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Lawlor: Sunday Is Doug Pederson's Chance To Shine

Posted Oct 28, 2017

Carson Wentz has taken the NFL by storm this season. He is probably the most talked about NFL player right now. Zach Ertz might be the best tight end in the league and he's playing at an elite level. Fletcher Cox is having another big-time year. Chris Long and Malcolm Jenkins are playing at a high level, but also getting a lot of credit for what they're doing away from the game.

The man who is happiest about all of this is Doug Pederson. His team is playing well and winning games. His players are doing a good job, on and off the field. Pederson can focus on just coaching. He doesn't have to deal with contract squabbles, player-coach disputes, or major character issues. Pederson can also be more in the shadows. The players can have all the attention. He just wants to do his job and keep this team headed in the right direction.

When it comes to coaching, you don't want to hire the "best" candidate. You want to hire the right candidate. The Rams caught plenty of flak when they hired Sean McVay to be their coach. He was too young. He didn't have enough experience. There were all kinds of criticism. McVay has done a brilliant job with the Rams so far this season. He looks like a great hire. Gus Bradley had a great résumé when the Jaguars hired him. He was highly thought of by everyone in the NFL. Bradley turned out to be an epic disaster as a head coach.

Mike Krzyzewski might be the best example of a crazy coaching hire. He was 33 years old and coming off a 9-17 record as coach at West Point when Duke athletic director Tom Butters hired him to coach the Blue Devils. I lived in Durham, North Carolina when Coach K was hired and there were a ton of questions about him. Most people thought Butters made a serious mistake. Instead, he made arguably the greatest coaching hire in the history of college basketball.

Find the right coach.

Jeffrey Lurie appears to have done that when he tabbed Pederson to take over the Eagles back in January 2016. Pederson had the Eagles in the playoff hunt last year and the team is 6-1 this season. He's got a 13-10 record so far and that could get better if the Eagles continue to win. Andy Reid wasn't three games over .500 as a coach until mid-November of his third season. That should give you an idea that Pederson has this team ahead of schedule.

Pederson is starting to get some attention at the local level, but I don't get the sense that the national media appreciates what he's done as much as they should. That will change if the Eagles continue to win as the season moves along. Sunday's game could be one that will help Pederson get more positive attention.

The Eagles are heavy favorites over the San Francisco 49ers. This is a game the Eagles should win. But, there are some interesting circumstances for the Eagles to navigate. Jason Peters is out for the year. That means Halapoulivaati Vaitai will make his first start at left tackle. Linebacker Jordan Hicks is out, which paves the way for Mychal Kendricks to take his spot in the nickel defense and Joe Walker to replace him in the base defense.

Reports say that it will rain on Sunday and wind could also be a factor. Weather can do all kinds of crazy things to a football game.

The Eagles played two straight prime-time games, both against potential playoff teams. The Eagles won both and are flying sky high right now. They have the best record in the league. The team is set to host the winless 49ers on Sunday afternoon. This is one of those situations coaches hate. They will preach to the players about how dangerous San Francisco is, but the 0-7 record can't be ignored. Players, after all, are human beings. They have been hearing from fans, friends, and family about how this should be an easy win.

Pederson has a new left tackle, a new middle linebacker, rain, wind, and possible complacency to deal with. This is not your normal game. If he can guide the Eagles to a win here, I think that will be more proof that Pederson is a good coach and has this team headed in the right direction.

This game will give Pederson the chance to show that he made the right decision on who go play at left tackle and middle linebacker. It will give Pederson the chance to show that he got his team properly prepared to handle the conditions.

It will also give Pederson the chance to show that he pushed the right buttons to keep his team focused and ready to play. It would be oh so easy for the Eagles to pat themselves on the back for the hot start and not take the 49ers as seriously as they should.

History has proven that there is no such thing as a sure thing in the NFL. All 32 teams have talented players. The difference in talent level isn't nearly as dramatic as many would have you think. Just look at the Eagles as an example. The team was tough and competitive last year. They are winning the close games this year. There are many of the same players. There is more talent, but it isn't like the roster was significantly overhauled.

The 49ers are 0-7, but five of the losses were by three points or fewer. They lost the season opener by 20 points and then lost to Dallas last week by 30. Aside from those games, the 49ers play teams tight. One of these weeks they will break through and win a close game.

This would ideally be a game to run the ball a lot. The Eagles' run game has been effective, but inconsistent the last couple of weeks. San Francisco is ranked 30th in run defense. Feed the ball to LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, and Corey Clement. Running the ball would also help Vaitai settle in at left tackle. He did get almost a full half of action on Monday night so that will help.

The 49ers struggle with pass defense. Opposing quarterbacks have a 98.5 passer rating against them. Their corners are young and very inconsistent players. I'm sure Pederson and Wentz would love to attack them down the field, but the weather will make throwing the ball trickier.

This will be a good test for Wentz. Quarterbacks have to show they can handle bad weather conditions, whether it is snow, rain, or wind. Wentz hasn't had to do that yet. It will be interesting to see if the rain has much of an effect on him.

The Eagles defense will be facing rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard in his second NFL start. It sounds like right tackle Trent Brown is going to miss the game, meaning Brandon Graham will be facing a backup. That doesn't bode well for Beathard or the 49ers.

San Francisco's coach is Kyle Shanahan. He ran the Falcons' offense last year. You may remember that the Eagles shut them down. Jim Schwartz and his players should have a good idea of what to expect in terms of plays and they have had success against this scheme. Add in the weather and things could be tough for the visitors from the West Coast.

Pederson and the Eagles have a chance to get to 7-1. They'll have some tough circumstances to overcome, but that's been the case all year and they have handled everything that has come their way. Let's hope they keep rolling along.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the editor of IgglesBlitz.com.

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