Doug Pederson answers for questionable decisions in OT loss to Cowboys

Doug Pederson answers for questionable decisions in OT loss to Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas — With 6:34 left in the fourth quarter on Sunday night in North Texas, the Eagles had a seven-point lead and an opportunity to try a 54-yard field to go up two scores.

Instead, they punted the ball and the game away.

The Cowboys made them pay, scoring a touchdown to tie the game before winning the game 29-23 in overtime at AT&T Field (see Instant Replay).

“(I) felt comfortable doing that, making that decision,” said Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, who had to answer for several questionable decisions in the minutes after the loss dropped the Eagles to 4-3. The Cowboys are now 6-1 and in control of the NFC East.

The choice to punt instead of kick a 54-yard field goal loomed large. Especially because kicker Caleb Sturgis has made his last 17 field goals, including a 55-yarder at the end of the first half.

With a 23-16 lead, Sturgis stayed on the bench, while Jones punted the ball and the Eagles lost their opportunity to pull off an upset on the road (see Roob's 10 Observations from the loss).

“The thing is, field position at that time is critical,” Pederson explained. “[Sturgis] did kick the one before half, which was an excellent kick with no time left on the clock. Had we executed on the third-down play, we would have been in a little better position to kick the field goal at that time and we just didn’t execute on the play before.”

The punt was a good one, though, pinning the Cowboys at their own 10-yard line. The Eagles’ defense then gave up a 90-yard drive in 3:22 as the Cowboys tied the game.

Just before the punt with 6:34 left, the Eagles ran a little screen-like pass to Darren Sproles (see standout plays from the Eagles' loss). But instead of picking up yardage to make the kick easier, the play lost six yards and Pederson said it “knocked [them] out of field-goal range at that time.”

While Carson Wentz didn’t handle the snap cleanly, he said he didn’t think the muffed snap — which he recovered — affected the timing of the play (see breakdown of Wentz's performance).

Still, it was a curious decision in hindsight.

“The first one, 3rd-and-8, play designed to get Sproles the ball out in space and the linebacker actually made a play on it,” Pederson said. “Designed actually for that look, for that coverage. Give them credit.”

Before the Eagles’ defense gave up the game-winning drive in overtime, they had a chance to force the Cowboys into a punt, but elected to let the clock run out.

When Connor Barwin sacked Dak Prescott on second down with 25 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Eagles still had timeouts and could have forced a punt to get the ball back. Instead, Pederson decided to let the game go to overtime.

“I just felt too at that time, because our defense was playing extremely well, I had made up my mind at that time to go ahead and get us into overtime,” the head coach said. “Hopefully win the coin toss, take the ball and be in a position to score. And/or put our defense out there who had just come off a great drive and they were fired up, to put them back on the field. So it was just my decision to do that.”

Another questionable move Pederson made — although perhaps not as egregious — was the decision to give rookie Wendell Smallwood his first carry of the game in a crucial moment of the fourth quarter.

While veteran Ryan Mathews has had trouble with late-game fumbles and with Sproles running well, Pederson inserted Smallwood and called a handoff to the rookie with 13 minutes left in the game.

Smallwood promptly put the ball on the turf and gave the Cowboys the ball at the Eagles’ 36-yard line, which led to a quick field goal and cut the Eagles’ lead to 23-16.

Did Pederson think about getting Smallwood involved earlier in the game instead of a crucial moment of the fourth quarter?

“No, it was the way the game was going at the time,” Pederson said. “It was a safe play, safe run. We had a couple of assignment issues up front. But, you know, just have to learn to hang onto the ball in those situations. We know it was going to be tight running and running lanes and just gotta hang on to the ball.”

After the tough division loss on the road, Pederson said his message to his team was: “We’re still a good football team.” He also said it was a learning moment for many of his players. And for himself too.

What did Pederson learn?

“I think just, for me, staying aggressive, No. 1,” he said. “I think that’s been something I’ve prided myself on, but being smart with it at the same time. I think, No. 2, you learn to, I think one of the positives was Darren was hot. Darren was having a great game and you gotta keep feeding him the ball and get him the ball as many times as you can, as many touches as you can and let a guy like Darren use his athleticism to make plays. I think you learn from that. It’s definitely a learning situation all around.”

Eagles should stay away from running backs in first round

Eagles should stay away from running backs in first round

Ezekiel Elliott was the fourth overall pick by the Cowboys in the 2016 NFL draft.

He went on to have a historic rookie season, leading the NFL in rushing behind the best offensive line in football.

But do you know who finished second in the league in rushing? That would be the Bears' Jordan Howard, another rookie, drafted in the fifth round. 

If you keep going down the list of the league's top rushers last season, nine out of the top 10 on the list were drafted after the first round. Only three backs in the top 10 were drafted in the first two rounds (Elliott, LeSean McCoy, Le'Veon Bell). 

Whether it's LSU's Leonard Fournette, Florida State's Dalvin Cook or Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, the Eagles should stay away from running backs in the first round.

We'll start with Fournette, considered by most to be the best running back in the class. He was also mocked to the Eagles in a trade-up scenario by Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke with the No. 5 overall pick. Burke is an excellent evaluator, but in this case, he's off the mark. Fournette's talent is real. His combination of size and speed is unmatched by any running back in the class and perhaps any running back in the NFL. He'll correctly be the first back off the board and go in the top 10. 

But would the Eagles give up a second-round pick to obtain Fournette? It's just hard to see as realistic. This team has too many holes and not enough draft picks to make a move like Burke suggests. Fournette looks like he'll be a special player, just not for the Eagles.

Then there's Cook, who seems to be the belle of the ball with Eagles fans. Watching the tape, it's undeniable: Cook is an extremely talented player. But evaluations aren't black and white. Cook has issues with injuries (multiple shoulder surgeries) and has had a couple issues off the field. 

He also tested poorly at the combine. In the biggest audition of his life, Cook's numbers didn't match what you saw on tape. That has to make you wonder if he was fully prepared for the combine. If the Eagles take Cook, there's no doubt he'll make their offense better. The biggest concern has to be his long-term success and the value you get taking him at 14 over another player at a more valuable position.

Lastly, there's McCaffrey. It's easy to see the fit here. McCaffrey is an explosive back who runs routes and has the ball skills of a receiver. He's also incredibly dangerous in the return game. Unlike Cook, McCaffrey tested off the charts in Indy. His strength (10 reps at 225) is the only real concern.

From a scheme perspective, McCaffrey is perfectly suited for Doug Pederson's offense. Pederson can use McCaffrey much like Andy Reid used Brian Westbrook over a decade ago. McCaffrey's struggles running between the tackles are a little overblown, but it still has to be a concern for a team that doesn't have a proven, primary back. 

This is also a strong running back class. Toledo's Kareem Hunt would fit nicely in this offense and should be available in the third round. Clemson's Wayne Gallman is a tough, versatile back that could be available in the third or fourth. There's also BYU's Jamaal Williams, Pitt's James Conner and Wyoming's Brian Hill, all of whom should be there in the middle rounds.

When you look at who else could be there at 14, it just doesn't make sense to draft a running back. If you're looking to give Carson Wentz more weapons, either Clemson's Mike Williams, Western Michigan's Corey Davis or Washington's John Ross should be there. Any of them could give Wentz a long-term receiving threat. 

If you're looking to improve the defense, there are plenty of options. In case you've been living under a rock this offseason, this cornerback draft class is crazy deep. Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore is the best of the bunch and will likely be gone by 14. His teammate, Gareon Conley, should still be around at 14. So should LSU's TreDavious White, Alabama's Marlon Humphrey, Clemson's Cordrea Tankersley and Florida's Quincy Wilson. 

Don't count out Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett as an option if he's on the board. With Vinny Curry's struggles and the Eagles' lack of depth, a pass rusher is a definite need. If Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster slips for a spat he had with a hospital worker during the combine, he's worth a long look. He's a game-changing 'backer.

Elliott was as close to a sure thing as you can get. There's a reason he was taken at No. 4 overall. If Cook and McCaffrey are there at 14, there's a reason for that, too. 

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie rails against political polarization in Washington

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie rails against political polarization in Washington

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie isn't often very outspoken on football or political matters. 

He has apparently made an exception. 

Just a few days before Lurie is tentatively scheduled to speak to Philadelphia reporters while in Phoenix for the league's annual meetings, the Eagles owner authored a story for Time Magazine railing against political polarization in Washington.

Lurie has not spoken to reporters publicly since last March in Boca Raton, Florida, at the 2016 owners meetings. 

The owner's essay was published just hours after House Republican leaders pulled legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act on Friday afternoon. Lurie, for the record, donated money to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign last year.

Lurie, the Eagles' 65-year-old billionaire owner, in the story, uses football as an example for which Washington should strive. 

Here's how Lurie begins the piece:

"What do football, political polarization and autism have in common? They all illuminate aspects of the human condition, explaining who we are, where we are headed and the hurdles along the way. As a sports team owner I rarely publicly discuss politics, but as a member of a family touched by autism, I often think about the unspoken millions of people who live with the daily challenges of this disorder."

Lurie then goes on to explain why football can act as a guide for Washington when it comes to united for the common good:

"What I have learned from football can be applied to society at large. Just as we intensely game-plan against an opponent in sports, we need to game plan for the reality and consequences of polarization. Extreme polarization is the opponent -- not each other. A football team is made up of players from a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences and political viewpoints. What unites them is grit, determination, and the desire to win. They join in a common goal and do what is necessary to transcend their differences for the greater good of their team.

"What unites Americans is far more negative. We are now in an age where communicating verifiable information becomes secondary to the goal of creating a common enemy that unifies people in fear, negativity and opposition. This masks our inability to solve serious domestic problems (poverty, violence and institutional racism to name three current examples) and diverts our attention from obvious suffering."

Lurie then writes that we, as Americans, have the "necessary resources" to tackle serious problems, like autism, but lack the leadership to put aside differences. 

The whole piece isn't very long and is worth reading in full to gain a better understanding of its context. 

Next week while in Phoenix, Lurie will surely be asked about what motivated him to write the piece.