Doug Pederson, the Unorthodox Play-Caller

In a key moment of the Eagles' 15-10 divisional round win over the Falcons, Doug Pederson dialed up a screen pass to Jay Ajayi on 2nd-and-10. It didn't really work, gaining just three yards. 

So he called it again. 

The next time, Ajayi caught the ball, got some tremendous blocks in front of him and ran for a huge 32-yard gain on third down that eventually led to an enormous field goal in the fourth quarter. In the biggest moment in the biggest game of the season, Pederson ran virtually the same play on consecutive downs. 


"Back to back? There you go," the gutsy Pederson said with a smile. "Sometimes you can catch a group off guard when they don't expect two screens back to back."

When asked what he's learned about Pederson as a play-caller in their two years together, offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Pederson is "a little more unorthodox at times - in a good way."

Pederson was certainly unorthodox last Saturday at the Linc, but as he has all season, he just seemed to push the right buttons at the right times. In just his second full year as a play-caller, Pederson, aggressive in nature, has blossomed into one of the best and most unique play-callers in the NFL. 

The Eagles will need another gem from him on Sunday against the NFL's best defense if they hope to advance to Super Bowl LII. 

"I don't think I go in there consciously saying, ‘I'm going to be unorthodox,'" Pederson said. "I think you either have it or you don't. Listen, if you just look at what I've done in two years, you'd probably call me unorthodox with some of the decisions I've made on fourth downs and going for it, two-point conversions, things like that. And I've told you guys this before that sometimes you just don't do the norm, just don't do what everybody expects you to do and sometimes that can help you.

"I'm calculated about it but at the same time, I'm going to make sure that I'm putting our guys in a good position."

Nick Foles hasn't had the benefit of being under Pederson as a play-caller for as many games as Carson Wentz, but Foles said he's "absolutely" on the same page as Pederson. Whenever the play gets called into his headset, he said he knows immediately what Pederson is thinking. 

That includes the times when Pederson might call something that's just a bit unorthodox and aggressive. 

"I love it. I love it," Foles said. "That's how I think, too. I think just keeping a defense off balance in those situations. The fact that we're continuing to talk about the back-to-back screens is sort of shocking to me because it's just one of those things when you're in the game and you play, like you want to keep the defense off balance. You don't want them to hone in on what you're doing because if they do, especially [the Vikings'] defense. They are very good."

Of course there are other examples, aside from the back-to-back screen passes - which he had done once before in Kansas City - that illustrate Pederson's unorthodox style. There are all the times he goes for it on fourth down; Vikings coach Mike Zimmer noted the Eagles sometimes go for it on 4th-and-1 in a close game and 4th-and-6 in a blowout. 

There are even plays like the 21-yard Nelson Agholor run Pederson dialed up in the second quarter on Saturday. Reich explained that with a play like that, the way it often works is a coach will have an idea from watching film or from their past and the staff tries to debug it and figure out how that play or idea might fit with the Eagles. They work on it in practice until it's ready. If it isn't, they "keep it in the Crock-Pot for another week or start over with a new recipe." 

The influence of Andy Reid on Pederson's career is obvious, but on Wednesday, Pederson pointed toward two other guys who helped create his play-calling style. His former head coaches in Green Bay, Mike Holmgren, an innovator of the West Coast offense, and Mike Sherman, who was more creative in the run game. 

However Pederson's play-calling style developed, it has turned into a huge advantage for the Eagles and it's been one of his greatest strengths. 

"There [are] 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," Reich said. "So that's been fun to see and fun to work with."

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