Willing to Listen and Adapt, Doug Pederson Starting to Prove Himself

Don't look now, but Doug Pederson might actually be a good coach. 

Sure, maybe it's too early to tell. Sunday's 34-7 win over the Cardinals was just his 21st game at the helm and the Eagles are just 11-10 in those games. 

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Pederson did some really good things last year but didn't do nearly enough to stifle the concerns surrounding him. It's sort of like the opposite of the judicial system, where people are innocent until proven guilty. In the court of public opinion, especially in this city, Pederson is a bad coach until he can prove he's a good one. 

He's starting to prove it now. 

The results themselves are hard to argue. Through five games in 2017, the Eagles are 4-1 with their only loss coming to the Chiefs, a team considered by many to be the best in the NFL. The Eagles are not only in the driver's seat of the division, but they're also beginning to put themselves in the category of the NFC's best teams. 

"The sky's the limit," Pederson said on Sunday night. "The sky's the limit." 

It's not just the results, though. A 4-1 start is great for any team. What has made the Eagles' season - to this point - so impressive is how they've gotten here. The Birds have already doubled their road win total from last season and have started off 4-1 despite some significant injuries to key players. 

More than anything, though, it's been Pederson's willingness to adapt and change that has stood out. 

Just take a look at the last three weeks. After going ridiculously pass heavy through the first two games, plenty of offensive players spoke out. They knew there was an opportunity to get the run game going and understood the importance of balance in play-calling.

So what did Pederson do? He listened. 

The Eagles found that balance and it's been a big part of their three consecutive wins since

While the head coach tried to downplay the impact of his players' words in his decision-making - he said it came down to coaches' adjustments in game based on what they see - it's still pretty clear Pederson heard his players on this one.  

"I definitely listen to them," Pederson said on Monday. "I listen to the offensive line. I listen to the quarterbacks, even sometimes the receivers, even in the passing game."

On Monday, former Eagle Seth Joyner was on 97.5 The Fanatic and talked about how, under Buddy Ryan, if players went to the coach because their bodies were getting worn down after too much conditioning work, Ryan wouldn't lessen the load; he would add to it. He likely took it as an attack on his authority. Coaches like that aren't presidents in a democracy; they're kings in a monarchy. If the results follow, it can work. But Pederson isn't like that. 

How much does Pederson listen to his players? Well, when he first arrived as head coach, he created a group of veteran leaders. He meets with that leadership council every Tuesday. And even through tough times in 2016, the team stayed together. 

Remember, when Jeff Lurie was looking for Chip Kelly's replacement and he started talking about "emotional intelligence," it gave everyone a good chuckle. What the heck was he talking about? While emotional intelligence is hard to define, it's pretty clear Pederson has it. 

Could you ever imagine Chip thoughtfully listening to his players this much? And then using their input to change the way he coached? 

No way. In fact, it was Kelly's reluctance to change that helped get him booted. 

Being a "players' coach" can mean a lot of things. But for the Eagles, it means that the 53 guys on the roster want to show up every Sunday to play for the head coach. While some head coaches like Bill Belichick are about as cuddly as a cactus, Pederson actually seems like a really nice guy. It even comes off a little fake when he tries to play the role of tough guy. It's important to note that there's a difference between a nice guy and a pushover. It can be a fine line to walk, but Pederson seems adept at the balancing act. 

But with this Eagles team, it doesn't end with Pederson. It trickles down. His assistants are proving they're capable of adapting too.

"Jim Schwartz doesn't blitz." How many times have you heard that over the last year? Well, guess what? Schwartz does blitz. Once his personnel changed and he felt comfortable enough to do it, the Eagles haven't been afraid to blitz this season and it has made a big difference.

Perhaps an even better example is what happened on Sunday against the Cardinals. Malcolm Jenkins said the special teams players "challenged" their coaches to let them try to make plays. So instead of having kicker Jake Elliott boot his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, the rookie took some gas off and let the rest of the group make plays. The Cardinals' average starting position on Sunday was at their own 19-yard line.

For Pederson and the Eagles' coaching staff, listening to their players is about more than just improving the run game or getting after the quarterback or pinning opponents deep. Sure, those things are great. But when players feel like they have an input, when players feel like their coaches actually care what they have to say, they're going to play harder for them because they're invested.

With the Eagles, that all starts with Pederson.

I'm honestly not sure if he's a good coach yet. But he's starting to prove it. 

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