What makes Doug Pederson's play-calling 'unorthodox'? | Early Birds

Good morning, Eagles fans. The Eagles return to the practice field at 12:30 p.m. today. Doug Pederson has a 10:30 a.m. news conference, and players will meet with reporters at 2:30 p.m., including quarterback Nick Foles.

  • Doug Pederson’s play-calling acumen has been on display this season and earned praise after the divisional round playoff win. I remember listening to Pederson discuss play-calling during a summer interview, and he insisted he would not give up those duties because of how much he enjoyed it. Last season was his first year as the full-time play-caller, and he continues to grow. He has his own style that has stood out to offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who helps put the game plan together with Pederson. “What I’ve learned about him and through watching him call plays is probably a little bit more unorthodox at times in a good way,” Reich said. “Calling two screens back-to-back, for instance, the other day. Some of the stuff, there’s other examples that I don’t even want to get into just for competitive advantage reasons, but there’s other things that he’s called that at the time I thought, that’s unique, I’m not sure that would have hit my brain like that, and many times those things have worked out.” Another example of a play that worked at the right time: the jet sweep to Nelson Agholor last week. The Eagles had it in their game plan in other weeks, but Pederson waited for the right moment. Reich said Pederson has “a knack of seemingly to call those at the right time.” The staff spends time game-planning during the week, and they work through different ideas and see how plays fit. Pederson waits to pull them out in the right situations and moments. “Sometimes we think we like something, and we go out on the practice field and doesn’t quite look like it’s ready,” Reich said. “So, we have to say, ‘Keep it in the Crock-Pot for another week or start over with a new recipe.’ ”
  • What’s the coaching point that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will give his players about the Vikings’ miraculous, game-winning touchdown against the New Orleans Saints? He’s not going to tell you. “Because if we’re in that situation, I’d rather the opponent not know how we’re going to play that,” Schwartz said. But every week, the Eagles go over plays that have happened elsewhere in the league as teaching points. “Sometimes it’s the best way to learn is to learn from another team,” Schwartz said. “There’s definitely some coaching points there.” Schwartz coached on the Titans’ staff during the “Music City Miracle” in January 2000, and that game gave special teams coordinators reminders for those last-second plays. This play will likely have the same effect. “Playoff football, those plays are big,” Schwartz said. “And they are remembered for a long time. Like I said, there’s different ways to teach players. Sometimes they can learn from opponents’ tape and I think those are good teaching moments, but we’re prepared for most situations. I think I’ll just leave it at that. How we’re going to play it, I’d rather not say.”
  • Both the Eagles and Vikings finished 13-3. They both finished 10-2 in the NFC. So why do the Eagles have home-field advantage? Because of their record against common opponents. The Eagles beat the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 12. The Vikings lost to the Panthers on Dec. 10. That game gave the Eagles the tiebreaker because they both won all of their other games against common opponents. Had the Vikings won that game and lost another game, the Eagles would have needed to beat the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17 to preserve home-field advantage. So when the crowd is cheering and the Vikings are playing outdoors on Sunday, you can remember that Thursday night win in Charlotte.

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— Zach Berman

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Eagles coach Doug Pederson (left) and offensive coordinator Frank Reich celebrate the team’s win over the Panthers in October.

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Let’s take a moment to recognize the improbability that this question would have been asked during the spring. Corey Clement, who was an undrafted free agent, has played well enough this season that it’s championship week, he’s coming off a game in which he played 24 percent of the snaps and a regular season in which he played 23 percent of the snaps, and there are questions about whether he should play more. That says something about Clement. He was a find for the Eagles and is a key member of the team.

I don’t think Clement is being held back. They’re using him mostly as a third-down back for the reasons you mentioned. It’s pretty clear Jay Ajayi should be playing. He’s their best, most explosive running back. And LeGarrette Blount has earned carries and playing time, too. Clement has had a good season, but I don’t think he should be getting significantly more work. Maybe a bit more, especially with how well he’s caught the ball. The way he was used against the Falcons seems like a good way to play him. He had five catches and one rush on 16 offensive snaps, which is a 37.5 percent usage rate. That shows the Eagles value his blocking, because Ajayi touched the ball on 62.1 percent of his snaps and Blount on 45 percent of his snaps.

As Clement’s career progresses, my guess is he develops into their No. 2 running back and he receives more playing time. For now, I think he’s playing a reasonable amount — and he’s taking advantage of those snaps. But I’d play Ajayi more before I played Clement more.