The 2017 season for the Philadelphia Eagles is special. I knew after the first handful of the games that this group of guys would make history. The type of history is yet to be determined. That’s the beauty of the NFL playoffs. The Philadephia Eagles are the first #1 seed in NFL history to be underdogs versus a #6 seed. Only in Philadelphia. Where nobody outside of city limits believes in our teams quite like us. That’s what separates this fan base from the others.
This year’s version of the Philadelphia Eagles presents a unique opportunity for 2nd year Head Coach, Doug Pederson. Doug was an underdog in his own right coming into the season with mixed expectations and uncertainty. Pederson continued to answer the bell, week after week, overcoming injury after injury. Then came the biggest challenge of them all. Carson Wentz tore his ACL. This was the proverbial straw that the most felt would break Pederson’s back. Doug continued to defy the odds, and the Philadelphia Eagles churned out two wins in back to back weeks to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Eagles are at the top of the NFC and still underdogs. Disrespect? Not at all. That’s the sheer beauty of it.
Playoff football is a very different animal. Winning postseason football is a difficult task. Not every coach is cut out for it. The intensity is ramped up on every play. The speed of the game is faster. The pressure boils to unprecedented levels. Every play counts. Game planning is critical and extremely meticulous. Expect the unexpected. You are going to see things from your opponent that you haven’t seen all season. Championship coaches are playing high-level chess while others are playing checkers. We have all seen the examples of coaches that repeatedly fall short. Saturday is an opportunity for Doug Pederson to separate himself from his peers.
Winning a Super Bowl without strong quarterback play is an enormous challenge. There is a reason why teams allocate up to 20% of the salary cap towards one singular starter. The quarterback. Carson Wentz’ rapid ascension immediately raised expectations for the Philadelphia Eagles. To the extent that national analysts such as Michael Irvin felt compelled to throw around the term dynasty. That’s how important the quarterback position is in the NFL playoffs. Nick Foles changes everything. That’s your answer as to how the Eagles are the first team in NFL history to be underdogs as a #1 seed hosting a #6 seed. It’s up to Doug Pederson now to find the answer to how to conquer that enormous challenge of winning a Super Bowl with a quarterback who has a very flawed skill set.
It can be done. The Eagles chances of hoisting the Lombardi trophy became much smaller when Carson Wentz walked into the locker room after winging a TD pass to Alshon Jeffrey. However, they certainly did not evaporate into the cool breezy air of Los Angeles. Teams have won Super Bowls with limited quarterback play. The Eagles season and story is as alive as the fight in the voices of its passionate fanbase. When football junkies reminisce about the teams that successfully overcame quarterback play in route to reaching the NFL’s pinnacle, the defense is almost always regarded as the driving force. It’s true that these teams have had great defenses, but so have others who have failed before them. Playoff football is about coaching, and that’s going to be the most critical element of the Eagles postseason story.
It takes great coaching
Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll, Mike Holmgren, and Jon Gruden are just to name a few great coaches who have gone at least deep into the postseason with limited quarterback play. The examples do not end here. The Harbaugh brothers faced off at Super Bowl XLVII with limited quarterbacks. Sure, Joe Flacco is paid like an elite quarterback who has had elite performances, but his lack of consistently lends credit to the offensive schemes employed during those runs to highlight his strengths and cultivate his success.
Jim Harbaugh is probably the best example you can use to support Pederson’s path to the Super Bowl. The 49ers had a great defense and a strong running game, but Harbaugh tailoring his scheme to fit Colin Kaepernick made it all work. Kaepernick threw for over 300 yards against a tough Raven’s defense in a losing effort. He was never as effective after Harbaugh parted ways with the Niners.
Nick Foles has some of the same deficiencies Kaepernick exhibited in San Francisco. Harbaugh’s scheme had limited reads for his quarterback, who employed “fight or flight” tendencies when his first read was not an option. Colin would resort to his legs, as do most young mobile quarterbacks who are struggling processing coverages.
Nick Foles resorts to his legs as well. However, without the running prowess that Kaepernick possesses, Nick’s “flight mode” manifests itself differently. Instead of looking to dart for the first down, Foles panics without displaying the mental capacity to effectively move through his progressions. His flight mode turns into troublesome behaviors such as nervously backpedaling and throwing off his back foot. These behaviors have followed Foles throughout his career. It’s not a matter of making them go away, as much as it is putting him in positions where they won’t surface.
Where there is a will, there is a way
Pederson’s task of creating an environment where Nick Foles can succeed in the playoffs is difficult, but far from impossible. Post-snap processing is key for a quarterback and the speed of the game gets ramped up ten-fold. Pederson should look to get Foles in rhythm. All indications are that Doug is on right track by adding more tempo to the offense this week against the Falcons. The goal of the tempo is to eliminate Fole’s indecisiveness. Make your drop, make your decision, get rid of the football. Boom, boom, boom. Getting Foles in rhythm and speeding up his decision making, will help mitigate the speed rush Atlanta likes to bring from the edges with Beasley and McKinley.
Pound the rock. Another way to mitigate a good pass rush is by committing to an effective running game. The days of John Riggins have passed us all by, but Doug Pederson’s path to victory Saturday should be carved out by Jay Ajayi. The Rams ran effectively on the Falcons last week, and McVay’s lack of commitment to the running game was a factor in the loss. The Falcons defense is on the smaller side, and a hefty dose of the Eagles punishing backs could cause them to wear down. Ajayi battered the Falcons back in October with a 26 carry, 130-yard performance as a member of the Miami Dolphins. Gase committed to Ajayi, even when trailing 17-0 in the first half and it paid off big time in the form of a comeback 20-17 victory. Take notes, Doug.
Against all odds
Philadelphia is going to have to fight for it. We are just more comfortable that way. Having something to prove is just a way of life for Philly sports fans. Let’s be honest, when we were favorites with Carson Wentz it felt a little new and unhinging. Some of the fans couldn’t believe it. We don’t have that “problem” anymore. Even in our own home. Is it disrespectful to be the first team in NFL history to be underdogs in this situation? Not at all. It’s exactly how it should be. We can still fight. We can still win. As the national media salivates over another potentially disappointing ending to the latest chapter in Philadelphia sports, we have reason to believe. There is a reason to separate ourselves from the past. His name is Doug Pederson.
Doug Pederson took a giant leap in my eyes after a huge road victory earlier this year in Carolina. That’s when I started to believe that he was different. Early October, I wrote about him emerging from the shadows and making the Eagles his. He is not “Little Andy”, and it’s not Jim Schwartz’ team. A strong candidate for coach of the year, Pederson looks to do what the coach of the year favorite could not. Solve the Falcons and move forward in the playoffs. The postseason is where coaches separate themselves. It’s where the guys like Belichick, Parcells, and Tomlin put their players in position to succeed over coaches like Rex Ryan, Marty Schottenheimer, and the Marvin Lewis.
Doug Pederson has an opportunity to do something special. A Super Bowl run by this team will be a challenge. It’s not easy, and it’s against all odds. It will be a fight. A run with Nick Foles will require an elite performance by Pederson and rightfully put himself in great company with some legendary coaches. When one door closes, another one opens. Is there a better way for Philadelphia to win a Super Bowl? Let’s make history again. The stage is set. The scene is perfect. Time’s yours, Doug.
Photo credits: phillyinfluencer.com; americaninno.com; Scott Cunningham/Getty