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.”

An NFL prospect, Villanova's Tanoh Kpassagnon has brawn with brains to match

An NFL prospect, Villanova's Tanoh Kpassagnon has brawn with brains to match

A physical specimen, with the brains to match.

It's hard to understate the impression you get from meeting Tanoh Kpassagnon in person.

I read an article before meeting him that said his "abs had abs" and that he sported a minuscule 4 percent body fat. He laughed when I brought it up to him and said he wasn't so sure about the 4 percent body fat but that he loves to work out and get stronger, and he has been that way since high school.

Besides being a gym rat in the weight room, the 'Nova product was down to earth and easy to talk to. So much so we talked about what food we liked to cook and exchanged some tips on how to keep your mashed potatoes smooth and silky.

Kpassagnon moved from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Philly in the sixth grade and partly got turned on to football by watching the Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins and Brian Westbrook Eagles in the 2000s.

His proud parents don't know much about pigskin but are over the moon about his success and growing notoriety. He said he just wants to join an NFL team and build a bond with a new group of guys.

With his skill set, I imagine it won't be long before his name is called on Day 2 and his impact could go well beyond his draft position.

2017 NFL mock draft roundup: Who's rising and falling?

2017 NFL mock draft roundup: Who's rising and falling?

All the mock drafts and speculation will be over Thursday when the players get announced in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art during the 2017 NFL draft.

As we approach the finish line, let's see what some of the experts think about what the Eagles might do at No. 14.

Mel Kiper, ESPN - Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State

Conley has been linked to the Eagles on what seems like a daily basis. Earlier in the process, Conley was overshadowed by teammate Marshon Lattimore, a likely top-10 pick. After impressing at the combine, Conley has put himself in position to be the second cornerback off the board.

Kiper's take: "Conley, another riser after the combine, is the veteran of the three Buckeyes defensive backs I have going in the top 14 picks. Philadelphia let Nolan Carroll II walk in free agency after he started 16 games last season, and the Eagles brought in former first-round pick Patrick Robinson on a one-year deal to compete at corner. Coordinator Jim Schwartz's defense is thin on the boundaries."

Analysis: There is definitely a strong case to be made for Conley as the second-best corner in the draft. He's excellent in coverage and should be an NFL starter from Day 1. With that said, you might be able to get more value with this pick. Kiper has the Eagles passing on Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett (one of my draft crushes), Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, and wideouts Corey Davis (Western Michigan) and Mike Williams (Clemson). With the depth at the corner position, I'd pass on anyone not named Marshon Lattimore at 14.

Todd McShay, ESPN - Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

There may not be a player whose stock has soared more than McCaffrey's. Once considered a borderline first-round pick, there are analysts who project McCaffrey as high as No. 8 to the Panthers. McCaffrey's versatility is unparalleled to any running back in this draft. 

McShay's take: "I love this fit. Darren Sproles turns 34 in June, and Philly needs a versatile playmaker out of the backfield. McCaffrey has the skill set to be a really good running back and wide receiver in the NFL. He showed tremendous short-area quickness at the combine (6.57-second three cone), which is readily apparent when watching McCaffrey's route running."

Analysis: The fit is obvious. McCaffrey is a running back who runs routes and has the ball skills of a receiver. He's also a bit underrated as a runner between the tackles. With all that said, I don't love the value at 14. But if the Birds pick McCaffrey, it's by no means a disappointment. The more weapons for Carson Wentz, the better.

Josh Norris, Rotoworld - Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

Harris has joined the ranks of McCaffrey as one of the draft's highest risers. He was a productive player at Missouri and impressed at the combine. Most mocks have him going somewhere in the 20s, but there are rumors that more than one team considers Harris a top-10 pick.

Norris' take: "The Eagles could absolutely take a similar approach to the Panthers last season in terms of multiple corners after round one. Harris will be a top 15 selection and greatly improved his athletic testing at the school’s pro day."

Analysis: I like Norris' idea of snagging two corners later, but I don't love the idea of Harris this high. He's not the only one to mock Harris in this range recently. I've mocked Harris in the late 20s and that's still where I feel comfortable projecting him. With that said, Harris would be a safe pick at 14. He has a high motor, a variety of pass rush moves, and NFL size and strength.

Cris Collinsworth, PFF/NBC Sunday Night Football color analyst - Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU

White is an interesting prospect because he's projected to go all over the place. He could go here to the Eagles or he could still be available in the second round. He was an impact player for a school that seems like it produces secondary players in a factory.

Collinsworth's take: "I want to give the Eagles a receiver with the speed of John Ross to play alongside Alshon Jeffery, but Philadelphia has to have a cornerback, and White is the next best available. He may drive Jim Schwartz nuts if he refuses to tackle, but Schwartz has no choice -- you can’t compete without corners. I love White’s ability to find the ball in the air. Most young corners are afraid to turn their head and look for deep balls, and they end up getting beat. White is rock-solid there. I also don’t see him as a guy that will get a lot of cheap fouls; he keeps his hands to himself. I thought White would run a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash, but at 4.47, he was a little slower than his run-and-cover style would suggest. White has legitimate coverage skills, though, and should go in the first half of the draft."

Analysis: The bottom line: White can cover. That is, after all, a corner's primary function. This isn't a sexy pick at all, but like Conley, White should be able to start for an NFL defense from Day 1. Also, like with Conley, there might be better value in this spot.

Lance Zierlein, NFL Network - Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

Humphrey was considered the best corner in the draft for a big chunk of the college season. He has prototypical size and was a track star in high school. He struggled to track the ball in the College Football Playoff on multiple occasions. Those struggles have put him behind players like Conley and White in the eyes of some analysts.

Zierlein's take: "A height-weight-speed prospect who is the best run defender at the corner spot in the draft. If Humphrey can improve in locating the deep ball, he could be a good one."

Analysis: This is a fair take. Aside from Lattimore, Humphrey might project best to being a No. 1 corner physically. For the 2017 season, Conley and White will likely be better than Humphrey. In the long term, Humphrey might turn out to be the best corner in this draft. With that said, the ball location issues are concerning. Especially considering that's been a problem for Eagles' corners recently.

Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network - Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama

Foster has had a rough go of the predraft process. He was kicked out of the combine for a spat with a hospital worker. Recently, questions have come up about his surgically repaired shoulder. And now it's come out that Foster's drug test at the combine came back diluted. Foster insists it was a result of an illness which caused him to drink an excessive amount of fluid.

Jeremiah's take: "Foster is a tone-setter and would excel in the Eagles' defensive scheme."

Analysis: It is important to note that Jeremiah's mock was from earlier this month. I doubt he'd have Foster going this high now. The kid is incredibly talented, though. Jordan Hicks and Foster would wreak havoc on a weekly basis. This is a player who is among the top 10 most talented players in the entire draft. Taking a chance on him at 14 might be worth it. The Eagles would really have to do their homework on this one.