EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The past week or so hasn't been very kind to the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and, frankly, things didn't improve Sunday in MetLife Stadium when Doug Pederson eschewed two early field-goal attempts in a game his team lost by five points.
As former coach and Pederson mentor Andy Reid once said, "We can all count."
Pederson defended his decisions to go for first downs rather than take points on the road by saying he wanted to stay aggressive and send a message to the players that he believed in them. A few more decisions like those and he'd better start worrying about the other side of that coin.
"There's a fine line between crazy, borderline crazy, and doing the right thing," Pederson said.
Actually, that's a rather broad line, but Pederson ended up on the wrong side of it several times in the 28-23 loss to the Giants. It's easy to say that decisions are bad when they don't work, and this would be a different story had the Eagles converted the fourth-down attempts, but the fact is they didn't. Pederson took chances when the risk was greater than the reward, which violates a pretty basic coaching tenet.
The loss to the Giants dropped the Eagles to 4-4 and 0-3 in the NFC East and came one week after there were some questionable moves made late in an overtime loss to Dallas, and just days after Pederson was caught in the uncomfortable middle between driving ace Josh Huff and an organization that went into turtle mode on the matter.
It doesn't take much to start grumbles in a locker room. Professional players know when they are being led well, and they are students of power. Like it or not, Pederson lost some status there when Huff was cut a day after Pederson said he was going to put his arms around him and "love him up." That made it clear the rookie coach has no say in what takes place above the field level.
All right, fine. That doesn't make Pederson unusual, but in that case, things had better be smooth at the field level. They weren't entirely smooth against the Cowboys, when a third-down call took the Eagles out of range for a field goal that would have probably put away a win. Pederson later chose to let time expire in regulation rather than force a late Dallas punt. The Eagles never saw the ball again.
There's also nothing necessarily wrong with going for touchdowns rather than field goals, but the play calls on Sunday didn't match the challenges. Pederson chose a quarterback keeper to the left for Carson Wentz on the first one, a long fourth and 2 from the New York 23-yard line. That play was blown up quickly and lost 4 yards. The second decision came on a fourth and 1 from the New York 6-yard line, and Pederson called a plunge by 190-pound Darren Sproles behind a lead block by Isaac Seumalo, who lined up in a fullback position. It didn't gain an inch.
Take your pick. You can criticize the strategy or you can criticize the way the strategy was carried out. It probably has to be one or the other, and Pederson was the designer of both. He also wasted a second-half timeout on a challenge that clearly wasn't going to be successful. That turned out to be a moot point, but it happened and didn't need to.
"I don't think any of the decisions today were so aggressive that it necessarily sent a bad message to our team or whatever," Pederson said. "I still stand by them. We just have to execute better. That's the bottom line in those situations. If I elect to go for it on a fourth down or a situation like that, then we need to make sure that we execute that play at that time."
If Pederson was trying to compensate for being put in a weak position by the clumsy handling of Huff, his spit-on-the-ground-and-go-for-it swagger could have played well with the team. Maybe it did in some ways, but this is a results business and, as the man said, everyone can count.
It's one thing to believe in your guys, but after having seen them lose three of the previous four, all on the road, the salient question is: "Why in the world would he?"
More prudently, a coach takes whatever points are offered on the road, particularly in the first half, particularly against a team that isn't very good, either, and will probably let you back into the game. There is no reason to increase the inherent degree of difficulty.
"By putting them in these situations, they're going to be better for this. They're going to be better down the stretch," Pederson said. "Somewhere, it's all going to pay off for all of us. So, I'm going to continue to be as aggressive as I can and try to send a message to our football team."
He might be doing just that, but the message he thinks he's sending isn't necessarily the one being received.