

Because even the most unselfish guy in the world wants the ball.

You need special people to play in this kind of system. Pederson believes the Eagles have them.

Those are the conversations you just got to have with them. You just have to sit down and say, ‘Listen, there's going to be times when you get either no targets, one target, you might get 10 targets. The bottom line is winning the game, and how are you helping us win the game?’ It just has to come through a lot of conversation and just making sure, even schematically on offense, that as we put game plans together, we keep all those guys in mind. We've got to because that's the beauty of where we are, having multiple weapons on offense.

- Pederson

Look at the math.

The Eagles have averaged about 23½ completed passes per game in three years under Pederson.

If you give Ertz eight catches, Jeffery and Agholor five each, Dallas Goedert and Jackson four each and Darren Sproles and the other running backs six, that’s 32 catches.

Somebody isn’t going to get as many catches as they want. 

There's just one ball, and [I need to] communicate that to players. If defenses come in here and want to take DeSean away, then you got two tight ends and two other receivers and running backs that you can kind of exploit and get touches to. So it all kind of gets predicated on how teams want to approach us and how to attack us.

- Pederson

The Eagles haven’t had a 1,000-yard wide receiver in a season they won a playoff game since T.O. in 2004.

They haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher in a season they won a playoff game since Brian Westbrook in 2006.

Eagles running backs and wide receivers might not be what you’re looking for on your fantasy team, but balance is a heck of a recipe for success.

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40-year-old Josh McCown was getting ready to play WR on Monday night

40-year-old Josh McCown was getting ready to play WR on Monday night

The Eagles entered Monday night’s game with just three healthy wide receivers and after Alshon Jeffery and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside got hurt, they were down to just one. 

So who would have been the next guy in? 

Well, 40-year-old quarterback Josh McCown was getting ready. 

“I was ready to go,” McCown told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark. “We had the helmet ready to go. The equipment guys were all over it. Had the radio-less helmet because you can’t have two green dots on the field at the same time.” 

McCown didn’t end up playing in Monday’s 23-17 overtime win. The Eagles got by with what they had, which meant playing third tight end Josh Perkins in several different spots. 

But the oldest player on the roster was ready. 

“We were ready to roll,” he said. “Shoot, I’d get in there and go. Obviously, as a quarterback, you know the offense. I guess it was like 12 years ago in Foxboro I had to go in and do it.”

That game McCown was talking about was on Dec. 3, 2006. That was the last time he caught a pass in an NFL game. 

In that game, McCown caught two passes for 15 yards from Lions quarterback Jon Kitna in a 28-21 loss to the Patriots. He also caught a 31-yard pass but it was brought back on an offensive pass interference call that he claimed was “a little suspect.” 

“Hopefully, I don’t get retroactively fined,” McCown said late Monday night, 13 years after the call. 

Is there a statute of limitations on that? 

Anyway, the fact that a 40-year-old McCown was even preparing to enter a game as a receiver is telling. First, about the injuries at that position. And, second, about the poor decision to go into a game with just three healthy receivers. 

Doug Pederson said the Eagles were hoping to have Nelson Agholor for the game, but he came in questionable and was inactive. 

At least they had McCown. 

“I’m not quite the option that J.J. (Arcega-Whiteside) is or Greg (Ward), obviously, but again, we were kind of up against it a little bit,” McCown said. “Just being able to have a contingency plan was the main thing. I was ready to roll.”

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Carson Wentz rallies Eagles past Giants throwing to ... who???

Carson Wentz rallies Eagles past Giants throwing to ... who???

It was Carson Wentz’s best stretch of football this year and it occurred under some of the most unusual circumstances you can imagine.

Tight ends playing receiver. Slot receivers playing outside. Practice squad guys in key roles.

A week after the Eagles blew a 14-point second-half lead to one two-win team, they rallied back from a 14-point second-half deficit against another two-win team.

And Wentz, after another slow start, finally looked like his old self.

Wentz not only rallied the Eagles back after they trailed by 14 points with two minutes left in the third quarter, he did it while throwing to Boston Scott, Greg Ward, Josh Perkins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside – none of whom were even playing a month ago – as well as Zach Ertz.

It is not easy,” Ertz said. “As a quarterback, chemistry, trust and timing is the No. 1 thing, and he’s putting a lot of trust in guys that he does not have a lot of reps with, and I think that speaks volumes of him. Being able to go out there, and it doesn’t really matter who is out there, NFC East opponent, down 17-3, and play his best football in that second half all year? I am extremely proud of him tonight with the way he led us.

Wentz threw for 350 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles’ critical 23-17 overtime win over the Giants at the Linc.

But look at his numbers on the Eagles’ five drives during their late comeback: 21-for-28 for 226 yards with two TD passes to Ertz, including the game-winner in overtime.

You go into the game with three receivers and now you’ve got Greg Ward usually in the slot and he’s out there playing (outside)," Wentz said. "You’ve got guys moving around. For me, I’ve got no choice but to trust these guys. Some of these routes I’ve never even repped before in those situations, but they stepped up and made plays. They did a great job.

This was vintage Wentz. But it couldn’t have happened without guys making plays around him.

And it's been a while since we've seen that.

With Nelson Agholor out, Alshon Jeffery leaving with an early injury and Mack Hollins and Jordan Matthews long gone, Wentz had to rally the Eagles back from 17-3 with guys he’s barely practiced with.

With a shot at the playoffs at stake.

Just keep believing,” Wentz said. “Keep believing and it’s time to make a decision how this is going to define us. Obviously, we knew it was not our first half. That was a rough one and that was an ugly one. We just said, ‘Keep believing and keep staying together.’ Defense was going to take care of their piece, which they did. And we were able to do enough offensively to get this win.

Wentz has had his issues this year, and he had his issues in the first half Monday night.

But it’s amazing how much better he looks when guys are actually catching footballs for him.

This was the first time the Eagles have come back from a 14-point halftime deficit since the 2014 opener, when they beat the Jaguars 34-17 after trailing 17-0.

Before that? Giants in 2010 at the Meadowlands. You might remember a DeSean Jackson punt return as time expired?

In all, the Eagles were 2-45 in their last 47 games when they trailed by at least 14 points at halftime.

Wentz was asked how big it was for him to win his first overtime game and engineer a rally from 14 down at halftime for the first time in his career.

This is huge for this whole team,” he said. “To come in after halftime, to be where we were, and obviously knowing that our backs were against the wall, season on the line-type of thing, for guys to just stay tough and stay together late in the game … and get the win and drive down to score right away? It’s huge for me personally and for this entire team.

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