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.”

10 Eagles to watch during 2017 training camp

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10 Eagles to watch during 2017 training camp

The Eagles kick off their 2017 training camp this week for a season with higher expectations than a year ago. 

A big reason for that is because Carson Wentz is entering his second season after an up-and-down, yet promising, rookie campaign. We're not going to list him as a player to watch because we're all going to watch him anyway. 

Another big reason for optimism is plenty of newcomers. Many of them are listed. 

Here are 10 players to watch during Eagles training camp 2017: 

Nelson Agholor 
We mentioned the newcomers, but let's start with a guy who has been here for a couple of disappointing seasons. Agholor will probably never live up to his draft status, but now it's just about making him a decent NFL player. This spring, he was the best receiver on the field, which was undeniable as it was infuriating to fans. Because it just hasn't translated into games and until it does, no one will care much. But it's worth watching to see if he can continue his impressive offseason. Maybe this year, with a reduced role, he won't be a headcase. 

Derek Barnett
The first-round pick showed some impressive signs during the spring, especially when he beat Lane Johnson a few times 1-on-1. But now the pads go on and the real football begins. Barnett has a real chance to not just earn playing time but also earn a starting job during this training camp. 

Ron Brooks/Joe Walker
We cheated a little here by lumping these two together, but it kind of makes sense. Both are coming back from serious injuries, which is why we need to see what they can do. Walker tore his ACL during the preseason a year ago. Before he did, he was set to be the team's backup middle linebacker. It wasn't until his injury that the Eagles went out and signed Stephen Tulloch. And Brooks was playing OK as the Eagles' slot cornerback before his ruptured quad tendon in October. Jim Schwartz seems to really like him, but many folks have seemingly forgotten about Brooks this offseason. 

Timmy Jernigan
Of all the newcomers, Jernigan might be the most overlooked, but could also make the biggest impact. He's here with just one year left on his contract but will get a chance to put up some serious numbers while playing next to Fletcher Cox on the interior line. 

LeGarrette Blount
Blount reportedly has language written into his contract that gives him bonuses based on staying under 250 pounds. Even if he's under 250, Blount is still a big back, about 20 pounds heavier than rookie Corey Clement. Blount is up there in age and had a huge workload for the Patriots last season. How much does he have left? 

Rasul Douglas 
Of all the Eagles' rookies, Douglas might need to have the most immediate impact. The third-round pick might be thrust into a major role this season just because of the lack of talent at the cornerback position. He was impressive in the spring but is bound to have ups and downs as a rookie. 

Alshon Jeffery 
The Eagles actually have a real No. 1 receiver. Jeffery made some spectacular catches during the spring, but he and Wentz need to build their rapport, which they had extra time to do when the receivers went to North Dakota. We'll see how far along he and Wentz are soon enough. 

Donnel Pumphrey
It's pretty shocking to see how small Pumphrey looks without pads, especially standing next to Blount. How will the Eagles use the tiny running back? Will he be more of a receiver out of the backfield and in the slot? And can his body really hold up in the NFL? 

Isaac Seumalo 
Yeah, we're telling you an interior offensive lineman is a guy to watch. Seumalo has a real chance to beat out Allen Barbre for the starting left guard position. Either way, Seumalo figures into the Eagles' plans for the future as a guard or as the center who eventually takes over for Jason Kelce. 

Mack Hollins
Of the rookie receivers, Hollins was clearly more impressive this spring. I became convinced Hollins can play football in shorts and a helmet. Now, we'll get to see how he does when the pads go on. With his size/speed combo, he's certainly an intriguing prospect.

NFL Notes: As Cowboys prep for training camp, Jerry Jones backs Ezekiel Elliott again

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USA Today Images

NFL Notes: As Cowboys prep for training camp, Jerry Jones backs Ezekiel Elliott again

OXNARD, Calif. -- Jerry Jones interjected some bad-boy anecdotes from his youth, smiled at the thought of life before social media and even asked a couple of questions himself Sunday at his annual training camp opener with reporters.

When the topic is the multitude of off-field issues confronting the Dallas Cowboys -- headlined by star running back Ezekiel Elliott -- their owner, president and general manager can dance with the best of them.

"I can give you the same old excuses -- young, aggressive, got a lot of energy," Jones said. "Hard to paint that picture of the days when it won't be this easy, they won't be as pretty and they won't have the money. Somehow you've got to paint the picture."

Elliott is still waiting for clearance from the NFL on a year-old domestic violence case that prosecutors didn't pursue. The NFL rushing leader last season as a rookie, Elliott didn't help himself with his involvement in a bar fight a week before the Cowboys flew to California for camp.

Jones reiterated his belief that Elliott wasn't guilty of domestic violence in a dispute with his ex-girlfriend last summer in Columbus, Ohio, where he starred for Ohio State. But the Dallas owner still wouldn't speculate on whether Elliott will get suspended.

The Cowboys will have two suspended defensive players when the season starts in pass rushers David Irving and Randy Gregory. Two more could be: cornerback Nolan Carroll (drunken-driving charge) and linebacker Damien Wilson (aggravated assault charges).

Receiver Dez Bryant was late to report at the team's practice facility in suburban Dallas on Friday, a day before he was on the team flight to California. Irving decided to stay in California rather than report in Texas, and running back Darren McFadden missed the charter flight (see full story).

Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald motivated by quest for championship
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Training camp is a drag at this point in Larry Fitzgerald's long and accomplished NFL career. Of course, the quest for the ring is the main reason the 14-year veteran continues to play.

The longtime Arizona Cardinals wide receiver isn't sure what his future holds as far as retirement.

"That's the only reason I'm playing at this point," Fitzgerald said Sunday, the second day of Cardinals training camp. "From a personal standpoint, things I've accomplished, they're fine. But the thing that you will say is out of your control because you're in a team sport is a championship."

Fitzgerald said he feels good, and when retirement comes there won't be a podium or tears because "that's not who I am."

Yet it is important to him to still be productive as a player when he decides to step away. Fitzgerald admitted it would be a struggle to accept a diminished role due to not being able to give 100 percent.

"The end is never really pretty for elite athletes. It never looks good. You watch Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizards uniform or see Tony Dorsett playing for the Denver Broncos. ... It's weird because you're used to seeing them at their most dominant stage," Fitzgerald said. "For me, I really want to do things at a high level and be able to walk away and still be someone who can play at a high level."

Fitzgerald has asked others who are closer to retirement or have retired about their thought process going into it. He's been doing that for the last few years, checking in with the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Tony Gonzalez.

For now, he still enjoys being around teammates and staff, asking questions in an effort to improve as a player and setting an example and providing leadership for young players (see full story).

Browns: Rookie Peppers signs, full class under contract
CLEVELAND -- Browns rookie defensive back Jabrill Peppers has signed and now Cleveland's entire draft class is under contract.

Peppers and the Browns had been haggling over guaranteed money on his four-year-deal, which is worth $10.3 million and includes a $5.6 million signing bonus.

The Browns chose Peppers -- one of Cleveland's three first-round selections -- with the No. 25 overall pick. The former Michigan standout played numerous positions for the Wolverines, but the Browns will try him at strong safety and as a kick returner.

Peppers may have been passed over by other teams after he had a diluted urine sample at the scouting combine. Peppers was placed in the first stage of the NFL's substance abuse policy, but he can be cleared from the program after 90 days if he has not positive tests.

Cleveland's rookies were scheduled to report to training camp Sunday night with the veterans arriving on Wednesday. The Browns will open their second training camp under coach Hue Jackson on Thursday.