Impressive Debuts for a Couple of Philadelphia Eagles Rookies
Anybody who has ever read a word I've written knows that I am not a band-wagon jumper or somebody who is quick to proclaim a player as great. I wait for a player to prove his worth, like any sane person should. Of course, we all know that most fans are anything but sane when it comes to their hometown team. With that said, I was certainly intrigued by what I saw from a couple of rookies on the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in their 29-10 win over the Cleveland Browns.
Let's start off with the usual caveat that the Cleveland Browns are easily the worst team in the entire NFL. Heck, I believe they are trying to tank this season to get the No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft. Former Philadelphia 76ers GM, Sam Hinkie would be proud. But that still doesn't completely diminish the impressive performances that I saw on Sunday.
There were many questions about both of these rookies, and as a matter of fact, the Cleveland Browns passed on both of them this past offseason. Obviously, one of those rookies is quarterback Carson Wentz, but would you believe that the other rookie I was impressed with in Week 1 was Eagles head coach Doug Pederson?
If you'll remember, I have not been a fan of the last two Eagles head coaches. I was yelling from the mountain top for years about Andy Reid being the worst game day coach in the NFL. And I had Chip Kelly pegged as nothing more than a college coach with a gimmicky offense that wouldn't work in the NFL, the day he was hired. Anybody who has watched Reid's last two playoff flame-outs and Kelly's putrid offense last season, certain has to agree with me now.
But for some reason, I didn't rail against the hiring of Pederson. Maybe it's because I was just happy Chipper was gone. Maybe it was the fact that I knew the Eagles would have to start a rebuilding project this season anyway, so the coach wouldn't matter as much or be here for very long. Or maybe I just didn't have any real feeling about Pederson one way or the other. After all, he is the very definition of bland. I mean, what NFL coach uses the word "Gosh"?
But Pederson had as fine a game as his rookie QB.
Wentz completed 22 of 37 passes for 278 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs. That's a 101.0 QB rating and (incredibly obscure stat coming up) only three other QBs drafted first or second overall since 2010 have had a higher rating in their team's first game.
Robert Griffin III
Of course, seeing how bad RGIII was on Sunday against the Eagles, this one great performance doesn't mean Wentz is destined for greatness. But it does mean that the rookie from a small school, who only took 39 snaps in the preseason looked like he belonged.
Pederson made sure to have a balanced attack, so as not to put too much pressure on the kid. The Eagles passed the ball 37 times and ran it 34. And if there was one fear that I had about Pederson, it was that his complete lack of NFL coaching experience would lead him to blindly follow the ways of his passaholic mentor, Reid. Reid's 4P offense (pass, pass, pass, punt) during his time with the Eagles was maddening. If the running game didn't work in the first quarter, Reid would abandon it. Luckily, Pederson isn't similarly addicted to the pass.
The Eagles running game wasn't dominating, but it was effective enough that it enabled Pederson to call play-action passes that genuinely fooled the Browns. Remember how every game Andy Reid used to call a play-action fake on the first play and nobody on the planet believed for a second Reid was actually calling a run? It seems that Pederson learned how not to call a game from Reid.
Now, the Eagles did have the luxury of a lead throughout the entire game, so that played a part in the team's ability to stick with the run. But again, Reid wouldn't have stuck with it, so I am actually encouraged that Pederson will be his own man as a play-caller.
That is great news for Wentz. Not only was this his first game in the NFL, but he is also coming back from a couple of broken ribs. That probably explains why he didn't keep the ball and run on any options. There will be plenty of opportunities for Wentz to show off his athletic ability later in the season. For now it was smart to play it safe. Both the coach and the QB understood that.
On this day, Wentz looked poised in the pocket. He called audibles on more than one occasion when he saw the Browns ready to blitz. He didn't look to run at the first sign of pressure. As a matter of fact, Wentz actually held onto the ball too long a few times, waiting for his receivers to get open, but he was only sacked twice. He patiently waited for his receivers to get open and often went through his progressions to find the open man. He showed all the reasons why the Eagles traded so much to the Browns for the No. 2 pick to draft Wentz.
Who do you think had the best game in Week 1 for the Eagles?
Pederson showed his confidence in his rookie QB by not limiting the playbook. The one concession he did make was in reducing the often cumbersome terminology of the West Coast offense by changing about half of the calls to one word. Pederson realized (probably from watching Reid fail at it) that a quarterback needs as much time as he can get at the line of scrimmage to assess what the defense is going to do. I was honestly shocked that the Eagles didn't waste multiple timeouts because the play-clock was about to run out. For that reason alone, I am willing to now give Pederson the benefit of the doubt....for now.
Pederson might have been a little overconfident in his rookie QB midway through the third quarter, though.
With the Eagles clinging to a 15-10 lead, the Eagles faced a 4th-and-4 from the Cleveland 40. Nobody would have second guessed Pederson for punting there and trying to pin the Browns deep. After all, the Eagles defense had been holding RGIII and the Browns offense in check all game.
Instead, Pederson decided that the moment wasn't too big for Wentz.
The Browns came with an all-out blitz, but Wentz calmly found TE Zach Ertz over the middle for a 5-yard gain and a 1st down. Then, just to put an exclamation point on the day, Pederson went for the jugular and the rookie QB converted.
Wentz lofted a perfect pass down the right sideline and hit WR Nelson Agholor for a 35-yard completion over Pro Bowl CB Joe Haden for a TD. It was a great call by a rookie head coach and perfect execution by a rookie QB. Hopefully, Eagles fans will seeing a lot more of that in the coming years.
Just because the Browns didn't think Wentz was a franchise QB, doesn't mean it's true. I mean, when was the last time the Browns were right about anything? And now they've got a former baseball GM, who is using analytics to run the Browns. Paul DePodesta might know "Moneyball", but it doesn't appear that he knows a good QB when he sees one.....or maybe even a good coach either. He didn't want to hire Pederson for the Brown's coaching vacancy and he said he didn't see Wentz as a top 20 QB in the NFL.
Personally, I'll take what I can see with my eyes over raw statistics any day. Give me the guy who performs on the field when a game is on the line over a guy who just compiles empty stats. On Sunday, Wentz performed on the field and Pederson performed on the sideline.
There are sure to be many negatives with a rookie head coach and a rookie QB throughout this season, but at least the future looks bright. Before Sunday, that wasn't a foregone conclusion.