Doug Pederson was the choice to succeed Chip Kelly as the head coach, and given the Eagles’ lofty perch atop the NFL standings, it is impossible to argue against owner Jeffrey Lurie’s decision. Whether it is Pederson’s “emotional intelligence” or just his ability to call plays and lead men, he is directing the Eagles to what has a chance to be the most magical season in franchise history.
Before hiring Pederson, the Eagles also interviewed Tom Coughlin, Adam Gase, Ben McAdoo, Pat Shurmur, and Duce Staley. We do not know how the other candidates lined up in Lurie’s mind, but it’s entirely possible that there was more than one right choice. This space was used to endorse Shurmur during the coaching search, but the team’s former offensive coordinator and interim head coach had to settle for the title of tight ends coach with the Minnesota Vikings after the Eagles opted for Pederson.
The title seemed to be a big career dip for Shurmur, who last served as a tight ends coach from 1999 through 2001 with the Eagles at the beginning of the Andy Reid era in Philadelphia. It was Shurmur’s first NFL job. But if you know Shurmur, you know that he is a lot more about hard work than giant ego. Give him a job, and he’ll do it well without complaint.
And so Shurmur went to work with the Vikings and you immediately got the impression that he was a lot more than a tight ends coach to his new boss, Mike Zimmer.
“He has been with a lot of different offenses, been a head coach, been an offensive coordinator,” the Vikings head coach said shortly after hiring Shurmur. “He has coached the tight ends before. He has had some experience with the Philadelphia offense, the West Coast offense. I think it’s just good to get more guys in that have input.”
In a shocking move, Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner resigned after seven games last season. He later cited a difference in offensive philosophy with Zimmer as the reason. Suddenly, the door opened for Shurmur to return to the role he held under Kelly with the Eagles. But the job is different with the Vikings because Zimmer is a defensive-minded head coach, so Shurmur is in charge of the offense.
Although it did not show in their 3-6 record, the Vikings had an uptick in points and yards per game after Shurmur took over as offensive coordinator last season and there was reason to believe that would continue with Sam Bradford back for his second season as Vikings quarterback. Shurmur and Bradford had a relationship dating to the quarterback’s 2010 rookie season in St. Louis.
Shurmur endorsed the Vikings’ decision to trade their 2017 first-round pick to the Eagles – hello, Derek Barnett — for Bradford after Teddy Bridgewater suffered a gruesome leg injury just before the start of last season. Bradford threw 20 touchdown passes and just five interceptions while posting a career-best 99.3 passer rating last season and got off to a great start on opening day this season by completing 84 percent of his passes for three touchdowns in the Vikings’ win over New Orleans.
In that same game, however, Bradford’s surgically repaired left knee swelled and that gave journeyman Case Keenum a chance to step in. Given his 9-15 record as a starter and 78.4 career passer rating, it was not the ideal situation for a Vikings team with an elite defense. Truth be told, Keenum was rather pedestrian in his first three starts, including losses to Pittsburgh and Detroit. To make matters worse, the Vikings also lost star rookie running back Dalvin Cook to a season-ending knee injury at Detroit.
Disaster appeared to be on the horizon for the Vikings.
But when Bradford struggled in his Week 5 return at Chicago, Keenum came on in relief and completed 17 of 21 passes to lead the Vikings to a win over the Bears. Since that point, Keenum has completed 68 percent of his passes for 11 touchdowns and the Vikings have won seven in a row to get to 9-2 overall.
In addition to their great defense, the Vikings rank fourth in the NFL with 375.7 yards per game and eighth in points at 24.6 per game. Only a really smart man and really good coach could have orchestrated such a development. Pat Shurmur did not get the job as Eagles head coach, and that’s OK because Doug Pederson has proven to be the right man for the job. That, however, does not mean that Shurmur would have been the wrong man. He has proven that with the Vikings.
Only one team in NFL history has started a season 0-4 and still made the playoffs. That team was the 1992 San Diego Chargers, who won 11 of their last 12 games. That’s relevant because the 2017 Los Angeles Chargers have a chance to become the second team to accomplish that rare feat.
With their Thanksgiving rout of the Cowboys, the Chargers improved to 5-6 with a home game against Cleveland coming up next week and only one winning team – struggling Kansas City – remaining on their schedule. This is a year that 10-6 is likely going to be good enough for an AFC postseason berth.
This week’s down will be short and not so sweet for Dak Prescott. With Ezekiel Elliott this season, the Cowboys quarterback has thrown 16 touchdown passes and four interceptions and posted a 97.9 passer rating. In Elliott’s three-game absence, Prescott had zero TD passes and five interceptions and posted a 57.0 passer rating. It is by far the worst three-game stretch of his career.
This week’s best
Sunday 1 p.m.
Buffalo at Kansas City
Bills coach Sean McDermott will become the ninth former assistant from one of Andy Reid’s staffs to go against Big Red. Reid is 9-3 against his former students, with the latest victory coming in Week 2 against Doug Pederson and the Eagles. Both the Bills and Chiefs are reeling. The Chiefs have lost four of five after a 5-0 start, and the Bills have lost three straight after a 5-2 start.
New Orleans at L.A. Rams
For the first time since 2009, Drew Brees does not have at least 400 passing attempts after 10 games. His 2,783 passing yards are also his lowest total since 2009 after 10 games, and his 15 touchdown passes at this point in the season are his lowest total in 12 years with the Saints. The numbers are down because the rushing yards are up. The 2009 New Orleans team that won the Super Bowl ranked third in rushing, which is also where the 2017 team ranks. The 7-3 Rams will be without top receiver Robert Woods, who injured his shoulder in last Sunday’s loss at Minnesota.
Green Bay at Pittsburgh
The Packers’ decision to stick with Brett Hundley as their starter during Aaron Rodgers’ absence is likely going to end their streak of playoff seasons at eight. Hundley has thrown just two touchdown and been picked off seven times in the five games he has taken most of the snaps. Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell leads the NFL with 886 rushing yards, but his 3.8-yard average per carry is tied for only 16th among running backs with at least 100 carries.
Houston at Baltimore
Thanks to three shutouts, the 5-5 Ravens have allowed 5.4 points per game in their five victories this season. In their five losses, they have allowed 28.8 per game. Baltimore’s Alex Collins is averaging 5 yards per carry, tied for second best in the NFL among backs with 100 carries. Cardinal O’Hara graduate Tom Savage picked up his second career win as a starting quarterback last week with an outstanding effort in Houston’s victory over Arizona.