If you haven’t heard, the Philadelphia Eagles have decided on a coaching candidate. Doug Pederson‘s introduction will come as soon as the Kansas City Chiefs’ season is over.
One of the earliest rumors to surface has come to fruition; Doug Pederson, Andy Reid‘s offensive coordinator in Kansas City, will become Philadelphia’s new head coach. Pederson played quarterback for a portion of Reid’s debut season in the City of Brotherly Love in 1999, and he also served as a coach on the Eagles’ staff from 2009-2012. When Reid accepted the Chiefs’ offer to become their head coach in 2013, he hired the familiar Pederson as his offensive coordinator.
So, is Pederson the right man for the job? Many are asking that question right now, yet the only apparent factor is the unknown. Owner Jeffrey Lurie harped on getting a “head start” to the coaching search, but that didn’t seem like it worked as the Eagles were one of the last teams to bag their man. Reporters continuously said that Lurie and company did not want to “rush it” because they felt that’s what they did wrong in Chip Kelly’s hiring, but Kelly and Pederson were both decided upon 17 days after the regular season ended in their respective years. With the added week, it could be true that they took a bit longer, but they interviewed less candidates and seemingly whiffed on a few of their potential targets.
The past is the past, however, and Pederson is going to be in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future. He’s got a lot of work to do and it starts with the decision on a quarterback. Coach Kelly did not draft a quarterback in his tenure in Philadelphia, which is a move that new coaches usually make upon arrival. It symbolizes a fresh start and the two are synonymously attached until their fate is inevitably sealed.
Pederson has options at the most important position in pro sports; he’s got Sam Bradford (who would need a new contract), Mark Sanchez is under contract and free agency and the NFL Draft are on the horizon. Bradford would likely demand a large extension, Sanchez is seemingly a lost cause as a serious starter, free agency would deliver nothing more than a stopgap figurehead and the NFL Draft could be a gold mine or a coal pit. The front office must team up with Pederson to make the most crucial decision of the offseason.
The Eagles’ offensive line, whether Kelly let Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans go or not, was inevitably falling apart. Prior to the 2014 season, the Eagles starting five offensive linemen averaged out as the oldest in the NFL. The aforementioned Mathis and Herremans were not replaced sufficiently due to the need to fill other holes, and once-franchise left tackle Jason Peters looked rather pedestrian all season. The two pieces to build around are right tackle Lane Johnson and center Jason Kelce. The shift to left tackle could be imminent for Johnson, a spot that he gained experience at last season when Peters was injured. The offensive line’s revamping goes hand-in-hand with the decision at quarterback because of the direct relation the unit can have on a signal-caller’s success. Free agency could lead the Eagles to a few quality linemen, and so could the NFL Draft.
The Eagles’ young skill position players are developing nicely, and that should inspire hope in the Philly faithful. Pederson is expected to run some form of Reid’s West Coast offense, which is an offense that replaces runs with short passes. In this offense, the schematics call for the quarterback to make quick decisions and trust the playmakers to produce results with the ball.
Early in Reid’s tenure, his West Coast offense featured receivers such as James Thrash and Todd Pinkston. The receivers did not help Reid’s case, and until he got Terrell Owens in 2004, they were the team’s weakness. Pederson has a potentially dynamic duo in Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews to work with, so that could work in his favor. Both of these receivers are best with the football in their hands in “mismatch situations”. The dark horse is Josh Huff; his hands have been suspect but his playmaking ability after the catch has flashed at times. With the obvious release of Riley Cooper coming, expect the Eagles to add another body to this young group.
Reid also had a tendency to utilize various screen passes, and that’s where runner-receiver hybrids such as Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy came in handy. The running backs on Pederson’s roster are all different, but they could all be effective if used correctly. DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews are the co-primary runners, both of which can be relied upon as “lean-on-me” backs. Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner are the receiving backs that really flourish in a West Coast offense, but the luxury of having two workhorses in addition gives Pederson tons of flexibility (something Reid sparingly had).
Another important piece to this evolving puzzle, the security blanket on offense if you will, is the tight end. Reid made sure his offense had one in Chad Lewis, and the Eagles have an emerging stud in Zach Ertz. Ertz came on strong toward the end of last year after dealing with a core muscle injury that kept him out of preseason and training camp. Ertz’ 450 yards over the last four games of the season showed the type of threat he could be. At 6’5, he poses as the X-factor that can create mismatches with linebackers and nickel corners when lined up in the slot. Ertz doesn’t have breakaway speed, super-human strength or an uncanny leaping ability, but his balanced skill set makes him a great tight end to rely on each game. Consistency is key for Ertz moving forward. With the right quarterback, he could be that type of player.
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Defensively, the Eagles have some choices to make. The 3-4 scheme was run under Kelly, but rumblings of the 4-3 returning are already starting. There are a few players that need contract extensions, and there is still building to be done. Until a defensive coordinator is hired, it is hard to say what direction they plan to go in. For now, a conversation about the defense could be set aside for another day.
This will not be a seamless process; this process will involve a lot of tough decisions, goodbyes to players who have made careers in Philadelphia and key tactical moves to improve the roster. Patience is a virtue during a transitional period, that much is for certain. If the new regime is to be taken seriously, Pederson must be granted a fair period to revamp the roster. This team has gone through a lot, and has been under massive scrutiny for three seasons. Starting fresh, with a brand new coach, might just be the calming sense that the Philadelphia Eagles need.