Updated: Wednesday, September 27, 2017, 5:47 PM
When you enter any long-term relationship, you don’t dwell on the shortcomings.
Maybe your sweetheart won’t take out the trash, or help with the dishes. Maybe they snore. You learn to live with their peccadilloes.
The same is true of fans and coaches. Ray Rhodes’ defenses bent but didn’t break. Andy Reid couldn’t tell time. Chip Kelly ran four plays.
Doug Pederson goes for it on fourth down. Learn to live with it.
Pederson’s failed fourth-down call Sunday was so unusual that it remains a fascination several days later, even though the Eagles won the game and the Giants failed to score. Get used to it. Pederson said he will make the same call again and again.
Consider the situation: At the Giants’ 43-yard line, late in the first half, with a seven-point lead. That was Pederson’s go-zone last Sunday, and it will be his go-zone this Sunday when he visits the Chargers. It is his part of his DNA.
“You absorb what you want to absorb,” he said.
Indeed, analytics is just a part of his DNA. Nineteen games into his first head-coaching job, Pederson has shown the ability to teach and innovate and motivate. His teams are generally disciplined on the field. They play hard. And they go for it on fourth down.
Pederson led the league in fourth-down tries last season, with 27. His rate of success was 48.1 percent, slightly below the median, but he said he’d go for each of them again, though perhaps with a different play call here or there. He’s now up to 30 tries, slightly more than 1.5 per game; again, more than any team in the league since the start of last season.
Like most coaches of this new breed, Pederson loves the numbers game. Like most offensive coaches, he’s addicted to points. You don’t score points with your punter.
Pederson said Monday that Ryan Paganini, his Ivy League calculator in the sky, told him he had a 33 percent chance of making it. Honestly, that’s about 23 percent more than Pederson really needs.
If 33 percent sounds like a suspiciously high success rate, then you’re paying attention. You’d imagine 33 percent includes fourth-and-longs that are run against prevent defenses by teams trailing late in fourth quarters. There aren’t many cases when teams go for it near midfield, near halftime, ahead by a touchdown. Frankly, such thinking is virtually heretical in the NFL.
Of course, it used to be heretical to criticize the sacrifice bunt in baseball, and heretical to predicate NBA offenses on three-point shooting. Then along came the Red Sox and the Golden State Warriors. Pederson is almost 50 but, as a coach, he’s a New World Man.
If you’re coaching the Eagles, who became analytically committed under Kelly, you’d better be an early adopter. General manager Howie Roseman and owner Jeffrey Lurie, forward-thinking football minds and committed fourth-down fetishists, adore analytics.
On Sunday, the number made sense, at least to them, but the result was bad. Wentz needlessly took a 6-yard sack, another example of a young, athletic quarterback reluctant to get rid of the ball. Analytics might be useful tools but Wentz’s inexperience is an incalculable variable.
Nonetheless, Pederson made a plausible argument defending the call. The Eagles had the ball at the Giants’ 43, which, had Eagles gained zero yards, would have forced the Giants to go 57 yards in 2 minutes, 29 seconds to score a touchdown. They would have needed about 30 yards to try a 50-yard field goal.
Had the Eagles gained 6 or 7 yards, the Giants would have needed 6 or 7 yards more. Notably, Wentz ignored LeGarrette Blount, who was 5 yards away, uncovered and in the middle of the field.
“Just trying to make a play there,” Wentz said. “Yeah, LeGarrette was short of the sticks. In my mind, I’m just … ‘Take it over.’ Wanted to make a play.”
The Giants’ previous drives gained 39, 25 and 24 yards. Pederson reasonably could have expected them to earn nothing better than a long field goal try. Had the Eagles converted fourth-and-8, they likely would have earned the same.
On the other hand, a punt likely would have resulted in one of two outcomes: The Giants would have started at their 10 if it was a very good punt, or at the 20 if the punt went into the end zone. Assuming the Eagles neither gained nor lost yardage on fourth down, the net yardage on the exchange would have been either 33 yards or 23 yards, which means the Giants would have had to run three or four more plays to either reach field-goal range or to score a touchdown in that 2:29.
Granted, given the poor performance by the Giants’ offense to that point, the net-yardage gain seems like even more incentive to punt. But that’s not how Pederson works. He was in enemy territory and he had a chance to enter halftime ahead by two scores. Also, the Giants would receive the second-half kickoff, which made increasing the lead even more enticing.
Give Pederson credit: If he wasn’t going to punt, he at least called the right play. Wentz had four targets beyond the first-down marker and Blount as an outlet. He was not pressured for a full four seconds. He simply ignored Blount and tried to run for the first down, but instead ran into a sack by Devon Kennard.
Pederson has not blamed his young quarterback, nor should he. Asking Carson Wentz to play like Aaron Rodgers just isn’t realistic — but there is an unintended benefit. Pederson put Wentz in an unusual, nearly impossible position in his 19th NFL start.
Always remember: the 2017 season, first and foremost, is about developing Carson Wentz. This was good for him. Rest assured, Wentz will hit Blount the next time.
And there will be a next time.
Now, go do the dishes.