Talk to Doug Pederson and he comes across … what’s a nice way to put it … dry?
Very nice guy. Very friendly. Very down to earth. But not the most dynamic personality in public.
Which is why his personality on gameday has been so surprising.
Pederson is a risk-taker as a play-caller. Aggressive and fearless.
Whether it’s going for it on fourth down with the lead, going for two after a successful PAT or throwing deep in a situation that doesn’t necessarily call for it, Pederson has proven to be the proverbial riverboat gambler that Chip Kelly was expected to be but never became.
“My personality is probably a little more conservative by nature, I think,” Pederson said Monday. “You'd probably agree with that.”
Pederson got a laugh with that comment because his public persona is exactly the opposite of his gameday demeanor.
It only took one day before we all got a taste of Pederson’s fearlessness.
In the season opener against the Browns, with the Eagles clinging to a 15-10 lead and a rookie quarterback making his first NFL appearance and a 4th-and-4 at the Browns’ 40-yard line, he kept the offense on the field.
Carson Wentz responded by connecting with Zach Ertz on a five-yard gain to move the chains, and one play later, the Eagles took command on Wentz’s 35-yard TD pass to Nelson Agholor.
Six weeks in, the Eagles are 5 for 5 on fourth down. Only the Falcons have converted more fourth downs in the NFL this year, and they’re 6 for 10.
In the win over the Bears, the Eagles were 3 for 3 on fourth down, their best fourth-down conversion day in nine years.
This is the first time in 14 years the Eagles have converted five or more fourth downs through six games.
According to Pro Football Reference, the Eagles are one of only seven teams in NFL history to attempt five or more fourth-down plays through six games and still be at 100 percent. The Lions are also 5 for 5 this year.
Pederson said analytics are a big part of his decision-making process, but he also trusts his instincts.
“I think it's both,” Pederson said. “But I trust our guys and I trust our offensive line and I think it sends a great message to the rest of the team, to the defense and special teams, that, ‘Hey, if we can convert this and stay on the field,’ it sends a good message.
“And on the other side of that, if you do convert, [it’s about] the message you send to the other team and the fact that you're going to stay aggressive.”
The Eagles are 29th-best in the NFL on third down at just 34 percent. But they’re one of only three teams that’s at 100 percent on fourth down.
“It's kind of a crazy deal when you're not great on third down, but you can be 5 for 5 on fourth down and convert them,” Pederson said. “It's a weird deal. But credit to the guys for the execution.
“I'm going to continue to look at it. I don't ever want to be in a position that I'm going to jeopardize the team at the time [by being too aggressive]. Looking at the five fourth-down decisions this year, I don’t think they put us in any harm at that time.”
Wentz is 3 for 3 for 21 yards on fourth down, with the four-yard completion to Ertz, a seven-yard first down to Jordan Matthews in the Bears game and a nine-yarder to Dorial Green-Beckham, also in the win in Chicago.
He also rushed six yards for a first down on a 4th-and-2 Sunday in the win over the Vikings. The Eagles’ other fourth-down conversion this year was Ryan Mathews’ one-yard TD on a 4th-and-goal against Chicago.
Pederson said as an assistant coach under Andy Reid, he always found himself asking himself whether he would be conservative or aggressive in crucial situations.
We’re all learning the answer now.
“Yeah, you definitely put yourself in those situations, as a coordinator and a position coach,” he said. “Putting yourself in those spots, it's a lot easier when you're not making the decision obviously to go, ‘Oh, yeah, I would have not gone for it there or not gone for it there.’
“Now, being in this position, it's my tail on the line if we don't convert.”