The Eagles are 3-0 and playing at a very high level right now. There is a lot of praise to go around. You can go back to the offseason and talk about the great moves that Howie Roseman made, getting rid of players that didn't fit and finding a way to get up high enough to draft Carson Wentz. Jim Schwartz has done an amazing job with the defense. He has the Eagles as the stingiest scoring defense in the league and they are punishing quarterbacks.
Fletcher Cox was just selected the Defensive Player of the Month for September. He's playing at an elite level. Carson Wentz is doing things that no other rookie in NFL history has done. The offensive line has only allowed four sacks all year. The defensive has racked up 10 sacks. Malcolm Jenkins is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Like I said, lots of praise to go around.
The man in the middle of all of this is Doug Pederson, the Eagles rookie head coach.
Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie didn't like what was going on last year, on or off the field. The Eagles worked hard over the years to build a team that won games and had the right kind of atmosphere. Chip Kelly won 27 games in three years so he definitely had some success on the field, but things were not so good off it. Lurie and Andy Reid built a football program from 1999-2012. They both developed strong relationships with players and even tried to maintain them when the players left. Things were done the right way and the players loved it.
Think about all the players who left the team, only to return a year or two later. Jeremiah Trotter, Hugh Douglas, Shawn Barber, A.J. Feeley and N.D. Kalu were among those that came back to the Eagles as soon as they had a chance to. Think about all the former players that stay involved with the organization. That's not by accident. The Eagles value those relationships. Members of the current coaching staff Greg Lewis, Duce Staley, Tim Hauck and Pederson all played for the Eagles. As a point of comparison, the Giants don't have any former Giants players on their coaching staff. Washington has one, and he was there almost 30 years ago. Being part of the Eagles means something to these guys.
When the team started to lose games last year, that meant the problems were on and off the field. Lurie let Kelly go and set out to find the right coach, someone who wasn't the biggest name, but was the right fit for what the Eagles needed. Lurie and Roseman went against the grain when they hired Pederson, someone that other teams weren't looking at very closely. In some ways, this was the Andy Reid situation all over again. Back in 1999 all the buzz was on Mike Holmgren and Jim Haslett. The Eagles interviewed Reid, who wasn't even a coordinator in Green Bay. Reid blew away Lurie and Joe Banner with his ideas and his infamous blue binder. Reid then went on to be the best coach in Eagles history.
Pederson is only three games into his tenure, but he is off to a great start. He seems to push the right buttons in just about every situation.
The first order of business was getting back to the model where everyone in the organization was on the same page. Lurie, Roseman, Pederson and team president Don Smolenski all had the same ideas on how the team should be run, on and off the field. They kept some of Kelly's innovative ideas and even some of his coaching staff, but totally changed the atmosphere. Kelly was all business. Pederson comes from the Andy Reid school, where relationships are a huge part of being head coach. When you listen to the players talk about Pederson, you can tell they genuinely like him. The fact he's a former player probably helps him to connect with players better than someone with a pure coaching background. Pederson very much appreciates the importance of a happy, unified locker room.
Pederson did a brilliant job of building a staff. The Eagles knew they wanted a young quarterback to develop so he hired Frank Reich and John DeFilippo to help him do that. Pederson knew he needed a strong, veteran coach to run the defense so he hired Schwartz to handle that side of the ball. Since the Eagles had the best special teams unit in the league over the past three years, Pederson kept Dave Fipp in place to run that unit. There were no issues with egos. Pederson hired the best people for the jobs. Some new coaches want to fire everyone, to prove who's boss. Pederson valued good coaches more than trying to make a power play. Smart.
Things haven't been completely smooth for the Eagles this offseason. Sam Bradford was not happy when the team moved up to draft Wentz. Bradford demanded a trade. Pederson didn't play games in the media, as Kelly did with Evan Mathis last year. Pederson complimented Bradford over and over and left the door open. Bradford withdrew the trade request and things were going really well with him, which made Bradford an attractive trade target for the Vikings. Pederson's patience and handling of the situation helped the Eagles get the first round pick in that deal. If he gets contentious with Bradford, who knows how Bradford plays this past summer and if the Vikings want him at all.
News broke that Lane Johnson was facing a possible suspension. Pederson made him a backup for a couple of weeks so the team could try some different line combinations. When the suspension got delayed, Pederson went back to his original line. He doesn't obsess on what he can't control. Pederson just reacts to the situation as best he can.
Pederson then had to deal with the Bradford trade, which opened up the starting quarterback position. Pederson could have played it safe and gone with Chase Daniel, as most expected him to do. Instead he took a shot on Wentz and that now looks like a brilliant move. Wentz is playing unlike any rookie I've ever seen. Go beyond Wentz. Jalen Mills is a rookie who is playing a lot at corner. Wendell Smallwood is a rookie running back and coming off his best game. These guys weren't just thrown out there randomly. The young players were prepared well by the coaching staff and showed they deserved to be on the field.
In terms of running the Eagles offense, Pederson is doing a terrific job. The team is number two in the league in scoring points and has at least 29 points in all three games. Pederson is getting the most out of his players. There has been a different leading rusher in each game. Trey Burton caught the first touchdown pass of his career. Kenjon Barner scored the first touchdown of his career. Dorial Green-Beckham, who has only been with the team since this summer, has made some clutch catches on third and fourth down. When you don't have elite skill players, you need to find a way to use everyone.
Pederson has been creative on offense. He has used Beau Allen as a fullback. Matt Tobin has been a sixth offensive lineman and a third tight end. The Eagles are running the ball in some huge jumbo packages. It looks like they have 30 guys on the line of scrimmage on some of those. Pederson had Wentz open the Bears game in an empty set and throwing the ball to his spread out wide receivers. Everyone contributes and the Eagles use every formation and personnel package you can imagine.
Pederson is doing and saying the right things to this team. He has gone for it on fourth down a few times, which sends a good message to your whole team. It tells the offense we have faith in you to get this. It tells the defense that we have faith in you to handle this if something goes wrong and we don't convert. Players love aggressive football. It helps them to play with more confidence and the Eagles are sky high right now.
Pederson was not the big name when he got hired, but I guarantee you there are some teams that would like to have a do-over on that situation. He has been nothing short of spectacular for the Eagles this year, rebuilding relationships with players and piling up wins on the field. The Eagles found Mr. Right.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com.