I had time to chat with head coach Doug Pederson on Tuesday morning – a players’ day off, but a working day for the coaching staff – and during the course of our conversation we discussed the game of matchups. As in, just how difficult will it be for defenses to match up against the Eagles’ offense starting Sunday when the Washington Redskins come to town?
The idea, of course, is that it’s very, very, very difficult. By employing a variety of personnel packages, the Eagles can dictate to defenses. When they want to go with 11 personnel – one running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers, for example – the Eagles can target a cornerback-vs-receiver matchup they find favorable. When they want to use 12 personnel – one running back, two tights and two wide receivers – the Eagles can look for something that works in their favor involving Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert.
When they want to put a player like Darren Sproles in space, they can try to isolate Sproles and dare Washington to find a player who can stick with him in the open field.
This is what the coaching staff has been working on for many days now as they’ve pored over tape of Washington’s defense from last season and this summer’s preseason. The Eagles are intimately familiar with the schemes Washington employs on defense and Washington has a good feel for Pederson’s tendencies and the X’s and O’s he and offensive coordinator Mike Groh will put in place for Sunday afternoon.
“We try to not reinvent the wheel, but we’ve still got to be creative and keep our opponents off balance and show them something they haven’t seen from us and then they’re going to do the same thing,” Pederson said. “They’ve got some new staff – Coach (Jay) Gruden has brought in some new guys, especially on defense that are new – so for the most part we’ve just got to get our guys well prepared during the week and give them every look possible that they might see in the game and let them go play.”
Within that execution is scheming to find advantages, any advantages. By building a roster that includes so many tremendous skill-position players, the Eagles provide the kind of position and personnel flexibility that Pederson loves. One of the best play-callers in the NFL, Pederson is also adept at recognizing a favorable matchup when he sees one.
On Sunday, the more good matchups, the merrier for the Eagles.
“We just have to worry about us and what we do,” Pederson said. “We have to have a great week of practice and preparation. Our guys have to be focused and pay attention to the little things and go out and execute and let them play and have fun.”
It’s a lot of fun when the Eagles are winning, and when they win they usually start fast and that means putting points on the scoreboard early in games, a point of emphasis for Pederson throughout the summer. Two seasons ago, the Eagles were among the best teams in the NFL with 106 points in the first quarter. Last year, that number dipped to 41 points, among the worst first-quarter performances in the league.
That has to change, Pederson said.
“It does and it’s something we’ve worked on all summer,” he said. “It really helps our team when we start fast and get out there into a rhythm quickly. That goes for every team.”
Tuesday was a relatively quiet day at the NovaCare Complex. There were players on hand getting in their workouts and treatments and doing conditioning work on their own, digging into the playbook and watching film. For the most part, the coaching staff was sequestered in meetings. Tuesday is Gameplan Day.
Wednesday, the digging-in preparation really gets intense.
“There’s great energy here and everybody is excited,” Pederson said. “I know that’s the way it’s going to be on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. We’re all looking forward to it – a division game against a great rival, a team that wants to start its season with a win. They’re coming in here hungry and we know that. It’s important that we play our best football from the very start.”