Doug Pederson made a bold decision on Sunday. With the Eagles trailing 27-26 after scoring a touchdown with just seconds left, Pederson opted to go for the two-point conversion. He wanted to win the game.
Some fans and media members didn't like the decision. They wanted Pederson to kick the extra point and send the game to overtime. If you have watched football for long enough, you know that's how most coaches have handled that situation over the years. Things are changing as more coaches embrace analytics. If you study the numbers, they tell you that going for it on fourth downs and on two-point conversions favors you in the long run. The key there is the final phrase, in the long run.
If you go for it, there will be failures. You have to be willing to live with them. Pederson has been aggressive all year. The Eagles have more fourth-down attempts and conversions than any other team in the league. The Eagles are third in the league in two-point attempts and second in conversions. Pederson was faced with a tough situation and stuck to his guns. I think that's a great sign for the future.
It is easy to be "brave" when the situation is convenient. It is much tougher to do that when the game is on the line. The Eagles failed on Sunday, but there will be tough situations in the future. Pederson has shown that he is willing to take chances when they really matter and that will serve the Eagles well down the road. The obvious key is converting on those chances.
The Eagles were very close on Sunday. The design of the play worked, with the Eagles best receiver getting one-on-one coverage in the slot. Ronald Darby got to the inside of the defensive back and was right there to make the grab. Carson Wentz read the play correctly and tried to get him the ball. Unfortunately C.J. Mosley got his fingers on the ball and deflected it. That minimal contact was enough to throw the ball off course and leave the Eagles with their fifth loss in a row.
The difference between winning and losing in the NFL can sometimes come down to a finger hitting the football or a player being an inch short of getting a first down or a tackler diving for a runner and just barely missing. NFL teams are so evenly matched these days that winning and losing often comes down to a few key moments. One thing that can help a team is if the coach is willing to gamble. Sometimes that comes in the form of going for two late in the game. It could also mean starting rookies or drafting a quarterback from North Dakota State. The point is that you won't win in the NFL if you paint by numbers. You have to take some chances.
Look at Seattle in recent years. Pete Carroll traded for Marshawn Lynch, who was a major risk at the time. That turned out to be a huge success. He traded for Percy Harvin and that proved to be a terrible move. Carroll signed quarterback Matt Flynn to a big contract (another terrible move) but then benched him and went with rookie Russell Wilson as the starter (great move).
Think about the Oakland Raiders. They went 7-9 last year. The Raiders have struggled for years and years. Coach Jack Del Rio wanted to change the culture there and get his team to play with confidence, to believe in themselves. In the season opener, the Raiders scored a late touchdown in New Orleans to cut the game to 35-34. Del Rio decided to go for two. He was tired of seeing his team lose and wanted his players to embrace the mentality of doing what it takes to win. They got the conversion, won the game and are having a great season. Would they be just as good without that play? It is possible, but I doubt it. Teams can be pumped up by a big moment or deflated by something bad.
Eagles players were happy that Pederson went for two. He showed faith in them to win the game with that one play. It didn't work that time, but the players will remember the confidence that Pederson had in them.
Carson Wentz led the Eagles on a pair of scoring drives late in the game. He had been up and down in the game, partially due to the weather and partially due to a very tough Ravens defense. Wentz stayed focused and got hot at the right time of the game. He put his team in position to win. That's all you can ask from a rookie quarterback.
While Wentz's overall numbers weren't pretty, he came through in the clutch. Also don't overlook the fact the Eagles scored 26 points on the number four defense in the league. For some perspective on that, the Eagles played the Ravens back in 2012. An offense with Michael Vick, Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant and Brent Celek scored 24 points in that game.
I was equally impressed by the Eagles' run game. The Ravens had the top-ranked run defense in the league going into the game. The Eagles knocked them out of that spot by rushing for 169 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The offensive line really battled all game long. Rookie Isaac Seumalo started at right tackle and played well. Ryan Mathews had his best game of the year. That might have been his best game as an Eagle. He ran hard and fought for every single yard.
As challenging as that game was, it won't get any easier this week. The Eagles host the Giants on Thursday night and have to face one of the hottest defenses in the league. The Giants are third in scoring defense. They are the best red zone defense in the NFL, as the Eagles might remember from the first meeting. Wentz and the Eagles piled up 443 yards of offense, but had to settle for field goals too often, while also coming up short on fourth downs multiple times.
Wentz threw a pair of costly interceptions in the first game that helped dig a hole that the Eagles struggled to get out of for the rest of the game. You can bet the Giants will attack Wentz early and often, hoping for more mistakes. The Eagles will have an advantage this time out, the return of right tackle Lane Johnson. His suspension is over and he is going to start on Thursday night. If he can play reasonably well, that will help give Wentz the protection he needs to get the Eagles into the end zone and not just into the red zone.
The Eagles were missing Bennie Logan in the first game. They played the run pretty well without him, but Logan should help push the pocket and that's crucial when facing a stationary pocket passer like Eli Manning. The Giants passing game gets the ball out very quickly so pressure off the edge isn't as effective. You need to come up the middle to really bother Manning right now.
The huge challenge for the defense will be controlling Odell Beckham, Jr. You aren't going to shut him down. You do want to limit big plays and to try to keep him out of the end zone. He scored twice in the first meeting and that helped the Giants win the game. We'll see what Jim Schwartz does this time out with his coverages.
Sometimes the best way to bounce back from a tough loss like the one on Sunday is to get right back on the field as soon as you can. The Eagles get a chance to do that on Thursday and they can also try to put a dent in the Giants bid for a playoff berth. One thing we do know is that Pederson and his players will stay aggressive. They've been that way all year and that won't change.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com.