Andy Reid took over the Eagles in 1999. The team was coming off a 3-13 season and needed to be rebuilt. There was some talent in place, but things had really fallen apart under Ray Rhodes. There just wasn't much structure. As much as Reid needed to be good at X's and O's, he needed to bring leadership and unity to the organization. He proved to be brilliant in both areas.
The Eagles began the 1999 season 0-4, but went 5-7 after that. Two of those losses came in overtime and two others were by four points or fewer. The team which had struggled to even be competitive in 1998 became a real challenge to deal with in 1999. The team wasn't significantly more talented. They were much better coached and played more like a team. Doug Pederson was the quarterback of that team and knows firsthand just how important the little things are to winning games and building a good team.
Pederson now has the challenge of coaching the 2016 Eagles. He has an easier task than Reid, though. The Eagles aren't in need of a rebuilding job. They were disappointing last year, but still finished 7-9 and were in the playoff hunt until late in the season. Most coaching changes come after a disastrous season. Pederson is lucky to inherit a talented, but flawed team.
Start with the quarterback position. Reid gave Pederson his first chance to be a regular starter in the NFL. The key reason Reid wanted Pederson is familiarity with the West Coast offense. Reid needed a player to help teach his system to the rest of the offense. Pederson had played for him in Green Bay and knew the system well.
Pederson has a much better quarterback situation. Sam Bradford is the returning starter and can play at a high level. He will have to adjust to a new system, but previously played in a version of the West Coast offense under Pat Shurmur with the Rams. This offense won't be completely foreign to him. Bradford will understand most of the concepts, which should help him to learn the plays quicker. Bradford can lean on Chase Daniel to help him learn the offense and understand his new coach. Daniel played for Pederson in Kansas City. Reid didn't have the luxury of a quality starter backed up by a veteran with experience in the system.
Reid also didn't have the luxury of bringing his highly drafted rookie along at the pace he wanted. After the 0-4 start, there was tremendous pressure on Reid to play Donovan McNabb. The thinking was, "If we're going to lose, why not do it with the young guy so he can learn on the job?" Pederson is able to begin with Carson Wentz as the No. 3 quarterback. He can bring Wentz along as slowly or quickly as he wants. The worst thing you can do is play a young guy too early. If they aren't ready, they can develop bad habits and those can be difficult to overcome. The Eagles have a lot invested in Wentz, so they need to make sure they handle him the right way.
Wentz and McNabb were both terrific college quarterbacks who stood out at the Senior Bowl. One big difference is that McNabb started almost twice as many games as Wentz. He also attempted 326 more passes and threw 32 more touchdowns than Wentz. That extra experience helped McNabb to be able to take the field as a rookie. High school and college football is a more advanced game now than it was in 1999 so it is possible Wentz could play as a rookie, but the presence of Bradford and Daniel means the Eagles can take their time with Wentz. The key to this is to make sure Wentz is absolutely ready to play when he takes the field.
Pederson has a stronger set of skill players than Reid did. No member of the 1999 team could be considered a weapon or playmaker. Duce Staley was the workhorse runner. Charles Johnson and Torrance Small were the receivers. Jamie Asher was supposed to be the tight end, but got hurt and Luther Broughton took his spot. Those players combined to score 15 touchdowns in 1999. Offensive highlights were few and far between.
Compare that to Ryan Mathews as the primary runner, with Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner and Wendell Smallwood coming off the bench. Ronald Darby, Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff are the key receivers, with Rueben Randle and Chris Givens fighting for playing time. Brent Celek and Zach Ertz form a terrific one-two punch at tight end. The current group of skill players is much more explosive.
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The offensive line for Doug Pederson the coach is much better than the one for Pederson the quarterback. How many people remember the right side of that line being Jeff Dellenbach and Lonnie Palelei? I'll take Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson over that duo any day of the week.
Trying to compare the two defenses is a bit complicated. The 1999 Eagles had two great players in Brian Dawkins and Troy Vincent. They had good starters in Hollis Thomas, Mike Mamula, Jeremiah Trotter, William Thomas (final season as an Eagle) and Bobby Taylor. Carlos Emmons and Corey Simon wouldn't arrive for another season and Hugh Douglas missed most of the 1999 season due to injury.
The current Eagles team is moving from the 3-4 to the 4-3. We don't know just how good some of the players will be in the new system. Vinny Curry could be solid or he could be great. He hasn't had the chance to start in the 4-3 at the NFL level. Brandon Graham hasn't played in the 4-3 since 2012, when he was still working his way back from injury. He's a much better player now. I can't wait to see Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan in the new system. Cox can dominate in any system, but it will be fun to see him turned loose on offenses. Logan will be allowed to be more of a playmaker in this system. He could have a career year.
I think the linebackers will be solid, if not better. They won't be as protected as they were in the 3-4, but defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has had linebackers become stars under his tutelage. Keith Bulluck, Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy are three of the big names that flourished while playing for Schwartz. Jordan Hicks showed the potential to be a star last year. Mychal Kendricks is talented, so Schwartz will make things simple for Kendricks and let him go attack, which is when Kendricks is at his best. Nigel Bradham played for Schwartz in 2014 in Buffalo and had the best season of his career so he's hoping for more of the same.
The secondary is the biggest mystery. Safety will be a position of strength, with Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod manning the middle of the back end. Both guys can run, cover, hit and tackle. Cornerback is wide open. Leodis McKelvin, Eric Rowe and Nolan Carroll all have a chance to start. Young players like JaCorey Shepherd and Jalen Mills will get the chance to fight for jobs.
I think Pederson inherited a better situation than Reid did. The downside is that Pederson will have expectations to deal with. Nobody knew what to make of Reid or the Eagles back in 1999. ESPN had the Eagles ranked dead last in their Power Rankings from August 31st of that year. The fact the Eagles played as well as they did really surprised people. It showed how good a coach Reid was and the impact a coach can have.
No one expects the current team to go win the Super Bowl, but there is enough talent and experience to win games and compete every week. One of the problems last year is that there seemed to be unending drama with the team. That doesn't always affect players, but it did in 2015. The constant drama off the field brought out the worst in the team, especially in critical moments. Instead of being a gritty team that found ways to win, the Eagles were talented underachievers that found ways to lose. It is up to Pederson to change that by eliminating the drama and getting the Eagles to play more like a team.
The recent situation with Bradford is a good example of how things are different now. Chip Kelly had to deal with a holdout by Evan Mathis last spring. Kelly twisted the facts when talking to the media as he tried to win the public relations battle. By making a private situation so public, he made a tough situation worse. That ended with Mathis being cut and guard becoming a season-long weakness for the Eagles. Pederson and Howie Roseman were not confrontational at all when talking about Bradford and his recent situation. They complimented him and took the high road. That allowed the player to return and the situation to get smoothed over.
This team needs leadership and someone to unify them. The Bradford situation provided a good test for Pederson and he handled it well. If he can continue to see the big picture and make wise decisions on how to deal with his players, he will have a good chance to succeed as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.