Minutes after the Eagles suffered a 38-29 loss to the Steelers on Sunday afternoon, Doug Pederson didn’t have a good answer as to why linebacker Nathan Gerry was lined up on Chase Claypool with the game on the line.
On a 3rd-and-8 with 3 minutes left in the game, Ben Roethlisberger saw Claypool lined up on Gerry and threw him a 35-yard touchdown pass to put the game out of reach for the Eagles.
So, Doug, why was Gerry on Claypool?
“Yeah, until I look at the tape, it’s really hard to comment again,” Pederson said. “I can give you a better update tomorrow."
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Of course, we don’t have to wait until tomorrow to know that lining up a struggling linebacker against a receiver who already had three touchdowns in the game wasn’t ideal. As much as Gerry has struggled this season, what the heck is he supposed to do there?
Even Rodney McLeod admitted that, ideally, they wouldn’t have Gerry covering a receiver.
Even if Gerry hadn’t been struggling all season and if Claypool hadn’t had three touchdowns at that point in the game, it still wouldn’t have been ideal.
“It was a great call vs. the coverage that we had,” McLeod said. “Ideally, would we like Nate to be on a receiver? No. We would prefer a defensive back but that was the call that was made defensively and they checked to a good play.”
Here was Roethlisberger’s explanation of the check:
“So we expected them on that particular play to kind of go with an all out blitz. So we had a play called to get the ball out quick and hopefully try and beat the blitz. They sat back in a cover-2 zone, and it just wasn't what we expected. I saw that, and I changed the play. I think the coolest part about the whole thing is we've never run the play I called with that formation or that group on the field. So Chase [Claypool] has never been in that spot. Ray-Ray [McCloud] has never been in that spot. The other three kind of know what they were supposed to do, but, yeah, we changed the play, and I can't say enough about Chase getting down the middle of the field and kind of making that play for us.”
During his time as defensive coordinator in Philadelphia, Jim Schwartz has never spoken to reporters after games. So we won’t get to hear his explanation of what happened on this play until Tuesday morning.
So on Sunday, it was up to Pederson and McLeod to explain.
McLeod said the Eagles were in quarters coverage (in dime) on this play as the Steelers went empty with their four-receiver package. Roethlisberger saw the weakness and checked to the touchdown play. It's worth noting that the Eagles had two timeouts in their pocket.
“The two plays before we were in man (coverage),” McLeod said. “We decided to go zone on that third down play. That’s the difference.”
Pederson said there was a double move on the play but it didn’t really look like one. McLeod could have offered some more help over the top but he arrived late because his first responsibility was the out and Roethlisberger looked him off. It was a poor play call from the Eagles but McLeod and Gerry obviously could have done a better job too.
Claypool ended up with four touchdowns on Sunday, making him the first player to have four touchdowns against the Eagles since Joseph Addai back in 2006. And that last one on Sunday was an absolute dagger.
On their flight home Sunday night, Pederson will look at the tape and we’ll get a new assessment of the play on Monday afternoon.
But guess what?
Having Gerry in coverage on Claypool in that spot was never ideal. It was just a bad call. We don’t need the benefit of hindsight to know that.