National Football League

Pederson on 4th Down Calls: Fine Line Between Crazy and Doing Right Thing

WATCH LIVE: Doug Pederson is holding his day after news conference Monday around noon

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Eagles out-gained the Giants, 443-302.

The Eagles had more first downs, 21-16.

The Eagles ran more plays, 74-61.

The Eagles had the ball longer, 32:40 to 27:20.

Yet they lost, 28-23 (see Instant Replay).

They lost partly because of two early interceptions (see breakdown of Carson Wentz's day)

They lost partly because the secondary was a mess (see Roob's observations from the loss).

But those two issues were overshadowed by two critical failures on fourth down (see standout plays from the loss).

On the first play of the second quarter, a 4th-and-2 from the Giants' 23, Carson Wentz sprinted left on a keeper and was thrown for a 4-yard loss. Then on 4th-and-1 from the Giants' 6 with 3:55 left in the first half, Darren Sproles was stuffed for no gain.

Wentz has run the sneak before on fourth down (when he dropped the snap but gained six yards vs. Minnesota) and the Giants clearly were ready for it. It's easy to blame the O-line for the second one, but then there's the question of, why Sproles? Ryan Mathews, the most powerful runner on the team, rushed only five times for 15 yards and apparently, after his fumbling problems, still needs to gain back Doug Pederson's trust. Still, even with Isaac Seumalo as a lead blocker, the play still failed.

Play-calling aside, the bigger question concerns the decision to go for it in the first place. Kicker Caleb Sturgis had made 18 straight field goals, but Pederson eschewed field goal attempts of 41 and 24 yards. [[247269581, C]]

"Why? Because I really felt good about how we were moving the football," Pederson said. "Just my decision again to stay aggressive on the field and stay aggressive with our team. It just came down to the way we were operating at that time.

"There's a fine line obviously between being kind of crazy, borderline crazy, and doing the right thing. But at the same time, I felt it was the right thing to do. It's momentum. It's an opportunity the way we were playing and moving the ball to really show confidence in our offense.

"It's a momentum thing. I get what you're saying. Listen, it's an opportunity for us offensively to score seven points over three."

Obviously. Seven is greater than three. Do the math, as Andy Reid famously once said, and the Eagles leave MetLife Stadium with a one-point win.

But about that momentum thing. The Eagles had no momentum early. None. They were down 14-0 faster than you can say Halapoulivaati Vaitai. They gained some momentum with a 10-play, 59-yard scoring drive that made it 14-3. 

When you fall down early, especially on the road, it's critical to hold onto momentum. Grab it whenever it's available, no matter how small. But when the Eagles failed on fourth down, they not only lost momentum but also gave more back to the Giants.

"I truly believe in our defense and special teams, and they showed up today and made some great plays," Pederson said. "Again, if we don't start the ball game the way we do, it's different. It's totally different. I'm going to continue to show confidence in our guys and believe in our guys."

He's right. It is different. If the Eagles have the lead, or there's no score, then OK, failing to put points up is bad but not nearly as glaring. And remember, we were reminded later that no field goal is a gimme when Jason Pierre-Paul blocked a 40-yarder.

So don't expect Pederson to change. The Eagles entered the game 5 for 5 on fourth down this season. No one has any problem when he converts a fourth down.

So he'll do it again, and if it doesn't work, he's prepared to take the heat.

"Yeah, this is my job. This is the National Football League," he said. "I trust in our team. I trust in my guys. I trust that locker room right now. They're hurtin'. I'm hurtin'."

No pain, no gain. And there will be a gain, Pederson insists. Just be patient. 

This team wasn't supposed to start 3-0. That start raised expectations to an unrealistic level. In August, you probably would have accepted a 4-4 start.

"I think I'll stay aggressive. I think I have to," Pederson said. "Again, there's opportunities there to be had and there's plays to be made. 

"This is part of our growth process on offense. Rookie quarterback, young receivers, we've got a veteran offensive line -- so at the same time we're trying to build this thing, and we're trying to do it right. By putting them in these situations, they're going to be better for this. They're going to be better down the stretch. Somewhere it's going to pay off for us. It's going to pay off for all of us. So I'm going to continue to be as aggressive as I can and try to send a message to our football team."

Other topics Pederson addressed:

On the final fourth down play, where Wentz's pass went over Jordan Matthews' outside shoulder (see story):

"It's just an inside fade," Pederson said. "The ball was a little bit thrown more to his outside than where we'd like it. It more of an up-the-field throw right there. It was just poor execution on our part."

On the previous play, when Pierre-Paul deflected a screen pass to Darren Sproles:

"It was going to be big. It was going to be big," Pederson said. "Great job by them tipping the ball. It was an opportunity -- in blitz situations, screen passes are pretty good. We had one dialed up, and we just failed to execute."

On throwing the ball down the field:

"Some of it was protection, some of it was by design, some of it was by just sheer determination. Carson to Bryce (Treggs) there a couple times was nice down the field. It was good to see that. Guys battled in there and did a nice job."

On Wentz's unsuccessful read-options:

"There were opportunities there with the way their ends bend and come off the edge," Pederson said. "The were some chances there for some designed runs with the quarterback. Some of them were good choices. Other were probably not so good. It's something we'll have to look at once we evaluate the tape."

On what Wendell Smallwood (two carries for 25 yards) has to do to get more carries:

"Nothing really," Pederson said. "We just have to continue to put him in the game."

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