Sat, 31 Oct 2020

Morning Roundup: Doug Pederson reflects on late-game decision

Philadelphia Eagles
29 Sep 2020, 19:12 GMT+10

Chris McPherson

The Eagles and the Bengals are just the second and third teams in NFL history to open the season at 0-2-1 since the NFL went to the 16-game schedule. The first was the Arizona Cardinals last year.

For the second time in 12 years, the Eagles and the Bengals played to a tie. The 23-23 result is covered from top to bottom in this edition of the Morning Roundup, presented by Microsoft.

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Carson Wentz connected with Zach Ertz with a beautiful over-the-shoulder teardrop that gained 30 yards in overtime. It looked like the Eagles would come away with an eventual field goal, but this drive was stymied by a pair of penalties.

1. Doug Pederson says he should have gone for it in overtime

Head Coach Doug Pederson said immediately following Sunday's tie against the Bengals that the decision to punt on fourth-and-12 following the false start penalty on Matt Pryor was "what's right for the football team." However ...

"But looking back on it, I would have probably gone the other way and taken a chance to, maybe a shot down the field and put the ball up in the air," Pederson told SportsRadio 94WIP's Morning Show on Monday.

The Eagles had first-and-10 at the Bengals' 44-yard line with 1:26 remaining. Running back Miles Sanders gained 1 yard and then quarterback Carson Wentz saved a botched pick attempt by scrambling for 2 yards. Cornerback Darius Phillips made a nice pass breakup against Greg Ward on third down and Pederson sent out the field goal unit. Jake Elliott was 3-for-3 on the day with a 54-yarder under his belt. But some pre-snap movement by defensive end Carlos Dunlap got Pryor to jump. Fourth-and-7 turned into fourth-and-12 and Pederson sent out the punting unit.

• Full story on Pederson's end-of-game decision-making

2. Carson Wentz's rushing ability provides spark for offense

The Eagles gained 175 yards on the ground Sunday against the Bengals, aided by a career-high 65 yards from quarterback Carson Wentz. Miles Sanders had 95 yards for the second week in a row and finished with 107 yards from scrimmage. To the Bengals' credit, Sanders was held to just 31 yards in the second half and overtime after churning out 64 on just eight carries in the first 30 minutes.

But as the Eagles figure out how to get the offense going - especially in light of the injuries to tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver DeSean Jackson - could the key be using Wentz's athleticism?

Wentz sent the game into overtime with a 7-yard touchdown scramble when Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap got pressure from the edge and the pocket started to collapse. Before that, Wentz converted a third-and-6 after right guard Matt Pryor was beat, and the quarterback juked up the middle the move the chains.

In overtime, Wentz had a 10-yard scramble negated by a Nate Herbig penalty. The ball would have been at the Bengals' 32-yard line if not for the hold.

Wentz hasn't always used his athleticism to pick up yards. He's created Houdini-like moments in the pocket, ducking would-be tacklers to get a pass away. There's several plays throughout each game where Wentz provides hidden yards by avoiding a sack.

But the threat of Wentz taking off would give opposing defensive coordinators something to think about. Wentz gained 299 rushing yards in his spectacular 2017 season. He's not going to be mistaken for Lamar Jackson, Cam Newton, or Josh Allen, but it's a tool that the Eagles could lean into in need to a spark.

3. Defense harasses Joe Burrow to the tune of eight sacks

The Bengals have struggled to protect No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow in the first two weeks of the season and for the Eagles to have any success on Sunday they had to get to the rookie quarterback.

To their credit, the Eagles did just that on Sunday to the tune of eight sacks and 18 quarterback hits. Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham each had a pair of takedowns, while Jalen Mills (1.5), Fletcher Cox, Josh Sweat, and Malik Jackson (0.5) picked up the rest.

"They have some guys up there," Burrow said. Brandon. Fletcher. Those guys are real dudes on the front line. They give a lot of people a lot of problems. They did their job today."

Burrow showed a lot of toughness hanging in there despite the relentless rush, completing 31 of 44 pass attempts for 312 yards with two touchdowns - both to fellow rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins - for a 105.5 QB rating.

The Bengals punted the ball on four straight drives to open the game, but got into a rhythm late in the first half. An Alex Erickson 19-yard punt return combined with an unnecessary roughness penalty on Corey Clement gave the Bengals the ball at the Eagles' 38-yard line with 8:50 to get in the second quarter. The Bengals gained just 8 yards, but it was enough for a 48-yard field goal. On their next drive, Burrow had completions of 15, 19, and 16 yards which helped the Bengals get in position for a 1-yard touchdown pass to Higgins to make it 10-6 Bengals.

When the Bengals got the ball for the first time in the second half, the Eagles regained the lead and extended it to 16-10 thanks to Greg Ward's 29-yard touchdown reception and Jake Elliott's 54-yard field goal. That lead evaporated as slot receiver Tyler Boyd was unstoppable on this scoring drive with four catches for 60 yards, including a 25-yarder to put the ball at the 4-yard line. Burrow's second touchdown pass to Higgins was part of 13 straight completions for the rookie quarterback.

But after the defense allowed a pair of field goals, one off a turnover, in the fourth quarter, it buckled down in overtime forcing three punts and allowing just two first downs.

Cornerback Darius Slay had a pass breakup and a key third-down tackle of wide receiver A.J. Green to end the first overtime drive. Barnett's second sack on the first play of the second drive set the tone. Then after a first-down throw to Boyd to open the Bengals' final drive, Graham and Cox each had a sack to provide the Eagles with good field position for their last opportunity.

With the eight sacks, the Eagles doubled their output from the first two games. However, the defense still has yet to register a takeaway as the Eagles have a league-worst -7 differential.

4. There's no quit in these Eagles

For as much as the Eagles struggled throughout Sunday's game, they still had a chance to win at the end. It started with Carson Wentz leading the team on an 11-play, 75-yard drive with just 3:05 remaining in need of a touchdown. Wentz completed 5 of 7 pass attempts and rushed for 16 yards, including the game-tying 7-yard touchdown run.

"I mean, he battled. He was tough. He had some tough runs. He had the scramble for the touchdown. He played physical. That was one of the things we did. We took away from that. We did have the ability to run the football. We came out in the overtime period and basically tried to do the same thing, tried to simulate the run game, get it going," Head Coach Doug Pederson said.

"We were a little behind the chains on a couple of drives today. We weren't very good on first down again. Second-and-long, third-and-long situations, that hurt us.

"Looking at that drive, the toughness that really all our guys, not just Carson, but all our guys, we had some guys beat up that were playing hurt at the end of the game. Commend them for battling and tying the game."

Defensively, the Eagles allowed just two first downs and 14 yards in overtime.

"For me, I am not happy about (the result). But I am more proud of how we fought in the end because the goal-line stance to keep them to three, that was big. We could have easily folded right there," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "We could have been talking about a loss right now. I look at it that we have a lot of work to do, but at the end of the day, we are going to stay together. I am not really worried about it. I know the Bengals were going to come in and they were going to fight. Every team we match up against, they are going to fight. There are no easy wins and no easy games. I just love that we stuck together through all the stuff that happened. We just messed up in the end. We can't do that."

Safety Jalen Mills echoed Graham's remarks and acknowledged that this team has battled through adversity plenty of times before.

"It's the same. Go out, compete Monday through Friday at practice. Come out on Sunday and play for the win. My five years being here now, that's all this team has ever done - is fought through adversity, fought through injury, fought through ups and downs throughout the season," Mills said. "And at the end of the day, we have one goal - make it to the post-season. And once you make it to the post-season, you know, you want to be in the dance. So I don't think at this point, nobody is down on themselves. Of course, like I said, this is upsetting. The dudes may feel some type of way because we did tie. But at the end of the day we've been here before. We've got the coaches and we've got the players to fight through this."

5. Eagles lose Goedert, Jackson, Maddox, and Peters to injury

The Eagles fought to the end without some of their key players who exited Sunday's game due to injury.

Tight end Dallas Goedert suffered an ankle injury on his only catch of the day, a 7-yard gain, in the middle of the first quarter. The Eagles used Richard Rodgers in 12 personnel packages and employed more three wide receiver sets, although the team entered the game without Alshon Jeffery (foot) and Jalen Reagor (thumb).

Quarterback Carson Wentz lost another offensive weapon later in the first half when DeSean Jackson exited with a hamstring injury in the second quarter. Jackson had two catches for 11 yards on four targets. He also helped out on punt return duty. Jackson played 28 snaps before leaving.

Cornerback Avonte Maddox also suffered an ankle injury chasing down wide receiver Tyler Boyd late in the third quarter. He was replaced by Trevor Williams.

Tackle Jason Peters left the game in overtime after suffering an undisclosed injury after pulling on a 1-yard run by Miles Sanders. Jordan Mailata filled in for the final two offensive plays.

6. Things to watch moving forward

• Cornerback Darius Slay was outstanding on the opening drive of overtime with a pass breakup against wide receiver A.J. Green, then a key tackle of Green on third down.

• Wide receiver John Hightower played 86 percent of the snaps on offense and was a critical component of the game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. He drew not one, but two pass interference penalties and hauled in an 11-yard reception for the longest play of the drive. Promising step forward for the rookie.

• Linebacker T.J. Edwards played 71 percent of the snaps and was clearly the No. 2 linebacker for subpackages.

• Cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc was the nickel cornerback over Nickell Robey-Coleman. LeBlanc was on the field for 82 percent of the snaps compared to 36 percent for Robey-Coleman. LeBlanc was very good with seven tackles including one for loss on a Joe Mixon run in the fourth quarter.

7. ICYMI

Here are the other features from Sunday's game:

• Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro on the mistakes that led to the tie

• Another tough day for Wentz and the offense

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