The secret to Doug Pederson’s success, as he sees it, is not in his stirring postgame speeches, nor his every-morning schedule-rundown team meeting, or the mad dash for ice cream the night before a game that he made famous a year ago.
It’s just being Doug Pederson, working with a great staff around him, and presenting an honest picture to his players.
“I don’t think you can change who you are,” Pederson said. “I ask a lot of the players and I treat them as men. I know what they’re experiencing each and every day. It’s important that I understand that. I’m also asking a lot of these guys, so it’s a give-and-take. I rely on the leadership of this football team for great communication and I think we’ve had that. It’s hard to win in the NFL. It’s hard to get to this point.”
The goal, of course, is to go beyond. As far beyond as possible. The Eagles play at Chicago on Sunday in their first road playoff game since losing at Dallas, 34-14, on January 9, 2010 and Pederson will have exhausted all of his inspiring words by then. The preparation continues right up until kickoff and then Pederson will have to be quick on his feet, decisive with his minute-to-minute calls, and confident with the way he projects to his players.
Everyone on the team has a firm grasp on Pederson and his thought process by now. He’s going to be smart, but aggressive. This is no time to be a hero. There is a football game to be won.
“I think, with Doug,” Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks said last week, “you kind of know where he’s coming from. He believes in us. He knows when to push us, when to challenge us. He knows when to back off and give us a breather. I think the guys appreciate that. I know that I do.”
How is Pederson going to play it on Sunday against a Bears defense that is right there at the top of the NFL’s food chain? Will he come out like a boxer feeling out his opposition, jabbing here and there, tentatively probing for soft spots? Or will he open with a full-on assault and look to put the Bears on their heels, unsure of when the next haymaker is coming?
“We’ve got a sense of urgency. We know it’s a do-or-die situation and I think we’re playing our best football now in all three phases,” Pederson said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in these players. Against this defense, you have to possess the football and you’ve got to secure the football. They’re an opportunistic team at creating turnovers. They’re getting a ton of interceptions this year and they’re generating a pass rush which has forced quarterbacks to throw off balance and into coverage. They play fast, they are aggressive, and so you have to control it. You have to control the line of scrimmage. You have to control the football.
“More than anything, you can’t turn it over.”
Chicago led the NFL with 36 takeaways in the regular season, including an NFL-high 27 interceptions. The Bears win with their pass rush and their coverage schemes, which they change pre-snap, during the snap, and even in the post-snap instant or two. They’re tough to get a real handle on, and that’s going to be one of the main challenges for Pederson and quarterback Nick Foles on Sunday afternoon.
The question here is Pederson and his approach. Just how aggressive is he going to be? The offense converted 61 percent of its fourth downs this season, the 10th-best success rate in the league and eight percentage points lower than in the 2017 Super Bowl-winning season. If it’s fourth-and-2 from the Chicago 38-yard line on Sunday, there’s a good chance Pederson is going to have to think long and hard about it. Normally, he’d probably be inclined to go for the first down. Against a stout Bears defense and in a game where every point is precious, will Pederson take a more conservative approach?
“I think Doug is Doug. He’s been pretty successful doing it his way,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said.
A lot has been made this week about Pederson being the last coach standing from the Great Hiring Class of 2016 – it’s hard not to look back and read the words of Chris Chase from USA Today, who ranked Pederson as the worst hire of that class and who wrote, “I guess just wanting to come to Philadelphia to sign a contract was pretty much the main prerequisite. That’s how you end up with the blergh hire of Doug Pederson, who was coaching in high school just eight years ago (the Eagles love those quick-risers, don’t they) and served as offensive coordinator under Andy Reid for the past three seasons in Kansas City. And had never been interviewed by an NFL team …” – and there is satisfaction knowing that Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman got it right with Pederson.
Pederson did a terrific job turning a 4-6 record into a 9-7 playoff team, and now he steps back into the playoff spotlight. The Eagles are a revived team playing with a lot of confidence and they’ve got a coach who pushed all the right buttons in last year’s postseason. Pederson sets the tone for this football team. So what is the tone going to be? Just how will Pederson play it when the Eagles have the football on Sunday?