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Eagles players celebrate Doug Pederson while they can | Bob Ford

Bob Ford, STAFF COLUMNIST

Updated: Monday, September 11, 2017, 5:03 PM

Eagles coach Doug Pederson.

Doug Pederson was the recipient of a cold shower from the Gatorade bucket following Sunday’s game, a somewhat tired football ritual that, at least normally, is reserved for some notable accomplishment.

Pederson was given the wet congratulations after a season-opening win in which the opponent committed four turnovers, dropped several potential interceptions, looked decidedly undermanned at the skill positions, and was still on the doorstep of taking the lead during a fourth-quarter drive.

If that’s the celebration Pederson deserved after this game, imagine what will happen if the Eagles ever win a playoff game during his head-coaching tenure? To keep things in the same proportion, the players would have to ride him off the field in a golden chariot while showering him with Rolex watches.

“It was just a little setup on the sidelines. I’m appreciative of it,” Pederson said, as if being doused is such a commonplace thing in his coaching career that he could take it all in stride. Perhaps the boys back at Calvary Baptist, his previous head-coaching stop, used to cut up the same way after a big win over D’Arbonne Woods, but getting the honor as Pederson did in the opener was a departure from the normal course in the NFL. Maybe the players were worried they’d never get another chance.

There’s no question that the over-the-top and over-the-head reaction to the victory was at least partially fueled by the previous week during which a semi-credible former NFL front-office type questioned Pederson’s qualifications for the job. Since the criticism came from someone who is unable to find employment in the league, it should have been met with a shrug, but instead, it set off full-blown damage control within the organization. Owner Jeffrey Lurie even popped out to hold an “impromptu” session with the media, knowing he’d be asked about the team’s confidence in its head coach. Not shockingly, Lurie endorsed his guy, called the criticism click-bait, and said Pederson’s future “is in front of him,” which is a pretty neutral observation, all in all, but he apparently meant it positively.

The fact that nobody simply laughed off the idea that Pederson wasn’t necessarily up to the task was telling. If the concern was the coach might lose the locker room because the players didn’t feel they were being properly led, that is a premature concern. At the moment, the players love Pederson, because he isn’t a taskmaster and has the reputation – which he brings up often himself – as a coach who understands the grind and is willing to let up on the gas with them.

“He knows how it feels to get tired, so he’ll take something off a little bit. You tend to lay it all on the line for a players’ coach like that,” Jason Peters said after the Washington game.

This opinion is largely shared by the rest of the locker room, even those who have no point of comparison with Pederson. This is merely his second season here, but only 21 of the 67 players on the roster, including practice squad and injured reserve, even played for Chip Kelly. (Actually, 22, if you count LeGarrette Blount, who was suspended by Kelly at Oregon for punching an opponent after a game. In any case, Blount probably prefers Pederson’s style, too.)

So the problem, if there is going to be a problem, will come down the road should the Eagles fail to win enough football games. Professional players, at least among themselves, are not wont to accept culpability for losing, and coaches are always a handy repository for that blame. Pederson, who can devise some strange strategy on occasion, would be a target as big as the Linc.

Looking at Sunday’s game, Pederson’s affection for throwing the ball sideways when forward was working just fine was mystifying, and his attempt to coach up a running game was a dreadful failure. He put Carson Wentz under center for 27 of the team’s offensive plays and, aside from a two-minute drill in the shotgun at the end of the first half, the quarterback was under center nearly half of the snaps. That gets the running backs a little closer to the line and lets them accept the ball in full stride. Twelve of Blount’s 14 carries came with Wentz under center, and three of Wendell Smallwood’s four, but the two backs combined for only 52 yards on those 15 attempts.

Pederson can only coach what he has, and the offensive line isn’t inspiring confidence, but it is still Pederson’s job to figure out something that will work. His saving grace on Sunday came on plays in which nothing worked, but Wentz repeatedly produced rabbits from the empty hat. Even with that, and Washington’s obvious deficiencies, it still took a howler of an interception thrown by Kirk Cousins to keep possible disaster at bay.

For that, Pederson got the Gatorade treatment. OK, fine. If the players thought he deserved it, that’s their business. If they thought he needed it, however, that’s another thing entirely.

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Bob Ford, STAFF COLUMNIST

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